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Pallet projects: Reuse every inch of space

Jun 1st, 2012 | By | Category: Skills

by Mike Watson

Pallets. They’ve become a popular item for reuse at home and in the garden. You can use them for lots of ideas: storage, coffee table, shelves, and a pallet garden!

A pallet garden is great for someone who has small space or not a lot of time to create a large garden space, but wants to start with something. I recommend either setting up the garden flat on the ground, or upright for use in smaller spaces, such as a porch or balcony space.

The first thing you need to do is find a pallet. But where? I suggest asking any friends you have in construction, or visit a grocery or home improvement store, or building site.

Local resident Jen Redmond submitted this photo of a pallet garden growing on her apartment balcony. It includes mixed greens, herbs, and peppers. PHOTO BY JEN REDMOND

You’ll want to be careful about the type of pallet you select. Don’t take anything that is rotten, has a lot of nails in it, or appears to be treated. (I will add that some people advise against using a wood pallet – especially in the home – because of chemicals or possible e.coli contamination from any foods or substances that may have been shipped on that pallet. My advice: find a good local source and use common sense.)

When you have selected your pallet, figure out where you would like to place your garden. If you have a very small space, keep in mind your pallet garden will need to “rest” for a couple weeks, while the plants root down into the dirt, so they remain “attached” when your pallet is upright.

To start, lay your pallet down flat in a location that receives sun, and can stay that way for about two weeks. You will need a few bags of good soil, landscape fabric (the black fabric often used by landscapers, and can be found at most home and garden stores), a staple gun, and plant starts (or seeds, but starts are much easier and yield better results). Besides water and sun, this is what you need to get started.

I like to place some cardboard or newspapers underneath the pallet to keep out undergrowth. Pick which side will be the back side, and proceed to line up the black fabric to cover the bottom, back, and side areas. Staple as you need to effectively cover the area (I recommend stapling about every two inches to help keep the dirt in). Make sure to leave the “top” uncovered, and open, as this is where you will plant your vegetables, herbs, or flowers.  Place the pallet down (covered side is down) and fill it – firmly – with good dirt. Go ahead and pour the dirt directly over the top and push into the spaces, or use a tidy small shovel to fill it – however you prefer.

Next, select the plants you would like to place within the pallet. I recommend hearty leafy greens or herbs, trailing mini petunias or nasturtiums, or other easy to grow plants that don’t need a large amount of dirt to root and thrive. You can attempt some cherry tomatoes, but do not try large tomato plants, zucchini, cucumbers, pumpkins or other heavy vegetables and fruits.

ANOTHER IDEA: Local resident Autumn Baughn submitted this photo of a pallet made playhouse, using reclaimed wood/pallet wood, and made in an afternoon. A perfect fit for their two-year-old daughter. PHOTO BY AUTUMN BAUGHN

Don’t overdo it. Remember these plants will grow and need adequate space to do so.

After two weeks of laying flat, the pallet garden will have set enough for you to raise it to an upright position, if preferred. Some dirt will come loose and fall out (and you may lose a plant or two), but place it back in there and give it some time. Provide good fertilizer and water as needed.

This pallet setup is also great for kids to help with. The small size makes the garden feel “doable” and it provides a canvas for creativity.

A significant amount of food or beauty can come from just one pallet if planned properly. If you have really limited growing space, and are leaving the pallet flat, you can also place herbs in small pots along the boards. Maximize your space and use every inch you have! You’ll be surprised at how much can grow out of the space of a pallet.

Another idea for a garden pallet is to cut the pallet evenly in half and lay on top of each other (or nail together). Cover the back of the bottom piece and fill with dirt, as before. I like to do this style to create a “raised” effect, and provide more root area.

This makes a great place for several planted sunflowers, surrounded by small colorful pots of other colored flowers, or veggies.
Use your imagination, apply your interests and styles, and you will come up with something unique and alive, that provides beauty and some food. Good luck!

Printed in the June 2012 issue of Grow Northwest magazine.

This pallet container garden stands on a gravel driveway. Using a couple nails, the frame also provides space for smaller tools and garden art, while the space underneath makes storage for other items such as larger tools, containers, and bags of compost/soil. Plus, because the containers are raised, rabbits cannot reach the plants. This frame can also be used for a compost pile or storage area in your garage or shop. Remove individual pallets as you need to provide more access to the space underneath. GROW PHOTO

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