Converting yard space into garden space

We have chunks of yard at our place, some of which the kids play around in, but most of which we complain about mowing more than anything. In particular, the fenced in back part where the former dog used to stay was a big waste of space. With the dog having run away, the canine treasures returned to earth leaving us once again with usable space.

Digging a ditch Digging a ditch

Digging a ditch builds character…do well in school kids!

As with most of our projects, we decided to go big, heavy and expensive! Actually, we just went with big and heavy but I like the added drama. Anyhow,we decided to turn a mess of a yard into garden space using railroad ties to build raised beds. We spent a few days digging up the apparent underground rock garden that existed before we decided to make a garden in our yard. I leveled out space and added gravel for drainage under the railroad ties and we began to set them. It turns out that our railroad ties are 8’6″ and weigh around 200 pounds each. We used around 17 of them for our space so you can imagine how sore and tired my mule Emily and I were just moving the pieces into place.

Raised bed garden with railroad ties Raised bed garden with railroad ties

Abigail drilled a few of the holes we drove rebar through to bind the ties together.  We used a lot of rebar to make sure they stay in place!

I laid cardboard boxes over the existing ground to keep weeds down and we lined the edges with plastic to minimize the leaching of creosote from the ties into the soil.  The plastic does not cover the entire basin of the garden so water will still drain fine and worms can still navigate upwards without impediment.

Lining the raised bed garden with plastic and cardboard

The cardboard will eventually rot away but not before killing weeds and stuff from coming up through

I read a bunch about creosote and railroad ties before undertaking this effort.  Creosote is pretty bad stuff and eating it would not be a great thing.  I read a number of opinions on the subject and came to a few conclusions.  First, used ties have probably leached out the worst of what is going to leach out already.  Secondly, I didn’t have my soil tested for contaminants to start with and most people do not.  That fact makes it apparent that we don’t really worry about our garden soil anyhow.  Finally, my soil is still almost assuredly better than soil somewhere far away on an industrial farm and my food is not likely to pick up any more contaminants that what food that travels by train car and truck picks up.  I added the plastic liner and have determined that I will not worry about it any further.

Raised bed garden from railroad ties Raised bed garden from railroad ties

Those rocks were huge and buried.  I suppose the digging was easier but only because the rocks took up so much space!

So, we had to buy a bunch of dirt (56 bags of .75 cubic feet top soil to be exact…plus 6 bags of manure) to fill in the space.  It looks awesome and will hold a bunch of vegetable plants.  Isaac, Abigail and I planted it over the course of a few days.  We added marigolds for decoration  and because all gardens are supposed to grow marigolds.  We also have tomatoes, jalapenos, brussel sprouts, broccoli and bell peppers.  It looks so much better than the yard that used to be there plus I get to eat all of my favorite vegetables right out of my back yard!

Raised bed garden from railroad ties Raised bed garden from railroad ties

I cut the angles in the ties where they ended using a chainsaw.  Creosote sawdust down your back will leave a rash!

For now we have some of the rocks I dug up holding the liner in place.  I will eventually top it with more wood and make it look better, but for now, our new garden space makes me smile every morning when I see it…both for the veggies growing and for the fact that I do not have to mow that space!  Yeah gardens!

6 thoughts on “Converting yard space into garden space

  1. We did something similar in the backyard of our old house with the exception of the plastic. But our railroad ties had been in someone elses garden for over a decade and were in a lot worse shape than yours so I figured that all the chemicals that were in there were long gone. Still, I didn’t plant anything up next to them anyway.

    Ours ended up being short and wide but I like the long narrow one you have. It eliminates having to step on it to harvest and weed.

  2. We are only in the South by geography. We are more Appalachian than typical South. There is a definite difference though I am not sure I can explain it!

  3. Don’t ties do wonders for your chainsaw too! Used ties will have so much sand and dirt worked into them. I have not used ties simply because they are so damned maneuverable. We are near the end life of our current raised beds. They were from a bundle of culled 2×6’s that I picked up real cheap from one of the local lumberyards. I think that they’ve done their duty for five years. Our railroad is due to have a tie gang through this year, replacing most of the ties in our area. I might think about hauling a trailer load in if the timing is right.

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