Repurposing interesting containers to make gardens might have taken a new twist. You can turn an old file cabinet into a vegetable garden that is mobile, compact and even wheelchair accessible.
Cynthia Bee, from the Conservation Garden Park shares her idea to make a file cabinet garden.
I’ve had a bad case of upcycling fever lately so when I saw a file-cabinet-turned-vegetable-garden on Pinterest, I knew I had to try the project for myself- with some modifications, of course. This project is surprisingly simple once you round up all the supplies. My 12 year old daughter, Bethany, and I put it together in an evening with ZERO help from the menfolk! Booyah!
Vintage Metal File Cabinet
4 Sturdy Wheels with the flat, bolt on plate rather than the shaft (mine are 5″ diameter with rubber wheels)
16- 1 1/2 inch carriage bolts, 1/4 inch diameter
16- wing nuts to fit the bolts
32- washers, 2 for each bolt
Spray Paint (we’re using “Seaside” in high gloss by Rustoleum)
2 bags big, chunky cedar bark
1 large bag potting soil
1 piece of weed barrier fabric the size of your file cabinet
vegetable plants of your choice
Cleaner and a clean rag to remove dirt and grime from file cabinet prior to painting (I used TSP Substitute)
Drill with 1/4″ bit that can bore through thin metal
Wrench to tighten carriage bolts
The type of file cabinet you use can save you time and money. I picked up the 2-drawer unit shown here at my local Thrift Store for $10. They had a number of cabinets to choose from but I started by checking out the ones that looked the oldest because the old cabinets have more metal in them and are more durable. They also generally have a metal bottom. The newer file cabinets have a hollow bottom which means when you turn the file cabinet on it’s side- you’ve got an open side. If possible, avoid this problem by sticking with older cabinets. If you can’t do that, measure the dimensions of the side then go to your local Home Improvement Store and have them cut a piece of sheet metal for you that is the right size. You’ll also want a piece of plywood the same size and place it in the file cabinet first. The wood will take the weight of the soil while the metal piece you glued on the outside will ensure a cohesive look. Or you could just go back to my above suggestion and use a vintage file cabinet and avoid this extra work and expense.
To begin, remove the file drawers (you can make them into separate planters if you wish) and any pieces of the drawer guides that you can get out without a lot of hassle. Wash the entire file cabinet- it’s likely been YEARS since some of the sides have been cleaned. Turn the file cabinet on it’s face and we’ll drill holes for water drainage and install the wheels. We also decided to prime the whole thing at this point. We did not prime the side with the drawer openings or installing the wheels would have been a disaster.
When designing my version of this upcycled project, one thing I knew for certain was that this kind of planter can be VERY HEAVY once it’s fully loaded with soil AND water. Too heavy. Therefore, I made a few modifications to better account for the weight- especially since I knew I would be transporting this Little Starlet to Studio 5 for a tv appearance. I purchased 4- 5″ diameter wheels made of metal with rubber treads from the NPS Store (a scratch and dent kind of place for industrial parts here in Salt Lake City) for just $2.50 each- total bargain! You don’t want wheels with a shaft connector at the top. You want the kind with metal plates that we can bolt to the bottom of the file cabinet.
Before deciding how to space the wheels, check the inside of your cabinet for obstructions- the tracks for the file drawers can get in the way. Adjust your wheel locations accordingly. Measure or create a little template so you’ll be sure to space all four wheels the same. Trace the bolt openings in the wheel plate with a Sharpie so that you’ll know where your holes must fall to fit the plate. Drill holes. Drill some additional holes down the center in the bottom to release excess water. In addition, the combination of these holes and the raised effect created by the wheels will allow air to enter through the bottom of the unit, increasing plant health.
The hardest part of this whole project was attaching the wheels. We found it to be a 2 person job. We rotated the cabinet so that we could access it from both sides. Bethany would put a washer on the carriage bolt then push it through the hole and hold it in place. I would tie myself into a pretzel trying to get my arm all the way to the back of the cabinet while applying another washer to the inside, hand-tightening the nut then using a wrench to completely tighten the nut. Needless to say, we were BOTH glad when that part was done!
Once the feet were on, we set the file cabinet on her wheels then primed the top and finished with the high gloss finish coat.
Being me, I started this project later in the day than I should have so we brought the cabinet indoors to allow the paint to finish curing at the right temperatures. This is NOT an indoor planter as it would make a mess inside (and she did!)- please excuse the indoor photos.
After a couple of hours of dry time, I was too excited to wait so I inadvisedly planted it. In the house. I know. I know. She was so cute I just couldn’t stand it! I could NOT physically wait!
Before planting, dump the cedar bark in the bottom of the planter. This is the big chunky stuff that’s kind of homely. Make sure that it is NOT treated with chemicals since we’ll be growing food in here! I only used one bag and it wasn’t enough, therefore, I recommend two. If we planted the file cabinet to it’s full depth with soil we’d have very poor aeration at the bottom of the container which would become a “dead zone”. It’s also cheaper to add some filler and just save the top 8-12″ for soil- most plants can live with that just fine!
Cover the bark with the weed barrier fabric to prevent your soil from sinking down into the bark mulch.
Fill the upper portion with potting soil.
Plant! I put a tomatillo and a Sungold Cherry Tomato in the center of each pot and a few basil in the corners as they are “warm” season crops. I then surrounded them with various lettuces which are cool season crops. The lettuces will grow quickly now while the tomatoes fill in. When it’s too hot out for lettuce, the tomatoes will fluff over into the space they occupied anyway.
If you’re a “Square Foot Gardener”, file cabinet planters are great for you because they are already divided into perfect squares! These little planters are perfect for people who cannot stoop and bend or those living in apartments with only a balcony as growing space. Now, I’d better run out and find a few more vintage file cabinets before everyone else snags them!