Growing in pallets. A pinterest idea. And who here hasn’t opened up Pinterest…and seen so many “awesome” life hacks, gardening hacks…and of course, many when put to action prove to be Pinterest fails. Yes, fails. Like, has anyone here actually tried to make those adorable deviled eggs that look like baby chicks? Don’t bother, unless you want to horrify the kids at your Thanksgiving gathering.
Pinterest can be a dangerous place, especially for when it come to ideas on growing food.

Last year, Berea Neighborhood Food Project decided to go ahead and give some of these ideas a try: growing potatoes in wire cages, potatoes in 5 gallon buckets, hanging strawberries, tomatoes in straw bales, and yes, many different ways of pallet gardening. Why? Because we are masochistic? No…because many of our participants do not have access to ground to grow in. Often, it is difficult for folks to imagine this being a barrier, yet many of us know that many people are not rooted, literally, in a space that allows them the ability to grow food. Apartments lack green space, landlords do not allow tenants to grow gardens, and many people are living between places. So we tried to find ways folks could grow, on the go or from their porches.
The idea for the gardens wasn’t to get folks growing enough food to feed their families. It was to connect families to their fresh food sources, in a fun way, that kids especially could get into.

The straw bales and the potato cages…nah. It involved us having to irrigate way to much: if you have ground available, use that. It is just how we are supposed to grow, in the ground. Take food out of the ground, and you have to rely more heavily on artificial means of irrigation. If you don’t have ground, strawbales just aren’t a good solution. They disintegrated before the fruits even came to harvest.

Now, pallets…there is some merit to growing in pallets.

We did have some good luck with building upright pallet gardens. What is a pallet garden? Its pretty simple: take off every other board (using a sawzall with a metal cutting blade to cut through the nails…don’t even bother trying to pry them off…because pallets were not built to come apart…something pinterest fails to mention). Once you get every other board off, attach it to the back of the pallet, and attach landscaping fabric with staples between the boards, effectively making a nest for soil.
Inside we planted strawberries, lettuces, but we had the best luck with parsley, chives, basil, and mint. The gardens were distributed to residents of a local housing authority, who currently are not allowed to plant a garden or have raised beds.
We painted the fronts of the pallet gardens, so folks could write messages on the fronts. In the housing authority neighborhood where we delivered these, the pallets became a political statement among residents, who had wanted a garden but were told no by the director of their housing authority. A real joy though came from watching children plant in them, getting their hands dirty and adopting marigolds and alyssum and basil as little pets.

This year we will make a dozen more, and will distribute to a low-income elderly housing community, along with some starter plants. We also have many people throughout town asking to purchase them, and we will make a handful to sell at a local plant nursery to help offset the costs of the gardens we give for no cost to area families.

A few tips on building…
1) use only heat-treated pallets…how do you know if it is heat-treated? It will have an IPPC code on it, branded on the side. If it is domestic, it is likely heat-treated. Pretty much all chemically treated pallets (typically those from China and other areas of Asia) are painted either blue or green on the side.

2) use short staples, not long ones..anything over 3/8th staples…also for the love of all that is holy and decent, don’t skimp on the quality of the stapler you use. Nope, that old rusty one from the woodshed won’t cut it. We use an Arrow pneumatic staple gun

3) attach legs to the pallet gardens, it takes like a minute and having the gardens at a little bit of an angle make watering and planting easier.

If anyone is interested in learning more about how to make these or has any questions, feel free to comment here or email us a