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Raised Garden Beds #1: Aluminum Can Wall Raised Garden Beds

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Blog entry by coloradogirl posted 06-17-2010 12:29 PM 14577 reads 0 times favorited 21 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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I read that raised garden beds are the way to go in Colorado, with our less than perfect soil. But what material to use was the question. Wood seemed the obvious choice, but expensive and high maintenance. That’s when Tom, my Fiance, suggested aluminum can walls. Building them out of aluminum cans and cement seemed like something I could do myself. This whole aluminum can wall, raised garden beds project, gave me a way to dispose of the mountain of beer and soda cans Tom, had accumulated over the years before I moved in.

The project was cheap to do, costing only $9.00 for a bag of cement. Tom taught me to make cement, then, he showed me how to lay the cans and “glue” them together with the cement. I was off and running. It took me one afternoon to build my first can wall garden bed, “The Rhubarb Bed”. After a couple of days drying time, Tom, being the cement expert, showed me how to stucco the the whole thing to make it look nice and weather proof it.

I loved the way the first raised bed turned out. And I like the fluid lines and gentle curves that I could create using aluminum cans. I had to learn to make the cement kind of stiff, like the consistency of peanut butter, so it does not just run off onto the ground. Tom says it’s like laying bricks, not that I have ever laid bricks before. I think it’s more like making a gingerbread house, with cookies and icing. The only real trick, is to alternate the cans, as you go, tab in, tab out, tab in, tab out, etc. The can tabs eliminate the need for any stucco wire, and give the stucco layer something to grab onto. No need to wait for the cement to dry before beginning the next layer, just keep laying the cans around. By the time the first layer is done, the cement is set up enough to support the next layer.

I built my raised bed walls 4 to 5 cans high, that is roughly 9 to 10 inches. I did not bother to level the ground before starting, so I laid the cans higher in places to level the wall. The finish layers of stucco helped to even everything out, and make it look nice. Applying the stucco layers is like icing a cake, not that hard. We could have used some kind of stucco colorant in the final layer, but I did not want to worry about trying to match the colors of each stucco batch. Maybe I will paint them someday, but for now they look fine. Everyone who sees them is surprised when I tell them my raised garden beds are made from aluminum cans.

(Step 1, Aluminum can raised garden bed)!


In the background you can see another can wall we built round the base of Tom’s observatory – Night Sky Observatory. This wall is taller and holds a lot of soil, so we made it 2 cans thick. It is ready for the finish stucco layers.


Here you can see the next wall started around the fish pond.


Here is the finished “Rhubarb Bed” newly planted with rhubarb and chives.

-- coloradogirl---SW Colorado, 7,000' elevation, zone 4,



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coloradogirl

23 posts in 2656 days
hardiness zone 4b

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21 comments so far

View jroot's profile

jroot

5121 posts in 3356 days
hardiness zone 5a

posted 06-17-2010 03:54 PM

What a fabulous idea. Looks great. You shouldn’t have to worry about frost popping the wall, the way we would here in S. Ontario.

-- jroot ....... Southern Ontario .......... grow zone 5A ...................."Gardening is an exercise in optimism." ....... . . Author Unknown

View Harold and Pam's profile

Harold and Pam

255 posts in 2800 days
hardiness zone 10b

posted 06-17-2010 03:56 PM

Very interesting. I can’t say I’ve ever seen an aluminum can wall before. Maybe ou can make a business out of this!! Go around and construct walls for others…. hmmm.

-- Pam grows 'em - I cook 'em...... Melbourne, Fl

View MsDebbieP's profile

MsDebbieP

14694 posts in 3726 days
hardiness zone 5b

posted 06-17-2010 04:15 PM

oh my goodnes.. oh my goodness… oh my goodness!
So inventive, so artistic and so practical.

I love that rhubarb bed. that is SWEEET!!

-- - Debbie, SW Ontario Canada (USDA Hardiness Zone: 5a)

View Radicalfarmergal's profile

Radicalfarmergal

4312 posts in 2988 days
hardiness zone 5b

posted 06-17-2010 07:18 PM

I too like the curving lines you made with your cement/can walls. You have built beautiful raised beds that should last and last. Did you ever get to see Grandma Prisbrey’s Bottle Village in Simi Valley, California?

-- "...I have nothing against authorities as such; I am only in favor of putting a question mark after just about everything they say." Ruth Stout

View Iris43's profile

Iris43

3811 posts in 3355 days
hardiness zone 5a

posted 06-17-2010 07:30 PM

My goodness! I thought I’d seen about everything….but this is something I’ve never seen before. What a good idea!

-- 'To plant a Garden is to believe in Tomorrow'

View Bon's profile

Bon

7374 posts in 3505 days
hardiness zone 5a

posted 06-17-2010 07:50 PM

Your can gardens look amazing.Well done Liana.I’ve never seen this done before either but what a great idea.

-- Bon,Hastings,Ont.....zone 5a....Always room for one more

View coloradogirl's profile

coloradogirl

23 posts in 2656 days
hardiness zone 4b

posted 06-17-2010 08:04 PM

Thank you everyone, for the kind comments. Very encouraging. I have more of these raised beds planned for the yard this summer. We have everyone we know saving cans for us now.

-- coloradogirl---SW Colorado, 7,000' elevation, zone 4,

View Rambler's profile

Rambler

10 posts in 3064 days
hardiness zone 3

posted 06-17-2010 09:40 PM

Fascinating! I love creativity!!! Can you also explain your beautiful rhubarb water feature, did you make it?

-- God's greatest rewards on earth...Grandkids and a Garden for Weedin'

View donjoe's profile

donjoe

220 posts in 2711 days
hardiness zone 7

posted 06-17-2010 10:15 PM

Very unique idea. I love the creativity involved. Great project.

