Step outside the box with creative vegetable garden options

Jessica Walliser/ For the Tribune-Review
Galvanized livestock troughs make great planting beds

If you are eager to start a new vegetable garden this spring, but you don’t want to fuss with removing sod, building fancy wooden raised beds or tilling up the ground, consider stepping outside the box and getting creative.

There are several alternative ways to start a new vegetable garden that don’t rely on one of the above options. Using one of the following raised bed alternatives means you don’t have to build anything or disturb your site. You simply have to purchase the “bed,” put it in place, fill it with soil and get planting.

Essentially, this hybrid style of growing is part container gardening, part raised bed gardening. Yes, growing in smaller containers is an option, too, but smaller pots dry out so quickly, and you’re wedded to a watering and fertilizing schedule all summer long.

When you use one of these larger “bed” options, both of those tasks are minimized.

Livestock troughs

Made of galvanized metal, livestock feed and water troughs make excellent vegetable planting beds. They hold a lot of soil, so they let root systems grow deep to access water and nutrients.

If they have a drain hole, simply make sure it’s open before you fill the trough with soil and plant. If there’s no drain, use a drill to open up a dozen ½-inch drainage holes in the bottom of the trough.

Livestock troughs last for many years and make a beautiful vegetable garden with minimal weeding required.

Fabric raised beds

Fabric planting bags are very popular due to their low cost and lightweight nature. They also benefit plants because they keep the roots from circling around inside the container.

Several companies now make big, deep fabric planter bags that are essentially raised beds made of fabric. They’re frost-proof and can be left outdoors all winter long, and their larger size makes growing big veggies — like zucchini, squash and tomatoes — possible.

Inexpensive and often made from recycled geotextile fabric, these garden “beds” allow you to create an instant vegetable garden.

Pre-made corner brackets

Another way to fashion a vegetable garden quickly is to use pre-made raised bed corner brackets. Rather than needing to screw together an official raised bed frame, lumber slides into these metal corner brackets to create the raised bed — no tools required.

They’re available at various heights so you can build a bed to the height that’s best for you. You’ll find steel versions that are very long-lasting, lightweight aluminum versions and even plastic ones if you’re really on a budget. There are stackable and decorative options available, too.


Gabions are boxes or cylinders of wire that are filled with rocks. They’re often used to control erosion along roadsides or as stream-side retaining walls. But, gabions can also be used to make inexpensive and quick frames for raised beds.

It does take a good bit of work to fill them with river rocks, but they offer a unique look. Purchase enough gabions to frame the outer edge of a garden bed, fill the gabions with rocks and then fill the interior with soil and plant.

Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.