We live in the mountains where there are numerous rodents which can make gardening very difficult. After sacrificing half or more of our gardening efforts for a few years to chipmunks, ground squirrels, moles, voles and mice we came up with a raised bed box that kept our vegetables protected. I had a personal wood mill so I milled out the lumber needed to make several boxes. Since we have been growing vegetables in the garden boxes we have not lost any of our efforts to rodents.
Below is a description of the construction and design of the box. Dimensions can be changed from our 30” wide, 60” long and 18” high box to suit individual needs. The actual box itself is 6” high and 2” thick. I built boxes that were higher to accommodate peas, zucchini and beans. Boxes like the one shown in the photo were designed for spinach, radishes, carrots and lettuce. What I also like about the raised garden box is that with the ½” hardware cloth I can water the plants without having to raise the lid. It also protects them from hail which is not unusual in the mountains and I can throw a tarp over it when we get a late season snow.
The tools needed to build the box are: hammer, screwdriver for the ‘L’ brackets, tin snips, a hand saw (what I used), small square and a framing square to get good square tight fitting joints.
• 2 X 6’s for the box
• 2 X 3’s for the framing.
• 1 ¼ ”X 4” lumber for the lid
• 1/2-inch gardware cloth
Since my lumber was milled out it was true to size but nominal size from a lumber yard would do equally well. I personally chose not to use pressure treated lumber as the chemicals used to preserve it could slowly leach out over time and contaminate my garden. Instead I use a good quality wood preserver painted on and applied long before I use the box so it will soak into the wood and not into the soil.
I start by cutting the pieces to length and height before assembly. It doesn’t make much difference what joint is used as long as it can be tight and strong. In this box pictured I used half lap joints on the upper pieces and on the actual box itself I used butt joints with ‘L’ brackets at each corner. I also used a waterproof glue on all these joints along with galvanized nails at each corner of the butt joints. Between the ‘L’ brackets, nails and waterproof glue each joint will stay strong for many years. I also cut ½” hardware cloth to fit the bottom of the box and attached it with ¾” galvanized staples to keep rodents from burrowing up from the bottom.
Next I cut cross supports for the three upright posts so they would firmly fit between the posts and nailed them into place with galvanized nails and glue to hold them secure. I then took the partially completed box outside and put it on our picnic table and applied a good coat of wood sealer to protect the box from repeated exposure to moisture. When the sealer had fully dried I then stapled hardware cloth around the inside of the uprights making sure there were no gaps. that smaller rodents could access.
The only part remaining was to make tops or lids for the box. I chose in this case to make two lids that came together in the middle and hinged at each end so I could plant one species of vegetable at each end. I could have used half lap joints but instead I chose to use a ¼” thick plywood gusset at each corner. I liberally applied waterproof glue to each gusset and also used decking screws to affix them in place. This made a very secure and square set of tops that will be strong. After an application of sealer to protect the tops I stapled hardware screen on each top and then put on sturdy hinges.To keep the tops from going too far back I used a ¼” rope affixed with screw eyes so the tops would stay open as seen in the photo. That completed the box and it was now ready. I had some foam insulation tape left from when we put a cap on the back of our pickup truck. I put that along the top rail to cushion the top if it falls or is dropped but it is not necessary.
These boxes have proved to be effective in keeping rodents out and they are also durable. We looked out the window once and saw a bear standing on top of one and all we needed to do (after it departed) was push the hardware screen up from the bottom giving it a slightly rounded crown and not a concave one caused by the bear. By using ½” hardware cloth it allows the sun to reach the plants and also air and water. Occasionally the sun gets hot at 9,800’ elevation and small seedlings will wither and die. In that case I put a piece of black 50% sun screening over the box to allow the tender seedlings a proper start.
At the end of each growing season I remove the soil from the box and store the box where it is protected and out of the way. That way when I start the box again next year the soil is automatically turned and aerated and any weed roots that came up from the bottom are easily removed. The roots of the vegetables, depending on how much soil you put in the box, will grow through the bottom hardware cloth into the soil below.
For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their homesteading lifestyle in the mountains with their three German Shepherd Dogs visit their blog site. They live fairly remote in their small cabin that they heat with a wood stove and in the summer grow their own vegetables. Their blog site is:www.brucecarolcabin.blogspot.com
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