In a recent post I shared some before and after photos of a few of the raised beds in my garden, beds that have been in place for nearly 20 years. Built from cedar, they have lasted a lot longer than expected, yet long enough that neither Karl nor I are excited about having to replace them as we are not nearly as energetic as we were back in the day.
I vividly recall the first summer that we tried to garden in Fort Collins. Tried being the operative word as the soil and weather conditions in the area are not nearly as friendly as most other parts of the country.
When we arrived in Fort Collins from the Palouse – I thought that we’d already been through the trial-by-fire challenge of gardening. While the growing season in Fort Collins is similar in length and precipitation amounts to that of the Palouse, we didn’t fully appreciate the effects of elevation or the challenges of growing in clay.
The Palouse is built on loess, a complex soil with extremely fine particles of clay, sand, and loam that can be best characterized as ‘fertile dust’. It is a rich and well-drained soil that can maintain a high moisture content throughout the growing season.
After tackling the lawn of our ‘new’ home that hadn’t been mowed in over three cool wet spring months, I naively dragged out my tools and freshly purchased tomato starts and thought I’d be able to scratch off the task of ‘planting’ from my ToDo list in about 20 minutes.
It took only 5 minutes to realize that A) the native soil was not my friend, and B) gardening in clay was going to be a painful experience, and C) I needed to learn more about raised beds, and D) Oh my God; clay.
It has been a long process of experimentation and learning, and looking forward I know that raised beds are really the only way to garden for recreational purposes. Without the power of large farm equipment, I need the ability to work the soil and incorporate compost and well-rotted manure without having to take the following week off to recover.
Given the opportunity to try out CedarCraft’s Self-Watering Elevated Planter, I jumped at the chance. I’m familiar with container gardening as that was how I satisfied my innate need of growing things when we lived in apartments, and the raised beds have certainly proven to be a learning experience, but having the opportunity to try a combined experience, why, who could resist?
The biggest challenge I’ve experienced with container gardening is making sure that the pots are regularly watered. In the Palouse if you missed a day of watering, your plants would wilt and you could almost hear them crying out for help, but here in the Front Range, if you miss a day of watering during the months of July or August, you’ll be greeted by the remnants of plants gone bye (the technical term is permanent-wilt, the point at which a plant has lost so much water that it can’t recover, no matter how much you douse it).
CedarCraft has a variety of products, and within a week or so of specifying the item to be reviewed I was a surprised to find it waiting for me at home. The planters are made from 100% untreated Canadian Western Red Cedar that is recovered from the lumber industry’s milling process. According to the company’s website, “no trees are specifically harvested to produce our products. All material used is 100% rescued cedar.” It’s easy to see that smaller but still useable pieces of wood are not wasted, they are incorporated into the side slats of the planter.
Assembling the Self-Watering Elevated Planter
The instructions were easy to understand and follow, and the company even provides a YouTube video for those that wish to view the assembly in action. No tools or hardware is needed as the design relies on a tongue-in-groove design.
In all, it took 30 minutes from start to finish to build the bed, including time to stop and take pictures of the process.
As is the nature of wood, sometimes you don’t know how it’s going to respond. During assembly with three of the legs, when the tongue of the side slats was placed into the groove of the leg and a firm but gentle pressure placed on the slat so that it slid into place, the leg wood split.
With many of the raised planters on the market, the design is such that if any wood were to split, the structure as a whole would fail – not so with CedarCraft. Completing the assembly of the planter I found that it was quite sturdy.
Contacting CedarCraft to let them know of the problem I experienced, new legs that appeared to be re-tooled arrived within the week – again, I was surprised at the positive response and the swiftness upon which the company provided replacements.
The design is well thought out and sturdy – it took longer to disassemble the planter to replace the legs than it did to initially assemble. Rebuilding it with the new legs in place took only 15 minutes without any complications, and the finished product was just as strong if not more so than when originally built.
Placing the water reservoir into the CedarCraft frame
Once the planter had been assembled, it was time to put the water reservoir in place. At first it didn’t ‘snap’ in as expected which made me nervous, but given a few hours, I found that this is part of the ingenuity of the design.
In order to create a tight junction between the cedar frame and the reservoir, the reservoir needs to ‘settle’ in for a bit. Leaving the planter with the reservoir in place allowed the plastic to become just flexible enough that with a little added pressure the reservoir ‘molded’ itself to the frame and a tight seal formed – without the use of any adhesives, landscape fabric, or hardware.
The planter holds about 3 cubic yards of planting media, and after the initial wetting of the potting soil, the reservoir filled and any excess water drained away easily. This was a relief, as the Front Range of Colorado often experiences torrential downpours in the summer, and I had some concerns that in the midst of one such storm the plants would float up and out of the planter after several inches of rain in only a few minutes. I no longer have any such concerns.
I LOVE that this is an elevated planter. As most gardeners experience with age, my knees and back are not as forgiving as they once were, so any time spent gardening without stooping over is welcomed.
Initially planted a few weeks ago this has been a truly carefree gardening experience. I can putter about in the planter if I’d like, but with the reservoir in place, my daily schedule doesn’t revolve around the watering needs of the plants, unlike the containers on the patio or even the garden itself.
Elevated planters are growing in popularity, as evidenced by the presence of different designs and suppliers on display in the summer/garden section of several ‘big box’ companies in the area and in many popular print and digital medias.
Looking at several different competing products, I’ve found that the wood is roughly hewn, there are often gaps between the slats in the demonstration models, and tools are required for assembly.
My CedarCraft planter is smoothly finished and it’s one of the few wood products that I’ve worked with where I had few if any concerns about slivers – in fact, at no time did I feel the need to wear gloves during the assembly process.
I am looking forward to seeing how this planter performs over the summer and how it ages through the seasons and I’ll be sharing my thoughts and experiences along the way.
Until next time, may your knees be green, and your spirits light.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received the Self-watering elevated planter from CedarCraft for free in consideration for this review. I was not compensated for this review. All opinions are my own.