How To Build a Garden for Under $100!

According to Birmingham Magazine, the United States Department of Agriculture ranks Alabama as one of the most food insecure states in the country, which means that the availability and accessibility of fresh food is inadequate. The American Community Gardening Association estimates that there are 18,000 community gardens in America. Birmingham is home to 15 to 20 of them.

This past weekend, Mike and I got around to building a garden in our backyard which has been a goal of ours for a little over a year.  With much research and reading we were able to develop a plan to build the perfect garden for our backyard!  Based on our yard size and available sunlight, we chose to build a 4ft x 8ft above ground garden.

We made a trip to the local hardware store to get the supplies. Supplies and material included:

Materials used to build:

  1. 2”x 12” x 8ft treated lumber  ( 3 qty)
  2. 2” x 4” x 8ft treated lumber (1 qty)
  3. Nails (10d x 2-7/8” coated)
  4. Weed Control Fabric
  5. Topsoil – ½ cubic yard
  6. Compost – ½ cubic yard (how to calculate amount see below)

Tools used to build:

  1. Circular Saw
  2. Speed Square
  3. Hammer
  4. Tape Measure
  5. Level
  6. Shovel
  7. Landscape Rake

All supplies from the hardware store came to a total of $49.00 w/ a $10 coupon.    Before placing the lumber frame on the ground, we cleared the area of grass and leveled the surface.

Once the plot was level we placed the weed fabric down to keep any unwanted roots/weeds from entering our garden!  The weed fabric is held in place by the weight of the soil.  Make sure you place stakes around the perimeter of the wood frame to give it more support. Dirt weighs on average 2700 pounds per cubic yard or 100 pounds per cubic foot.  That is a lot of force pushing against the wooden frame.

The final step of the preparation phase was to pick up our dirt and fill our plot.  To determine the amount of soil needed:

Calculate the volume of soil needed to fill your above ground garden in cubic yards:

Volume = Length X Width X Height

Our Garden = 4ft x 8ft x 10in

In order for this formula to work you will need to convert inches to feet (hint 12 inches = 1 foot)

10/12 = .83 ft

Now calculate 4ft x 8ft x 0.83ft = 26.56 cubic feet

Next you must convert cubic feet to cubic yards (hint 27 cubic feet = 1 cubic yard)

Now calculate 26.56 cubic feet / 27 cubic feet = 0.98 cubic yards or 1 CY


We purchased our dirt and compost at Andy’s Market in Vestavia Hills.  We spent a total of $33 on dirt and compost.

Shovel by shovel, I threw the mixture into the frame while Mike mixed the two types of dirt, removed weeds & rocks, and leveled out the dirt.

We had high hopes to begin planting on Saturday afternoon, but about 4pm we had enough work and called it a day. So I’m looking forward to planting my vegetables, fruits, and herbs during this upcoming weekend!  To date we have spent less than $100 to build an above ground garden!

For more information on how to donate or get involved with some of your local community gardens, check out the listings below or contact Greater Birmingham Community Food Partners at or (205) 229-7871.