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Convert a Water Trough into a Raised Bed


Garden design is not my strong point. I can grow vegetables like crazy, but deciding how to layout a garden keeps me up at night. Luckily I have some very talented friends who helped give me design ideas for our new space. Lorene suggested that I use galvanized water troughs for raised planters to add visual interest and height. I’m so glad that I followed her advice! The troughs look great and they match the farmyard look of our chicken coop. Before I bought the troughs I called pretty much every single feed store in the Puget Sound Region. Reber Ranch Supply in Kent had the best selection of troughs (they come in a surprising number of sizes) and the best price. The oval troughs were $113 and the round one was $134.


The first step to turning a trough into a planter is to drill holes in the bottom so water can drain out. Prevent getting metal bits into your soil by setting the trough upside down on a drop cloth or tarp before you start drilling. To drill the holes, Jon used a 1/2 inch drill bit that is designed to drill through metal. He also experimented with punching holes through the bottom using a metal stake and a heavy hammer and found that method to be quite effective, too. Either way, it’s an arm workout drilling the holes!


Drill a grid pattern into the bottom of the trough and don’t skimp on the number of holes. The last thing you want is soggy soil in your new planter.


Once the holes are drilled set your planter where you’d like it to go permanently. Make sure that you place the seam side of the planter to the back and also level it before you fill it with soil. We forgot to do both and had to scoop soil out of the first container so we could spin it around and level it—such a pain! It didn’t even occur to me to fill the bottom 1/3 of the trough with rocks or soda cans or something to take up space. I just filled each one up with soil to within about 2 1/2 inches of the top. The soil has settled quite a bit, so if I was doing this again, I’d probably fill the troughs to within 1 inch of the rim.


The soil in the troughs is slightly warmer than the soil in our in ground beds. I have lettuce and peas planted in them now, but I’m going to plant eggplants and I’ll replace the lettuce with basil after I harvest. There has been some concern about zinc from galvanized bins leaching into the soil. After a lot of research, I decided that I felt safe growing food in the containers. I’m planning on keeping the soil at a neutral pH, which helps prevent zinc leaching, and I am going to have my soil tested every year to be sure.

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24 Responses to “Convert a Water Trough into a Raised Bed”

  1. 1
    Gardener on Sherlock Street Says:

    They look great! I love galvanized metal containers. If you’re in a farming/ranching area, you might be able to get used ones that are leaking for free. Can’t use them for water tanks if they have holes but perfect for planters. They might be more “distressed” though. I have “distressed” and new containers for my flowers. Two are just your standard trash cans.

  2. 2
    Darcy Says:

    This is a fabulous idea! I love the look of the peas growing up around the teepee that is surrounded by the lower growing lettuces and plants. Pretty color contrasts too.

  3. 3
    Danielle Says:

    I have been looking for the big cattle troughs for this same idea….so hard to find and not pay too much!
    Tack and Feed stores outside of my area have the best prices and go daytrippin in another area of my county.
    I’m going to look in the metal scrap yard for some planter ideas! Great idea with the trash cans too!

  4. 4
    Nikk Says:

    I love how it turned out! I’ve been scouring craigslist for galvinized ones, but it seems everyone has moved on to rubber. I ended up getting a few metal containers from Ikea to plant tomatoes in this year. The layout looks fantastic, nice job!
    .-= Nikk´s last blog ..Knocked up in San Diego =-.

  5. 5
    L Warren Says:

    The fellow we talked to about purchasing these felt that if we drilled holes in the bottom to let the air out, it would compromise the galvanized coating and lead to rust. Don’t know if that is true or not.

  6. 6
    Nate @ House of Annie Says:

    Great idea.

    Did you use your own garden soil or did you fill it with commercial soil?

    (btw please update your CommentLuv plugin)

  7. 7
    marion Says:

    How are the galvanized pots holding up — what watering system are you using ?


  8. 8
    Dee Says:

    How about coating inside with an eco rubberized paint?

  9. 9
    Rodney Says:

    Drilling will compromise the gavanized surface. It’s just a surface coating. You can buy galvanized paint to fix it or simply repaint. I use several for my onions and jalapenos.

  10. 10
    Lisa Says:

    I just planted two 4 x 2 x 2 troughs with veggies. How often do I water and about how much? I live in Northern California.