-- Donnie in sunny South Carolina

View daltxguy's profile

daltxguy

882 posts in 2823 days
hardiness zone 4a

posted 06-21-2010 04:09 AM

Some really good ideas going on there! I see you have some earthship walls going on behind your tiny house too. Looks like a cool place and some great projects ( and challenges) to garden at elevation!

-- Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves. - Thoreau

View coloradogirl's profile

coloradogirl

23 posts in 2656 days
hardiness zone 4b

posted 06-21-2010 01:23 PM

Thank you. Yes, that is an earth-ship retaining wall we are building to slow the erosion behind the old A-frame. The A-frame was the old shop, but now it’s just used for storage. I’m toying with the idea of turning it into a greenhouse.

-- coloradogirl---SW Colorado, 7,000' elevation, zone 4,

View wseand's profile

wseand

39 posts in 2654 days
hardiness zone 8a

posted 06-21-2010 01:38 PM

I have seen bottles used but never cans, what a great idea. If anyone up there drinks wine, it is very cool to see the sun go through them. Maybe a mixture of both.

-- Bill @ Mesilla, NM -- "Freedon flies in your heart like an Eagle" Audie Murphy

View Radicalfarmergal's profile

Radicalfarmergal

4312 posts in 2988 days
hardiness zone 5b

posted 10-06-2010 07:35 PM

How did your gardens do in their new raised beds this summer?

-- "...I have nothing against authorities as such; I am only in favor of putting a question mark after just about everything they say." Ruth Stout

View Penny's profile

Penny

318 posts in 3060 days
hardiness zone 5b

posted 10-07-2010 05:52 AM

Thats kind of cool.

-- Gardening is Great Therapy!!.....Georgian Bay area....zone 5b

View Bon's profile

Bon

7374 posts in 3505 days
hardiness zone 5a

posted 10-07-2010 08:46 AM

Hey Liana how did your gardening go this summer.

-- Bon,Hastings,Ont.....zone 5a....Always room for one more

View coloradogirl's profile

coloradogirl

23 posts in 2656 days
hardiness zone 4b

posted 10-07-2010 10:07 AM

Hi Robin,
The raised beds did really well this summer. They allowed me to add heaps of compost and manure. Their thick strong structures are especially nice for sitting on while weeding, and work well for retaining water. Because they are so thick, I think they help to insulate the ground, because, all the plants in the raised beds, took off earlier.

Thank you, Penny.

Hi Bon,
This summer I tried growing veggies for the very first time. I am still amazed that small seeds and plants could produce so much food.

-- coloradogirl---SW Colorado, 7,000' elevation, zone 4,

View Bon's profile

Bon

7374 posts in 3505 days
hardiness zone 5a

posted 10-08-2010 12:31 PM

It’s a great feeling when they grow like they are supposed to isn’t it.

-- Bon,Hastings,Ont.....zone 5a....Always room for one more

View busylizzy's profile

busylizzy

1 post in 2322 days

posted 05-20-2011 02:08 AM

Liana, you inspire me! Thank you for sharing! I just love how awesome your raised beds turned out!
- busylizzy

View coloradogirl's profile

coloradogirl

23 posts in 2656 days
hardiness zone 4b

posted 10-13-2011 10:45 AM

Just regular Portland cement from HD is what we buy. Cost is about $9 for a 90 pound bag.
How many feet depends on how many cans you can gather up. Mix the cement per the instructions on the bag.
Sand + water + cement = stucco. (Smoother and easier to trowel)
Gravel + water + cement = concrete. (Lumpy but stronger)

I make large sculptures with cement. These are BIG and have to stay outside all winter, so I have done a lot of experimenting with sealing and painting concrete.

I have had good results with Valspar, water based, porch and deck paint. It is made for painting concrete decks and floors, so it’s very tough. I get it at Lowe’s, most of the time in quarts, where they custom mix the color I want. The Valspar water based paint is easy to use, dries quick, soap and water clean up. I can use artist acrylics to add shading and highlights, right over the top of the Valspar, with no adverse reactions. Plus, if I am not happy with the color, I can easily repaint. The paint seals and water proofs the final stucco layer.

I tried using the cement dye, but too iffy. Impossible to get each batch exactly the same intensity in color. I did experiment using the dye mixed with water, and just painting it on an old cement planter. It made the planter look like new, but not sure how it will look come next spring.

Between the free cans, $9.00 a bag for Portland cement, and the paint, I don’t think you can find a cheaper way to build a raised garden bed.

Oh, almost forgot. A friend who does stucco for a living told us about a trick they have been using in the trades for years. Adding one part plain, old fashion, Elmer’s white glue to your stucco mix, makes it stick better and makes it more water-proof. I tried this trick this summer on my sculptures with fantastic results. It makes the stucco go on so smooth. I am now a believer. I buy the Elmer’s white glue by the gallon at HD, and mix it into the water, before adding to the cement/sand mix. 1 part glue to 2 parts water is the ratio I use.
Liana

-- coloradogirl---SW Colorado, 7,000' elevation, zone 4,

View flow9power's profile

flow9power

11 posts in 1611 days

posted 04-27-2013 02:19 AM

This is really neat and thanks for sharing. I’m saving all my cans and also food tin cans. I plan to tape the lids back on and/or stuff the can with used foil or leaves incase some sink in. Without lids I’ll fill up with something and put some sticks inside for the concrete to hold onto as though a pull tab was there.

How much concrete did you need for each one? A full 90 pound bag, more or less?

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flow9power

11 posts in 1611 days

posted 04-27-2013 02:22 AM

Also, you said you were able to sit on them…. how high do you feel these can stand using the pop cans? I’ve seen where people have used these for indoor walls. I’m just wondering if a bear leaned it’s front paws on it if it would fall over.

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