Is This The Most Attractive Veggie Garden Ever?

Looking for a gardening system that brings crops to you with little or no bending, reduces weeding to a bare minimum and is so cute it puts cat videos on YouTube to shame?

Steven and Bea, readers from Williams, OR emailed me last month to share their “Pedestal Planter” technique for growing bumper crops of edibles. When I saw their garden I knew I had to share their success with you. This is some seriously inspirational stuff.

 Steven’s philosophy is, “More people would garden if the soil were but a little further from the ground.” In order to bring their growing area to a comfortable height, Steven and Bea combined metal stock watering tanks with bases of concrete block to create waist-level, extremely low maintenance raised beds that do double duty as a lizard and frog habitat.

Steven and Bea were kind enough to explain how they created their easy-to-maintain paradise of edibles:

These are livestock watering tanks on cinder block risers to make raised beds. If done right, there will be no weeding and no bending.

The ground under foot is covered with straw to choke out the ground weeds. Weed seeds tend to blow along the ground no higher then eighteen inches so we surrounded the whole garden with a field-fence covered in honey suckle and daylilies at the bottom. A drip line runs along the bottom of the fence so there is no hand watering there.

To make the base for the tanks I lay down a floor of wall capstone completely covering the ground so rodents won’t use it to empty their warrens of excess soil. Then a surround of textured and colored cinderblock. Don’t use the gray flatface block like I did here. Cap the blocks with wall capstone to better distribute the weight of the tanks (I call them pavers).

Prime then paint your stock tank in a nice color like terracotta then place it on the base. Add some artwork to the sides to dress it up.

Form a cavern of pavers around the drain hole to keep back the gravel. Frogs will inhabit the cavity so its best to point the holes away from the afternoon sun or protect it with a chimney liner full of day lilies so they wont over heat. Then fill with five inches of gravel then a half inch of pea gravel then a half inch of granite. That should provide excellent drainage.

Fill the tank with compost. The top of the soil should be above wrist height when you’re done pressing it down. That’s very important. You must be sure to raise the tank with extra pavers to a height so that the soil will be convenient to your hand. No bending is the big idea.

The Pedestal Planters come with a welded in drain hole with a drain plug installed. That’s all you need as far as drainage is concerned because the gravel substrate conducts all excess water to the frog grotto.

Below: “The ground cover under our dog Lucy’s feet is Corsican mint. I don’t know if chickens will eat it or not but we are going to find out. The rest of the area is all straw covered. This eliminates the task of mowing or weeding on the ground.”

Below: “If you plant peppers in a tank and you have the ends pointing east to west then the long side on the south will be all green leaves and the long side on the north will have the most beautiful display of colorful peppers.”

Below: “Don’t forget to hang a bat box in a convenient neighborhood tree to keep down the West Nile Virus bearing mosquitoes. Lots of free phosphorus there. Bat guano is expensive. Two sheets of t1-11 paneling and some 1″X2″ furring strips make two of these three chamber boxes.”

Steven and Bea’s three block high planter: “This years tomatoes are monster big. At three blocks high its very convenient to sit and groom. I can also stand on them and tie without the bother of a ladder.”

Lizards and frogs take up residence in the caverns behind the cinderblock risers. Steven says, “the gaps in the blocks will keep your lizards safe from the chickens and cat.”

 ”We plant beans in cinder block planters underneath the edge of the grape arbor so they leap off the trellises and join with the grapes forming a dark green refuge on our patio. That’s a nice thing to have down here in the hot season in Williams. Yesterday the temp was 98F.”

Below: “Hop plants grow very nicely in these planters if you’re a home brewer. They need fertilizer (bone meal) even with rich compost. I had to use a saw to cut through the mat of roots that was a good six inches thick.”

 Steven says his Pedestal Planters have changed his gardening:

When you have your first Pedestal Planter set up you will begin to notice that you revel in how easy it is to maintain and you’ll start to look at the lower beds as primitive painful scraping in the earth. Your old beds will start to look like a excessively time consuming dirty trick some bitter ancestor played on your dim witted gardening mentors.

“Why haven’t I been told about this before” you’ll demand with glassy unblinking eyes. At some point you’ll decide never to bend at the waist again and snicker at weeds as if from an impenetrable fortress. If you dye your hair bright green and cackle at the morning sunrise you’ve gone too far!

While the up-front cost of these tanks ($130 to $190 or more depending on what size you get and where you live) is greater than our cheap pine raised beds, they do offer some real advantages, including longevity, protection against invasive roots and little burrowing creatures and ease of maintenance and weeding. Steven thinks they pay for themselves in wear and tear on the low back from reduced bending, too!

