View of the screenhouse
Got garden pests? Try a screenhouse! This is a decorative, practical and Eco-friendly way to grow safe and healthy edibles.
With bizarre weather in many areas wildlife is being forced to search more aggressively for food. If you are growing your own vegetable garden, this can mean that protecting your produce for yourself is getting harder.
In my case I’d tried just about everything from natural deterrents to electric netting and it still wasn’t enough. Once the local wildlife put the word out there was a marvelous feasting center in the area, my productive vegetable gardens were decimated. In the end, the only option left was to physically bar unwanted critters. But the most determined (rats and mice) found ways to invade any fencing, netting or other containment I tried. –Until I built my screenhouse. Here’s how I did it.
I had enjoyed cultivating and propagating interesting plants for years with my woven plastic covered, aluminum framed greenhouse. But not only had my priorities changed, I was tired of looking out of my back slider doors at the big white balloon-like structure. It was time to make that greenhouse useful again. And to make it an attractive part of the view from inside the house as well.
The plastic fabric covered greenhouse in winter. Not every glamorous!
Building the screenhouse
Removing the plastic cover was easy, especially since it was already falling apart. The metal frame, anchored into the ground was 12’ x 16’. It wasn’t as large as I would have wished, but it fit well in the space and would serve my basic needs.
I built two large raised planters with wood (no preservatives). The bottoms were lined with ½” wire ‘hardware cloth’ to keep out gophers and moles. The insides were lined with waterproof leftover off-cuts of rubber sheeting from when I built my own pond several years ago. The outside wood was protected with water seal, screwed together, and painted. I leveled the ground and surrounded the base of the raised beds with 3/4” gravel, leaving a pathway down the middle of pea gravel (which is easier on the feet).
Building the raised beds. Lower beds would take less fill. The bottom halves of these were layered with compostable materials.
The metal greenhouse framework was covered with sheets of more ½” hardware cloth – spaced wide enough for pollinators to enter, but too small for even little field mice. (Sides were buried down into the ground to discourage diggers from tunneling under the bottom.)
Wooden framed double doors (open here) allow for easy entry.
I built double doors for easy entry and made sure there were multiple latches to keep out even the clever raccoons. Irrigation is provided by a drip system supplemented by some manual hosing in very dry, hot periods. Since I live where the summer sun is so strong it can burn tomatoes, I added a thin shade cloth for a roof and spray painted lines to suggest shingles. All materials were secured to the frame and each other by sewing with flexible metal wire.
I had a lot of old wood lattice left over from previous construction as well as pieces of wood from broken trellises. I laced on a fake façade of lattice painted ( to match my house), tied together frames of recycled scrap wood for the illusion of window shapes, and added shutters (one pair cut in half for two small ‘windows’). This way the ugly white plastic balloon of a greenhouse was now a little cottage that housed my raised vegetable garden planters – the top half filled with aged compost from friends I knew who had horses and other stock animals. Adding light-weight flower boxes to the faux outside wall was the final touch.
For the first time in years, I am harvesting organic, tasty fresh vegetables again. The raised gardens are gentle on my back, use water efficiently and help me easily see any insect invasions so I can remove them before they become a real problem. The view from inside my house no longer shows an eyesore; instead I see a cute little cottage. You can adapt this idea by building your own frame or using any other strong skelleton like a greenhouse frame (without the expensive panels) or a do-it-yourself carport frame. Decorate yours any way you want, or just keep it simple.
So far I am thrilled with the replacement of my old greenhouse. I don’t have to use poisons or harm wildlife to protect my fruits and vegetables, care is easy, efficient and low maintenance, and a previous eye-sore has now become the focal point of the back garden. Even the pets can’t wreak havoc with my growing area. It truly has become the ultimate edible garden solution — and I think I’ve tried just about everything else!
I am currently working on building a miniature picket fence for the garden of potted plants that populate the area outside the doorway of the screenhouse. This way the most tender plants can be fully protected inside the ‘house’ while I can expand my growing space into containers for the less bothered edibles.
Raised gardening is easier and more efficient
One of the most difficult aspects of growing vegetables where I live is the determination to devastate each and every edible plant I try to grow by the hungry wildlife. Living in the chaparral with a desert-like climate, rodents of all descriptions seek juicy fruits and vegetables when the sparse green provided by nature bakes to a crisp on surrounding hillsides. Even the raccoons and coyotes delight in home-grown vegetables.
The best way I’ve found to fend off these hungry critters is to build raised vegetable gardens. You can construct raised vegetable gardens out of any material you want. You simply need to make sure there are no gaps accessible by the smallest of your wild raiders. Using decorative block or painted wood can make your garden ornamental. Just make sure you don’t use toxic materials (including paints and stains) that can leach into your garden soil. Be particularly careful of the creosote in railroad ties. If you aren’t sure about the materials you are using, then line the interior of your raised garden bed walls so the soil does not come in direct contact.
