Updated: Dec 30, 2020
What is upcycling? Using something for a better purpose than what it was originally designed for. It’s better than recycling, because as we are now sadly aware, recycling is really downcycling, which is to give the object one more or less ‘good’ use before it ends in a landfill or incinerator--I’ll let you be the judge of preschool trash “art”. Or plastic bags turned into decking material (which then disintegrates in the sun into tiny particles before looking awful and ending in, you guessed it, landfills.)
So. Pallets. Those ubiquitous woody things that are used to transport everything bulk, everywhere around the world? We’ve now seen them in many über-cool uses, from coffee tables to bike racks. If you can get your hands on good ones and your ambitions as a food-grower are, ahem, growing, why not try your hand at upcycling them into your very own raised gardening beds?
Before you start doing anything with your pallet, make sure it is safe:
Check the IPCC symbol. The International Plant Protection Convention requires all pallets to be stamped with information about how the pallet was treated. If it says MB, it’s Methyl Bromide, a chemical pesticide linked to health risks, RUN. If it says HT then, phew, it’s heat treated, and *probably* ok to use, but read on
Do you know your pallet’s story? What was it used for? What kind of conditions was it kept in? Was it used to ship food or chemicals? Did it hang out on unsanitary docks (that one is most likely). The porous wood of pallets can easily harbor contaminants such as E-Coli or Listeria. If you’re not sure, just don’t use it to grow food.
Give it a thorough cleaning. Arm yourself with brush and soap, and why not, vinegar or bleach. A good dry in the direct sun for a few days will help get rid of residual bacteria (but not 100%, porous wood etc, see #2)
Protect your nicely scrubbed pallet with an environmentally friendly wood sealant
And now for the main event - here are the not-too-complex directions:
Arrange similar-sized pallets in a neat stack. (Standard pallets are approximately 5" in height. So, a stack of 6 or 7 pallets will create the right working level for the average person.)
Fill the gaps with potting soil or quality topsoil
Then it’s all up to you - insert your choice of seeds or starter plants and...water, of course. You now have a raised garden to save your back.
The pallet boards keep rows neat, help delineate boundaries, and act as a natural barrier to moisture loss, keeping plants healthy. Additionally, removing your baby plants will protect them somewhat from nibbling bugs.
What’s not to love? Have fun cooking with your hyper local veggies!
(More gardening with pallet ideas thanks to the Micro Gardener here)