Plus, you gotta admit – these things look fantastic.

Thank you to Steven and Bea in Williams, Oregon for sharing your beautiful and functional garden with us.

If you have an inspirational and unique edible garden and you are interested in sharing it with the world, drop me a line. I can’t promise anything, but if your garden has some serious wow factor, I’ll try to show it off for you.

All images this post copyright  Steven and Bea in Williams, Oregon. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Comments

  1. wow! beautiful garden, but looks expensive! does the cost you mentioned include the cost of the concrete blocks? I went with a Fir 12×12 raised bed this last spring, but thinking on the access problems i had will be going for 4×8 or maybe 6×12 for the ones i will be making this spring.

  2. Wow, I wish that would work here, but we have invasive bermuda grass everywhere and that lovely clean-looking straw-covered area would soon be covered with bermuda. It goes under and over most obstacles and I’ve even seen it growing on a railroad tie in my front garden. *sigh* I wonder if I’m too old to transplant myself elsewhere.

  3. Oh wow – I cannot possibly convey how much I want to do this – it looks amazing, and so productive! I’m not sure how well it would go over with the landlords here – I had to be a bit sneaky with this year’s container garden – but I love the idea, and it looks like there aren’t a lot of limits on what you can grow with a system like this.

  4. Really nice write-up, E, and Thanks Steven and Bea for sharing! Firstly, “More people would garden if the soil were but a little further from the ground” is just brilliant.

    This garden is very well thought out: The orientation of the drainage holes away from afternoon sun and using the spacing of the blocks for critter habitat are very clever ideas. I didn’t know about the wind-borne weed-seed height. That is something that I will implement in my garden … I’m building a mixed-species English hedgerow in my backyard that will be 12 feet thick (on a standard city lot, no less!) mainly for habitat, but it will affect the wind patterns.

    And, can you tell us more about how to construct bat-houses, please???

    High-Fives all around!

  5. Janet Tandy says:

    Thanks for sharing this! This is exactly what I’ve been looking for. No bending, no weeding, and attractive for an area that also is used for outdoor entertaining!

  6. Wow, nice article. Well done and thank you Erica.
    Cinder blocks are cheap. Build one of these a year and they are affordable. They also pay for themselves in cost savings.

  7. OMG I LOVE this! With age creeping up we will have to start to consider stuff like this. I am also thinking rodent deterrent! If you put hardware cloth on the bottom it should be seriously vole-proof.
    Thank you for posting this for us even with sore eyes. Take care of yourself!

    • Hardware cloth will rust through in four to five years with direct ground contact. At $0.87 a piece the pavers are cheap enough to carpet the ground underneath the pedestal.

      The pavers or capstones are 2x8x16 and will last forever. Being cinderblock material they also drain very well.

  8. Mary Carman says:

    Wonderful garden, I’m envious….

  9. Smashing idea and great inspiration, which we need more of because we are three weeks away from moving into 13 acres just outside Merlin and know we will be facing a massive catch-up after the property has been unoccupied for years!

  10. Have been to Williams many times and appreciate the many nurseries and family gardens there. And I LOVE your planters! Just one concern….does it matter that the tanks are usually galvanized?

    • They are all galvanized. Prime then paint the entire planter. It should last fifty or sixty years that way. Our oldest planter is ten years old and still looks like new. You might need to touch up dings from shovel scrapes but wont need to repaint the body for at least fifteen years if you use quality latex primer and semigloss latex paint.

  11. I’ve seen my chickens jump fairly high for a tasty flower – they almost completely denuded one tomato plant of blossoms this summer when they got loose from their run. But that added height might do the trick. I’ve been gardening in my front yard, I wonder how the neighbors would feel about these… It may be time to test it out.

    Steven I love that you are thinking of how to accomodate creatures in your garden. Cute lizard!

  12. I LOVE this idea. I think that it could be adapted very easily for subirrigation – basically making them huge self-watering containers.

    Quick google search did not easily yield a good source for the tanks though – ugly plastic ones keep popping up, and the attractiveness of the painted steel is a big selling point for me. Any ideas on how to find them? I don’t think the price is excessive at all. Look how much Gardener’s.com is charging for their 3×3 self-watering raised beds that still require much bending!

    Also, ideas for installing trellises or hoop covers?

    My dream, one day, is to have all my garden beds be raised and combine the “wicking worm bed” subirrigation/composting tech the Aussies came with with and the two-layer hoop houses that Eliot Coleman describes in his books on winter gardening.

    • Your local feed store will have these livestock watering tanks. They come in various sizes. They are two feet wide and tall. Four, six and eight foot long.

