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Gardening and More: A raised bed from pallets can be a quick fix for poor soil, uneven rows

PALLET PERFECT — A lovely vegetable and herb garden was the showpiece at a student exhibit at Plantasia in March. This raised bed was created using pallets. Soil and mulch hid the pallets. The students brushed a little of the mulch away so we could see the pallet underneath. Bricks help hold the dirt in place. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko.

SPRINGVILLE — A lot of us have clay in our soil and if we want to start a new garden bed, there’s going to be a lot of work involved. You’ll have to churn in a lot of compost, to break up the clay.

If you have an area where the soil is compacted, you face the same prospect. And 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’s a simple and easy solution: Create a raised bed using pallets.

I got this idea 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. The exhibit 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 you could use to make salsa. If you saw the garden, you probably didn’t know the basis for it was pallets.

I talked with Andrew Markus and Ilya Demyanenko, horticulture majors at Niagara County Community College. They said the first step for this project is to kill the grass in the area where you want your garden bed. Do that by laying down cardboard or a black tarp. They don’t recommend using herbicide.

Next, get some pallets. Pallets are used to ship merchandise, then they’re discarded. You can get pallets for free at any shopping center. Just go behind the stores, where the garbage bins are, and you’ll see pallets. Tip: You can fit three pallets in a Ford Fusion at one time.

Pallets are treated to kill insects, in order to prevent the spread of invasive species. You want to choose pallets that are heat-treated rather than treated with chemicals, especially when you are using pallets to grow food.

Pallets that are heat-treated will be marked HT – Use those. Pallets that are treated with the chemical methyl bromide will be marked MB – Don’t use those. If the pallet isn’t marked at all, be on the safe side and don’t use it.

Once you have your pallets, set them on top of the area where you killed the grass. Fill the pallets with good soil and compost. You can line the edges with bricks or you could 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 even see the pallets.

Plant your vegetables or other plants in between the planks. They’ll come out in 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 said that his sister had an old bookcase that was too wobbly, so she laid it down and it became a container garden.

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

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


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