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Gardening & More: A raised bed from pallets can offer a quick fix for poor soil

ON DISPLAY — A lovely vegetable and herb garden was the showpiece at a student exhibit at Plantasia in March. This raised bed was created using pallets, hidden by soil and mulch. The students brushed a little of the mulch away, so we could see the pallet underneath. Bricks help hold the dirt in place.
A lot of us gardeners have clay in our soil. If we want to start a new garden bed, we will have to do a lot of work, including churning in a lot of compost to break up the clay.

Those of you who have an area where the soil is compacted face the same prospect. If the soil is full of stones, you can spend a lot of time trying to pick them out by hand, or sifting them out.

Here is a simple and easy solution: Create a raised bed using pallets.

I got this idea from talking to a couple of the students who were involved with an exhibit at Plantasia in March at The Fairgrounds Event Center and Expo Hall in Hamburg. Their display was a collaboration between the horticulture programs at Niagara County Community College in Sanborn and McKinley High School in Buffalo.

The students had created a garden with a Mexican theme and planted it with vegetables and herbs that could be used to make salsa. If you saw the garden, you probably did not know that the base was comprised of pallets.

I talked with Andrew Markus and Ilya Demyanenko, horticulture majors at NCCC, who said the first step for a project like this is to kill the grass in the area where you want your garden bed. Do that by placing cardboard or a black tarp; they did not recommend using herbicide.

Next, acquire pallets, which are typically used to ship merchandise and are then discarded; these can be found for free at any shopping center, behind stores near the garbage bins. I can tell you from personal experience that three pallets can fit in a Ford Fusion, at one time.

Pallets are treated to kill insects, to prevent the spread of invasive species. Choose pallets that are heat-treated, rather than chemical-treated, especially when you are using the items to grow food. Those that are heat treated will be marked “HT.”

Pallets that are treated with the chemical methyl bromide will be marked “MB.” Do not use those. If the pallet is not marked at all, be on the safe side and do not use it.

Set your pallets on top of the area where you killed the grass. Fill the pallets with good soil and compost. Line the edges with bricks, or wrap the edges of the pallet with burlap, to keep the soil from spilling out.

Pile more soil and mulch on top of the pallet. The bed will be attractive and no one will see the base.

Plant vegetables or other plants in between the planks, which will grow into nice, straight rows.

“Container gardens and raised beds are a big thing now,” Markus said. “A lot of people want to get fresh produce.”

He added that his sister had an old bookcase that was too wobbly, so she laid it down and it became a container garden.

You could find container gardening easier than digging a new garden bed. Get a couple pallets and try it out.

Connie Oswald Stofko is the publisher of Buffalo-NiagaraGardening.com, the online gardening magazine for Western New York. Email Connie@BuffaloNiagaraGardening.com.
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