Barrel Tested

Wineries discard barrels according to season, so score yours as soon as possible. Any barrel seller will tell you that availability varies from year to year, so it’s first come, first served.

Try some of our larger wineries, such as Willamette Valley Vineyards (8800 Enchanted Way SE, Turner, willamettevalleyvineyards.com), which sells either full or half barrels for $20 to $35 during the spring and fall. Or visit Mr Plywood (7609 SE Stark St, mrplywoodinc.com ; $20 half, $49 whole) or Portland Nursery (multiple locations, portlandnursery.com ; $39 half), which acquire barrels from local vineyards when possible. Keep in mind that a barrel will range from 34 to 38 inches in height and 29 to 34 inches in width, and that it can weigh more than 100 pounds—so consider recruiting a strong friend for the pickup.

Make the Cut

If you’re starting with a whole barrel, cut it in half to create your base. Draw a straight line around the barrel bisecting the bunghole (the hole where wine is drawn from the barrel), which will prevent a crooked edge. Starting at the hole, bisect the barrel using a portable circular saw. Don’t worry if the metal bands around the outside of the barrel are loose or if some pieces of the wood lean into the center when you set the barrel on its end—the soil you’ll add for the plants will hold them in position.

Free Flow

While barrels make good bases, they were designed to hold liquid, not let it drain. Drill five one-inch holes in the barrel’s lid, which will become the bottom of the planter, so water will drain and keep what you grow from becoming waterlogged. Many barrels have a lip that raises the surface off the ground when it sits on its end, but if not, rest the final product on two-by-fours to create more drainage space. Move the barrel to its desired location. Choose wisely—once you add the soil, you’re not going to want to move it much.