Monday, November 11, 2013


In my last yard post, I wrote about laying the concrete footing for what would become raised garden boxes. We knew we wanted a have a couple raised garden boxes along the side of the house. We had one before the yard project got underway, that was a great place to grow tomatoes, and we liked the idea of having an organic element near the house, as well as additional seating for parties. 

What we didn't know was how exactly we were to create these boxes.

Ryan wanted to make sure that the planter beds weren't too close to the house. It was important that air could circulate in and out of the foundation vents the boxes would be in front of. It was also important to make sure not too much moisture got trapped between the box and the house in order to prevent the siding from rotting. I had overlooked both details, so I was happy for my always thorough husband to bring them to my attention.

So we did some research online, and eventually came to the decision to create the boxes using cinder blocks.

We wanted the planter boxes to be about 8 feet long, and 20" high, which is the standard height for seating, which equaled two rows of 8" tall cinder blocks, with a 4" half size cinder block on top. We had two planter boxes to build, so I made three trips to the hardware store to lug home 32 regular cinder blocks, 8 square blocks for the ends, and another 36 half size 4" cinder blocks for the top layer and to build the back of the box that would go along the house (some had holes and some were full concrete blocks). Just like concrete bags, cinder blocks are heavy little buggers, which made for a lot of trips.

We also needed more rebar for stability (we used 3/8"), a concrete driver bit to create a hole where we could drive the rebar into our foundation, and more concrete and mortar mix for the structure.

Ryan used the drill bit, which we bought specifically for this purpose, to drill a hole through the cinder block into the concrete foundation we had created, then we inserted rebar vertically into the holes he had drilled.

He used an angle grinder to cut the rebar down to size. Check the sparks... so manly.

Here's the first layer of blocks in place, along with the rebar for stability.

We then placed the second row of cinder blocks on top of the first ones, staggering them for additional support.

I don't have a progress shot of filling the inside of the bricks with concrete, but you can read about our concrete process here in the last post. I will say it was easier and went faster than creating the footings, because there wasn't that much space in the center holes of the cinder blocks. Ryan would shovel in the cement and I'd use my hand to pack it in and fill any cracks.

We also filled the gaps between the corners in with concrete (above), which will make it easier on us when we eventually go to face these boxes in ledger stone.

After the concrete dried for a bit, it was time to affix the top layer of blocks to the planter. We opted to get 4x8x16" concrete blocks with no holes for the top layer, and affixed them with mortar. This was another product I'd never used before, I'd only seen videos of contractors online slapping mortar on bricks with a trowel quickly and easily. For us it wasn't that simple. We mixed the mortar easily enough (Ryan was pro after all that concrete), but it was tricky to get it on the trowel and slide it on to the brick.

We used the trowel for about 5 minutes, and quickly ditched it in favor of our hands. Don't hate.

There's Ryan, double fisting.

As you can see above, with the top layer we simply slapped down a generous amount of mortar, placed the brick, then checked for level. We also used mortar to fill in any gaps between blocks, so it looked like one, uniform structure.

Here's a quick breakdown of the finished bed, with a few visual details.

And here's a full view of it, still wet, but complete. The mortar dried to the same color as the stone, and it's less of an eye sore now.

This bed is on the left side of the patio as you look at the house from the yard, and there is another, nearly identical one of the other side, where we will be growing tomatoes this summer (we'll probably just put some pretty flowers in this one). Our plan is to face them with ledger stone and top them with a cap stone that matches the patio, but phase two of the project probably won't take place until Spring.

Since the above pictures were taken, we filled the box with dirt, and it made for an incredible makeshift stage for my six year old niece, who is constantly putting on performances for the family. How cute is she?


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