One of the reasons I don't blog here very often is that I'm one of the team of contributors behind the Sustainable Witney blog. This local group, of which I'm a committee member, organizes and promotes local sustainability projects, and offers advice on how to live more sustainably. Some of that advice is in the form of blogposts, which I help write and edit.
Now that I've come to the end of a (very) short series of blogposts about hacking together your own raised bed from waste wood, discarded plastic and homegrown compost, I thought it would be worth sharing the gist of the series here.
There's a knack to it, basically. There are lots of online guides, some better than others. The better ones show how you can use a lump hammer and claw hammer to essentially use the pallet's joints against themselves, bending the nails so everything falls apart. The worse ones use blocks of concrete....
But despite what all of them suggest, you'll also need:
- a crowbar and/or prybar (if you can work out the difference you're a better man than I)
- lots of patience, so you don't start rushing and split the wood.
This is because very few of the online guides cover unusual or less-than-perfect pallets. Mine was both of a different construction, and also wet and slightly decaying in places. Read here how I dismantled it to obtain all this wood:
Again, there are lots of online guides. What you're aiming for, especially if you want plenty of height, is rigidity. So start off by assembling four "fence panels" with uprights sawn to size. Then put two together, bracing them so you get as square a corner as possible.
Making do with the wood you have to hand complicates matters enormously: variable length (saw it down); variable width (pick your planks for a given "panel", so widths even out overall); variable thickness (use bits of stray wood from other projects as shims.)
This last phase is the most fun, because there's fewer limitations on it. We still wanted to reuse as much as we could, so we lined the bed with plastic sacks from a woodfuel delivery; and the soil in the bed completely emptied our 200-litre compost bin before we resorted to purchasing compost and sand to mix in.
Above the bed itself, I assembled a frame from bamboo and old tennis balls. This will support fine netting, if we get pest problems; in the mean time, we're using it to mount wire mesh to prevent a very specific pest - our cat - from doing any mischief to our vegetables.
Finally, we laid down some fleece a few days in advance, to help warm the soil; now we've put some seeds in place, we'll leave the fleece down as it's meant to get cold in the next few days.
This was how we finished off our raised bed, and shortly afterwards started growing food in it!
I can't recommend doing this enough, especially if you've got a small garden (but even simply to augment an allotment.) The project in total would probably have taken two or three working days for one person, but the result means that planting new crops has since become a five-minute job, of which three minutes is getting tools out of the shed and opening seed packets.
If you're interested in doing it yourself (and I can heartily recommend giving it a try!) you can read all the posts in full, linked above. And if you've any questions, then you're welcome to comment here or just ask me on Twitter!