Building Your Own Pallet Garden (part 4)

All good things must come to an end, and so it is with the summer and my pilot project with the pallet garden. It’s been a great experience to be able to share the results with you as the guilt joy of knowing others were counting on regular updates kept me on my toes. Although I may never wok my way up to a true green thumb, I think I can say I have moved up to at least a dark gray this year.

As most people are visual learners, I think these two photos provide a good summary of my gardening experience this past summer. I direct your attention to photo one, displaying a rather sparse array of vegetation being inspected by a dog (the ever-present Stella). This was my “control” plot – my usual attempt at container gardening which generally performs poorly, despite my best efforts. As you can see, this remains the case this year. One of the biggest problems I have is ensuring the plants get adequately watered on a regular basis. Although this was a fairly wet summer, vacations and frequent outings meant my veggies didn’t get the attention they needed. I feel container grown vegetables are the plant world equivalent of a Kardashian when it comes to their needs. If you’re not watering and weeding and fertilizing and removing pests and staking them (and on and on) each and every day, they throw a fit and refuse to cooperate. Very high needs with little to show for it.

I would now like to bring your attention to photo number two – the “self watering” pallet garden. Notice the differences. First…no dog. Stella had no interest whatsoever in digging or laying down in the pallet garden as it was too high off the ground. The other striking difference is the volume of foliage. While some of this may be due to plant choices (kale…I’m talking about you), I will definitely endorse the success of the watering feature with the gravel bed. Although filling it with water at the beginning of the season took a little while, I only needed to top it up a few times over the course of the summer and of course, a few days of top watering in the beginning until the water started wicking up. Does this mean my gardening was a total success? A resounding no! This would not be in keeping with the spirit of the black thumb approach. Although I planted a few varieties of tomatoes, beans, peas, peppers, cauliflower and kale, as you can see kale took over everything and drowned out most of the others. In this sense, I suppose kale is also a plant version of a Kardashian – hmmm…Kaledashian? Was this the fault of the pallet garden? It was not. It was my overly ambitious planning and thinking I could grow that many things in a two by four box. So what are the big “takeaways” from the season? Besides bags (and bags) of kale (shout out to my co-worker who took many of them off my hands to turn into kale chips!), I offer the following:

  1. Did it prevent my dog from destroying the garden? Most definitely yes!
  2. Did the wicking bed work as anticipated? Again, most definitely yes! Although it might need more frequent watering in a drier year, it provided consistent water levels and allowed me to have “watering vacations” without compromising the health of the plants.
  3. Did it prevent weeds? Possibly. There were a few weeds that popped up in the beginning but the kale provided a force shield around the entire structure – nothing could get through that once it was established. Unfortunately, this included the other plants I did want to grow.
  4. Did it allow me to cancel my weekly farm box of veggies I usually get each year? Not yet although I am hopeful for next year (sorry Farmer Dave).
  5. Is it something I would do again? Absolutely! Especially if you’re just getting started and have to invest in getting a garden set up from scratch, I feel the cost and effort of a raised pallet garden makes it even more of a “slam dunk” over a traditional garden bed. I’m planning to install a few more next year, although I will be paying more attention to location and plant selection for my next project.

With the environmental impact of transporting food, concerns with “factory” farming and the increasing cost of food, growing your own vegetables makes good sense, even if it’s only a few plants. Hopefully this series has inspired you to try it out and in the words of one of my favourite authors, “And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.) Kid, you’ll move mountains! your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O'Shea, you're off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain garden is waiting. So...get on your way!”

By Donna Doyle