Remember that some birds can also damage your vegetable garden. So even if you build a well-sealed raised vegetable bed, you may have to construct a netted roof to keep your flying friends away from your prized edibles.
You can find more information on building a raised vegetable garden in my article on eHow and information on garden pests on Examiner.
Insect pests and friends: sow bugs, ladybugs, green lacewings, and snails
How to build a raised garden the easy way
Ribs for a raised vegetable garden ‘roof’
If you want to start your growing season a little early, add some light shade or keep out pests while growing your edibles, or want to extend your crops into cooler weather, there is nothing better than to build a roof on your raised vegetable garden. You can cover your raised vegetable garden beds easily with clear plastic sheeting or add netting to keep out pests. Plastic makes an excellent temporary roof for extending your growing season. But first you need to make a frame on which your roof covering will rest. Try creating bent U-shaped ribs. They are easy to make and you can leave them in place even after removing the covering in hot, sunny weather.
You can bend long lengths of PVC for ribs. Or you can use wood or bamboo. The trick to getting them to bend without snapping is to soak the wood or bamboo in water for at least 24 hours to soften it up.
Then attach heavy duty plastic sheeting to the ribs. Sometimes you can reuse heavy clear plastic that was used as a drop cloth for painting or other work so long as it isn’t torn or too dirty. Do not reuse plastic that has been used around toxic materials. You can use regular staples, tie the plastic on with recycled wire ties saved from vegetables at the grocery store, or twine thin wire around the supports to hold the plastic in place. You can re-use wire threaded through rolls of chicken wire to keep the rolls closed. These are just some suggestions.
Build a roof on your raised gardens to mediate temperature extremes and protect your raised beds from insect and larger sized pests. And you can do it easily, cheaply and even use recycled materials to roof your garden. Just remember to water the interior regularly. A timed drip irrigation system is one convenient way to make sure things don’t dry out.
Part one: Trex® and the raised garden bed
This recycled form of compressed plastic and wood handles heat, cold, wet and other weather conditions without damage.
Raised bed gardening has become popular, and rightly so. By building elevated garden beds you can avoid dealing with imperfect local soil, help protect your plants from invading pests (and even your over-enthusiastic pets), and allow you to concentrate water and plant food where it is most needed. Raised beds are helpful for the handicapped and, because they relieve much of the bending and stress of ground-level gardening, can keep the rest of us from injuring ourselves, too
One problem with building raised garden beds can be the toll that outdoor weather can take on the container materials. Wood can rot or be invaded by termites. Cedar and redwood are the two most commonly resistant woods, but they eventually break down too, and still need regular applications of oil, paint or waterproofing. Treated wood like railroad ties and possibly ‘green wood’ can potentially leach chemicals into the soil so should be used with caution, especially around edibles. Vinyl can be a good solution but may be too flimsy for most uses unless it has a hard core added. Stone is another good choice, but needs to be lined or sealed so water and soil don’t filter out. Cement blocks can work well, but they can harbor pests in the holes, add lime to the soil and may not look very attractive. One more alternative as a building material is to use Trex®
Trex® is not the least expensive of materials since it is fabricated and requires more money to produce than something that is simply ‘harvested’. But it is made from recycled wood and plastic that would otherwise be filling up our landfills. It also is highly durable so the initial expense will be recouped in the first few years by savings in labor, repair, preservation treatments and overall maintenance. It makes an excellent material to build low maintenance raised garden beds.
One historical note about the company which carries the name of its product, Trex, is that it was formed as a division of the oil giant, Mobil Corporation. Organic chemist Roger Wittenberg independently discovered that compressing shredded waste plastic with sawdust could produce a superior building material. Mobil, being the country’s biggest producer of disposable plastic products was attracted to Wittenberg’s concept and worked up the timber application which was called Timbrex, later shortened to Trex®.
Using Trex® is Eco-friendly saving non-renewable or slow-growing resources and helping to reclaim waste. For the homeowner, using it will require little maintenance since it doesn’t need to be painted – ever – and will not split, warp or rot. On the downside, it is more costly than wood, but will make up the difference over time with its lack of care. It is also heavier than wood, and it is not structural. It was formulated for walking surfaces, railings and trim rather than for supporting beams. This means that if lengths are too long on the sides of your raised garden bed and lack enough supporting posts, they may curve or bulge slightly.
Use Trex® for a long-lasting, easy care material that is safe for using in vegetable gardens and for use with children and even mouthy pets. Unlike other materials that will require painting, washing, replacement and other maintenance, once your garden is built you can focus on growing your plants rather than caring for the container.
