Notes from the Veggie U Pallet Garden

Searching Pinterest in January for garden ideas can be a dangerous thing!

Since moving to our new digs in Oberlin, we have wanted to have an outdoor garden here at Veggie U to test the seeds we send to schools and maybe even to try out some new varieties. Plus, we are big fans of fresh-from-the-garden veggies, for obvious reasons. A traditional “in-ground” garden is not possible, but we are very lucky to have a large deck attached to the back of our building that is suitable for some sort of container garden. So, the Pinterest garden idea search began!

Veggie U has been fortunate to be able to work with teams of students from Oberlin College’s Environmental Sciences Program. They come to Veggie U HQ, also in Oberlin, Ohio, learn about our mission and help us out by bagging potting soil and soil samples, filling and collating seed packets, packing soil and grow lights, and completing other day-to-day tasks necessary for getting our gardens into classrooms nationwide. But this year’s Environmental Sciences 101 group wanted to do a little more. Perhaps something using recycled materials... Perhaps something involving gardening... Perhaps something outside...

So we came up with plan to construct window boxes and a small shipping pallet garden that would satisfy our garden itch with very little maintenance requirements. One Sunday in April, Deb Coverdale, Veggie U volunteer extraordinaire came with her knowledge and power tools and, along with our four students from Oberlin, we spent the afternoon creating the frame work for our garden: two double sided railing boxes and two raised pallet beds. We also had some large containers, one would hold peas we would transplant from our root viewer trials, and the other was for a tomato plant because we love to harvest fresh cherry tomatoes for lunch.

In late May, the weather finally cooperated enough to be able to plant the vegetables and herbs. Since the pallet garden only contains about 4 inches of soil, we chose plants that grow upwards and have a shallow root base. Edibles like peppers, bush beans, cucumbers, strawberries, lettuce, and almost any herb would work well in these containers.

It’s now late June and already we have been harvesting beans, Swiss chard, and peas, and snipping bits from our herb plants. Our zucchini is flowering and setting fruit. We planted some cabbage and Romanesco broccoli as an experiment and so far they look to be a bit large for a pallet garden. Their leaves are crowding everything else out. It will be interesting to see whether we will be able to harvest anything at all from these plants.

We are enjoying the weed-free ease of this style of gardening. We tend to water almost every day, especially on Fridays since we are not here on weekends. We included lots of compost with our potting mix and the garden seems to retain moisture very well. Fertilizing regularly with an organic, water-soluble fertilizer seems to be providing the vegetables with enough nutrients and our plants look very healthy. We are really enjoying witnessing the day-by-day growth and development of our vegetables and are looking forward to a bountiful harvest!

Here’s what you’ll need to create your own pallet garden:

• Wooden shipping pallets (We used 4 total, 2 to plant in and 2 to act as bases)
• Heavy duty staple gun and staples
• Landscape fabric
• Chicken wire
• Potting soil (we added lots of compost and vermicompost to store-bought potting mix)
• Seedlings

Start by observing the space between the slats of the pallets you will be using to plant in. If your slats are too close together to leave adequate space for planting, you will have to remove a few. Be careful when removing slats as the wood tends to be splintery and brittle.

Step 1

Turn your pallets over. Lay the garden fabric across the back and cut enough to cover the entire back and enough extra to cover all four sides and overlap around the top. Then trim the fabric from the roll.

Begin stapling the garden fabric to the backside of the pallet, stapling the outer edges first, holding the fabric taut. Use additional staples on any supports that go through the center of the pallet. Once it is firmly secure on the bottom, turn the pallet over and fold the fabric up over the top and sides of the pallet and stapling it to the top. This prevents any of the soil from falling out of the sides. For extra support, staple chicken wire across the bottoms and sides of the pallet in the same manner as the garden fabric.

Step 2

Once you have all your pallet garden beds created, move them into place. We used one plain, unwrapped pallet as a base and then placed the wrapped pallet on top to create a raised bed. Two sets of these (total of four pallets) created our Veggie U garden.

Once you have them where you want them, fill them with potting soil. We added lots of compost to our potting mix to add as much nutrients as possible. Make sure you fill the pallets well because the soil will settle. You want to give your plants as much soil as you can since the garden is rather shallow. Water your garden thoroughly before planting, any extra water will drain through the landscape fabric. You may have to add more soil after watering if the soil settles too much.

Step 3

Now you can fill your garden with plants by carefully inserting them between the slats and gently firming them in. Remember, your vegetables will grow, so leave enough space between plants. Give them another watering and you are ready to grow!

Step 4