    Thank you,

  11. 11
    Aleks Says:

    HI Everyone!
    I LOOOVE this idea and I am planning on implementing it in my new garden. I have been looking for metal troughs everywhere, but no one have them in stores, nor knows where to buy then. I live in Oakland, so I am looking in the entire Bay Area. If anybody knows where to find them in the Bay (or at least Northern California) please let me know!! thanks!!!

  12. 12
    Willi Says:

    Aleks–You might want to call some feed/ranch supply stores in Marin/Sonoma County. There are bound to be some up there. I’d start by looking in Petaluma. Perhaps call The Seed Bank store in Petaluma and ask if they know of a source. Cheers! ~ Willi

  13. 13
    Aleks Says:

    Thanks Willi! that is what I heard also, to check outside the Bay. My friend told me he got his in Cotati at Lowe’s so there is still hope :)

  14. 14
    Groucho Marks Says:

    @Aleks: I just bought 2-100 gallon troughs at Tractor Supply Company in Gilroy. Google them I paid ~ $90/trough. They also have the 169 gallon size. Happy gardening!

  15. 15
    aleks Says:

    guys! thanks so much for advice! I have found them also as LOWE’S. They are hidden under the name of Tarter water tanks! who would have thought!
    they have 3 sizes available: 2x2x6 for 150$, 2x2x4 for 95$ and 2x2x3 for 88$. Available in Cotati and Vacaville in CA.

    @Groucho Marks: do you remember how much you paid for it in Gilroy and what sizes they were?

  16. 16
    Groucho Marks Says:

    @aleks: I bought a 2X2X4 (100 gallon) for $90.
    Tractor Supply also has 2X2X6 (169 gallon) tanks for $169. They had a bunch of other shapes and sizes available, but I wasn’t paying attention — LOL — I was fixated on the 2X2X4.

  17. 17
    Bart Munro Says:

    For anyone having difficulty finding these troughs locally at a good price (or getting them home easily), check out Amazon.

    I found they had a better price (by 20-30%) than my local San Jose feed store and free delivery.


  18. 18
    Olga Says:

    Does it matter if the gal steel tubs have gone rusty. Will it affect the vegies

  19. 19
    Jon Says:

    I’m wondering, would they be good for putting blueberries in.

  20. 20
    Les Shock Says:

    I saw these at a diner in Chicago on wheels!
    I am going to try adding wheels but my
    Concern is the weight of a tub filled with soil
    and plants and all the holes drilled in the bottom.
    It might need reinforcement?! Anybody know?

  21. 21
    suzanne Says:

    I have several of these and have been planting like crazy but cant get anyhting to really thrive, not sure if it is because of the cool fall or what/ I never had a problem with cedar boxes. Any sugestions. Am iwatering too much or too little are they too deep?

  22. 22
    sjb Says:

    re zinc concerns:

  23. 23
    tobacco Says:

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  24. 24
    Frank Suber Says:

    I have thought about using these too, but a couple of issues have arisen that I need to resolve. I live in Nevada and it can get up to 95 to 102 degrees F in the summer months. Won’t the plants cook inside these galvanized containers with the thermal heat transfer? Metal is a poor insulator, any ideas? I did try using styrofoam in a metal bathtub, but there was not much success with that.
    These are some things I would consider to minimize that heat transfer.
    a.) I would paint the containers white.
    b.) I would use styrofoam again, but not the sheet, thin type. I would look for at the foam that comes out of TV and stereo boxes. Some shipping/warehousing opns have this available for a small price.
    c.) I did make some large wooden raised beds and had some concerns about the amount of soil to backfill the containers with. My scoop on that is to use plastic soda liter bottles or orange juice plastic containers. I did this and there has not been a problem since building and filling the raised beds. It’s two years now. Also these plastic bottles are a good insulator for heat that will arise from the base.
    d.) Finally, do not place your troughs on concrete, pavement, or pavers. The thermal conductivity will shoot right to the top of the planter burning the plants out. My suggestion is to place them on bare ground with wood blocks underneath, i.e., 4×4′s or 4×6′s. This greatly changes the amount of heat that is transferred up into the planting area.

    As far as concerns about the galvanizing on the container…I read that you can burn that off with a fire on the inside. After a lengthy burn it should be good to go. I learned this about using a galvanized garbage can as a field expedient smoker.

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