Check out the second part of this article, Part Two: How to build a Trex® raised garden bed, for directions on constructing the elevated garden.
How to build a Trex raised garden: the posts have been cut and filled with concrete, the bottom lined and this planter is ready to be filled with planting soil.
Posts, Trex walls, irrigation line, metal mesh and irrigation tubing all used in building this raised planter
There are many ways to put materials together to design and build a raised bed. Here are some guidelines for putting together a very solid, long-lasting elevated garden area using Trex®. Using recycled products for building along with growing your own food, herbs and cut flowers can all help you develop a productive, beautiful and sustainable landscape.
- Measure out the space where you want to build your bed(s). Having multiple raised gardens will allow you to rotate crops or to diversify whatever you choose to grow.
- If you want to irrigate your bed(s) set up PVC irrigation pipe to bring water to the inside surface of your container at the finished soil height when it will be filled.
Dig post holes at least 12″ deep.
Set in your posts. In this case we are using hollow vinyl posts used for fencing. The squared shape will make connecting boards easy and the vinyl can be easily cut, drilled and filled to give it weight. To keep your posts stable, dig deep holes, at least 12” deep, and set them with concrete footings.
A cement footing will keep the post in place.
- Cut your Trex® boards to size with a saw. It cuts as easily as regular wood.
These screws temporarily hold the crossboards in place until they are ready to be drilled and bolted through the posts.
Predrill holes for lag bolts through the posts so you can easily mount the boards. You may prefer to temporarily mount the boards with single screws (one board layer at a time) and then drill your holes and bolt them in place.
- Build your height one set of Trex® boards at a time. (Other materials like vinyl and wood can be used for this same design.)
Laying mesh in the raised bed can help keep out burrowing pests.
If you have a problem with burrowing pests like gophers or moles, line the bottom of your garden bed with screening like ½” metal lath (or hardware cloth). This should keep critters from entering from below.
The posts have been cut and filled with concrete, the bottom lined and this planter is ready to be filled with planting soil.
Once you reach the height you want, cut the fencing posts off so they are no higher than the sides of your garden bed.
- Fill the hollow posts with concrete to make them strong.
- Top the filled vinyl fencing posts with post caps. You can uses simple covers or get creative. You can use solar lit caps or wire up low voltage lighted caps. There are a number of designs to choose from and you might even want to adapt a fence cap to hold poles for attaching netting or roofing over your raised garden bed.
- Fill you raised bed with a mixture of rich soil that will best support whatever you plan to grow.
Drip irrigation lines
Set up a drip system or other type of irrigation system to efficiently water your bed. If you have multiple beds you may want to include individual water shut-off options for more control.
Note that if you are using Trex® boards horizontally, lengths over four feet — if the board is not thick enough — can bow slightly unless you bolt them to stabilizing uprights. Other than that, the material should endure for decades. It comes in an assortment of natural tones some of which may fade slightly over the first few weeks but then should maintain color intensity for many years to come.
Surround your garden with cast blocks and hardware cloth to fill with soil and protect from pests.
Since raised beds have so many advantages over planting on level ground, you might want to consider building your own. Here are some tips to keep in mind for people who want to create a do-it-yourself raised garden bed.
Unless you are specifically planning on planting shade-loving plants, choose a location that gets plenty of sun. For growing edibles, this is a must. And if you are growing fruits and vegetables or herbs, site your garden where it will be easily accessible from the kitchen. Building a raised vegetable bed is a very practical way of growing edibles.
If you have gophers, moles or voles in your area, line the bottom of your raised bed with ½” gauge hardware cloth so the sides of the material extend to the outside of the garden bed walls. In other words, lay the bottom liner and build your walls on top of it, effectively sealing off entry points. This way, pests cannot enter your raised garden bed from below.
For edible gardens do not use green wood, railroad ties or any other treated wood unless you line the garden bed with a durable plastic as you do not want toxins leaching into the soil. Not all processed woods have been proven to be dangerous, but it’s best to err on the safe side.
Make your construction into something attractive. Echo the design from the rest of your landscape in the materials you choose. A brick-walled raised bed with a decorative miniature white picket fence on top might look perfect in a cottage garden. Or a rustic, stacked stone raised garden may be just the thing for a woodland styled landscape. Have fun designing your elevated planting area. Not only will it resist pests and allow you to fill the interior with the exact kind of soil you want to use, but caring for the garden will be easier on your back since you won’t have to bend so much. Plus, with a little imagination, you can make it look decorative.
You can even construct a raised garden bed on a patio or balcony by stacking up artistically placed ready-made containers. Just make sure that however you build it. you factor in drainage and watering. Hopefully, these tips will help you design and build your own garden bed more successfully.