  13. wow beautiful … excellent idea, it would be good for the share in http://www.agronet.gov.co know that in Colombia. It’s amazing

  14. Beautiful garden! I love that its so well thought out. I may need to try something like this when the real gardening happens- Kodiak island is wet, wet, wet, with lots of slugs. Looks like the large, raised containers could offer drainage AND slug protection!

  15. Jake Burns says:

    I found these lovely water trough beds: http://www.corrugatedgardenbeds.com I am going to paint mine terra cotta as well – I like the look! Thanks for the suggestion.

    • The tanks I saw on your link are shallow and wont allow for a two layer gravel drainage bed. Large at the bottom and small gravel on top of it.
      The tank needs to be at least two feet high. The big idea here is “No bending” so get the tall tanks and raise them to navel height.

  16. Rachel Kile says:

    I just bought 3- 2x4x2 oval “stock tanks” like these at Tractor Supply Co for $89.99 each. =)
    I like the original finish so I didn’t paint them. Got my tomatoes in today and it looks great!

  17. Gorgeous and functional, I love it. Very practical for keeping ground critters out (from underneath, at least) which is a big problem at my folks’ place.

    Steven (and Bea), if you happen to build another one in the future, would you consider taking photos along the way for us visually-oriented people? This is definitely something I could do here – we have an apartment with a huge, useless driveway and absolutely no yard. Inspiring!

  18. I love it! We’re planning to put in cinder block raised beds (though I love the watering tank idea) and I’m looking for ways to paint/decorate so they’re not an eyesore. Did you use cinder blocks for the bed with your tomatoes or is that scultpured stone? If cinder, how did you get that look?

  19. They are called “split face” cinder blocks, and we buy them for about 2.70 $ at the local brickyard.

  20. This inspired me so much. Went out this week & got a 2x2x6 tank; primer is drying now. My aching joints are looking forward to the “raised relief.”

  21. Congrats on having the best looking container garden on the Internet. I’ve been using homemade sub-irrigated containers using 27 gal “Commander” plastic tubs, which are $10-12. But after seeing your garden I was motivated to emulate your setup. I purchased 2x 100 gal tanks and plan to get more. I would have gone with the 2x3x8′ version but they would need a truck, and be difficult to move by myself.

    Mine will be sub-irrigated, with 4″ perforated irrigation pipe topped by weed fabric, builders sand and my soil mix. For anyone considering this, there is no need to drill a hole higher up. Just add a vertical section of pipe with fitting to the existing drain, and cut it to the correct height, 4″ in my case. Use clear vinyl hose and you have an easy view of the water level.

    One thing to mention: “Then fill with five inches of gravel then a half inch of pea gravel then a half inch of granite. That should provide excellent drainage.” Drainage is determined by the properties of the media you use. Whether you have 1″ of gravel or 1′, the drainage will be unchanged and your soil mix will hold the same amount of water. Google “perched water table”. Not that it is a bad idea to use gravel. With the drainage hole open you will get more expensive to your soil.

    I like using the drainage pipe because it guarantees air space under the soil, which is pulled in through a vertical section of pvc pipe used for filling. Do you have a blog or YouTube channel? I would love to see more of your garden. Thanks for sharing.!

    • Ugh, autocorrect. That should have read “With the drainage hole open you will get more airflow to your soil.”

  22. Joe Espinosa says:

    This is an impressive garden. My wife and I are in the process of copying your ideas/concepts. We know exactly how many troughs we are going to purchase and where we would like to place them. I have a question regarding the straw. Did you put down a substrate like a weed barrier down before spreading the straw, or did you lay it directly on the ground? Either way, how thick and/or how thin did you spread the straw media?

    • Steven Wright says:

      Its just 3 inches of straw on bare dirt. Nothing else is needed. You will get a few weeds from blown in seeds but for the most part it will keep it maintenance free. It is also there to keep the dust down. You will need to replenish it occasionally but that’s part of the fun of low maintenance gardening.

  23. Bradley says:

    I like the idea of using stock tanks for a raised garden. I have a local store that sells them but one thing that concerns me is something I read in the description of the product. “a four-ply double-lock seam at the bottom sealed with Pliogrip Adhesive/Sealant Seam Sealer for a superior bond. ”

    Obviously, the intended purpose of these tanks is to supply water to livestock and that means keeping all the water in the tank. Would the sealant in a new tank leach out into the soil over time and affect the soil in a negative way. Last time I checked consuming silicone as part of your diet wasn’t a very healthy option.

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  1. […] want your standard planters; we needed a pop of color. I did some searching online and found this website on making your own planters and decided to give it a try. It was really simple and we love the […]

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