Got clay or rocks in your soil? Use pallets to create a raised bed– It’s simple!

raised garden from pallets in Hamburg NY
Raised vegetable and herb garden created by students using pallets. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

You may be reluctant to start a new garden bed if you have a site that’s less than ideal. Maybe it’s full of stones that you would have to sift out or pick out by hand. Or maybe the soil is compacted or riddled with clay, so you face the prospect of having to work in lots and lots of compost to break it up.

An easier solution is to create raised beds using pallets.

This idea came from Plantasia. It was in the student exhibit, a collaboration between the horticulture programs at Niagara County Community College (NCCC) in Sanborn and McKinley High School in Buffalo. The exhibit had a Mexican theme and was planted with vegetables used to make salsa.

view showing pallet used in raised bed in Hamburg NY
We moved some of the mulch and soil so you can see the pallet beneath the garden. Bricks help hold the dirt in place. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

I talked with Andrew Markus and Ilya Demyanenko, horticulture majors at NCCC. They said the first step for this project is to kill the grass in the area where you want your garden bed. Do that by laying down cardboard or a black tarp. They don’t recommend using herbicide.

Next, get some pallets. Pallets are used to ship merchandise, then they’re discarded. You can get pallets for free at any shopping center. Just go behind the stores where the garbage bins are and you’ll see pallets. Tip: You can fit three pallets in a Ford Fusion at one time.

As we explained in an article on last year’s student project at Plantasia that showed how to build an A-frame planter from pallets, whenever you are using pallets to grow food, make sure you choose pallets that are heat treated rather than chemically treated. The pallets are treated to kill insects in order to prevent the spread of invasive species.

The wood can be treated with heat in a kiln or oven, or it can be treated with a chemical called methyl bromide. When you are growing food, you want wood that is heat treated. Here is information on how to figure out if the pallet you have is safe to use.

Next, set your pallets on top of the area where you killed the grass. Fill the pallets with good soil and compost. You can line the edges with bricks as you can see in the photo at left or you could wrap the edges of the pallet with burlap to keep the soil from spilling out.

Pile more soil on top of the pallet. Markus brushed some of the soil and compost out of the way so we could see the pallet underneath in the photo at left.

Plant your vegetables or other plants in between the planks. They’ll come out in nice, straight rows.

“Container gardens and raised beds are a big thing now,” Markus said. “A lot of people want to get fresh produce.”

He said that his sister had an old bookcase that was too wobbly, so she laid it down and it became a container garden. You may find container gardening easier than digging a new garden bed.

5 Comments on “Got clay or rocks in your soil? Use pallets to create a raised bed– It’s simple!

  1. Skip, square foot gardening has been on my list of stories to do, but there is just so much to cover! Thanks for the reminder– I do want to cover it.

  2. This style is similar to ‘Square Foot Gardening’. I’ve been using this model for about 5 years or so. Its raised bed – I prefer to build my own boxes, which can be reused each season. If you’re going to do raised beds, do yourself a favor and purchase 1 of the sq foot gardening books (10 bucks or so on amazon). You’ll find so much useful information and tips. I’m not kidding – you’ll be impressed with your yield & you’ll get a ton of compliments. Really cool stuff.

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