Building your own pallet garden (part 2)

Last month’s article introduced the idea of building a low-cost pallet garden, that would provide a harvest of homegrown vegetables. As the saying goes, the longest journey starts with a single step and, I am pleased to say, the steps have started. Assembling the structure was not nearly as challenging as I expected, although my black thumb in gardening has carried over into the construction realm as you can see from the photo. I’ll jump right into lessons learned here and say that while the construction process was fairly straight-forward, having the right tools would have made things a little less painful. I feel cavemen probably had more advanced technology than I do when it comes to tools, which for me consist of a hand saw, hammer, some old paint sponges and jars full of mismatched nails and screws.

When I started to plan how I was going to make these pallet gardens, I have to admit I felt a little like I was being asked to create a replica of the Sistine Chapel with some macaroni, gold spray paint and yarn. I am here to tell you though, it is entirely possible to complete the project with only some basic tools as long as you have a first aid kit handy.

In last month’s article, I provided a link to a video that was the inspiration behind the pallet garden https://www.treehugger.com/lawn-garden/how-build-raised-garden-bed-waters-itself.html  This proved to be a great resource. For those who want some additional detail, for each raised container measuring about 30”x 30”, here’s the equipment and supplies you’ll need and where you can find it locally.
* Used pallets. These are readily available for free along industrial roads such as Wyecroft, North Service and Speers. You’ll need two which you’ll cut in half to form the four sides of the structure. If you’re using it for vegetables, make sure the pallets consist of untreated wood.
* Corrugated plastic. Another “freebie” material if you ask around for used election signs. This is used to line the sides of the container and keep soil from falling out.
* Plastic tarp. This is used to line the structure and form a waterproof barrier for the gravel you’ll be placing in the bottom. If you need to buy some, Dollarama has a good selection for $4 and under.

If you just stop here, this gives you a basic raised bed which will cost you next to nothing. The feature that really makes these raised beds appealing though, besides the low cost and minimal preparation required, is the incorporation of a wicking bed. This is a water reservoir under the soil that means you’ll only need to water your garden once every 1-2 weeks. This is great for the environment, great if you want to take some summer vacation and not come back to shrivelled plants, and great for keeping moisture levels consistent and plants happy. This feature was not difficult to add and I’m really excited to see how this works out over the summer. To make the wicking bed component, here’s what you’ll need:
* Gravel. Coarse pebbles or stones will work great. You can purchase this at a local hardware store for about $13. Two 30 kg bags did the trick to provide a depth of about 4-6 inches. This will form the reservoir for the wicking bed.
* Small PVC pipe (1/2 inch) to act as your overflow drainage. This is also available at local building stores and will require you to place a series of holes to allow water to drain through. About $1.25.
* Larger (aprox. 2 1/2” diameter) PVC pipe that will act as your water intake pipe. About $6.00.
* Burlap or landscape fabric. This is placed over the gravel bed and helps separate it from the soil as well as acting as a wick to move moisture from the gravel reservoir up through the soil to the plant roots.
* Soil. This goes over top of the burlap layer, although you don’t want to go over 18” as that’s about the most water will wick up.

All together, assembly took a few hours and a glass of wine. The wine did add to the cost but I feel it was an essential step that was sadly left out in the instructional video.

The last step was placing the vegetables in the garden. We selected some interesting plants including colourful heirloom tomatoes and broccolini which we’ll be anxiously awaiting to see what they look like. What took the longest was assembling the materials and trying to find tools to work with. Honestly…my hard earned lesson to all is clean out your garage. It will save a great deal of frustration on this project. Or…maybe just add more wine. That could also help.

In the next installment, I’ll be able to report on how the wicking bed is working and whether the raised bed is actually going to prevent my dog from laying in the garden. Until then, black thumb signing out.

This is the second article in the A-Z of pallet garden series.

By Donna Doyle