No, not that kind of raised bed.
June 12, 2011 2:02 PM   Subscribe

Container gardening on top of a pallet: what should I know about drainage and heat?

Mr Itoku & I have conveniently come into some old pallets and decided to use them as "platforms" for container gardening. We were originally contemplating traditional raised beds but owing to a couple of herniated discs we want the garden to be up at non-bending height. Our plan is to put the pallets on the ground (on top of some cinderblocks for added height?) and then put containers of various sizes and shapes on top of the pallet.

My question is to do with the "space" that this will create between the ground and the plants. I know the ground is generally cool and protective - will the hot summer air moving under the pallets bake/dry out the plants in containers? Is there anything I need to take into account with regards to soil type or watering?

Unfortunately Google is not helpful in this respect as "raised bed" turns up a gazillion sites dealing with beds that are on top of the ground, rather than raised up on a platform.
posted by media_itoku to Home & Garden (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I've been container gardening at waist height for a couple of years in the UK, due to a pet rabbit infestation. Choose decently-sized containers, made out of terracotta not plastic, water daily, pot on when necessary, mulch with organic material (rabbit droppings, oddly enough), and choose plants that like being mistreated (Campanula are awesome). That's about all I know.
posted by Leon at 4:12 PM on June 12, 2011

It really depends on what you are growing.

I had to find a similar solution, because the land I live on was once a dump and vegetable gardening in the soil isn't recommended. I have had tremendous success growing tomatoes in Earthtainers. They've gotten rave reviews for crops that like warm soil and lots of water like corn, beans, peas, cucumbers, etc.

I grew peppers in them for a while, but I think the soil got a little too warm for them. Now I grow peppers (green, jalapenos, habaneros and anchos) in pots. They are off the ground and do fine.

If you think the soil will get too hot, just insulate the pots with something - maybe put pots inside of pots? It'll probably take some trial and error, but just about anything will grow in pots with the right attention. (Very important when growing food in pots: water use by the plants skyrockets as they mature, so you really need to keep an eye on water and fertilizer needs.)
posted by Benny Andajetz at 4:23 PM on June 12, 2011

The Earthtainers are great - otherwise you're going to have to be extremely committed to watering, and forgetting to water once can damage your plants forever (that's why I hate those upside-down tomato planters - they dry out so fast and first-time gardeners get the impression that gardening is hard. Gardener's Supply sells an earthbox kit that is excellent, but a little pricey.

I also think it would be fun to grow some vines that would cascade down the sides, you could even leave a pot of cukes or pole beans on the ground and train the vines to climb up your pallet structure.

The hot summer sun won't bake the containers any more than putting them on a concrete patio would, which is where a lot of people try to do container gardening. If anything, the increased air circulation should make your plants less likely to succumb to fungal diseases.

If you're not going totally organic, the Miracle Gro moisture control soil is great for containers. Regular Miracle Gro soil is fine, too. You don't have to feed your plants because it already had fertilizer in the soil. Stay away from the cheapest "topsoil" - it's often heavy, low quality soil that gets compacted in containers.
posted by Ostara at 6:03 PM on June 12, 2011

There are a lot of variables packed into this one question. If you live in a climate that tends to get hot, then keeping your pots off the ground will help you out. Are you using terra cotta containers? If so, they will dry out on all sides now, so you'll need to water just that much more often. If you want to amend your soil, add some compost and consider adding perlite. Both of these are good at holding water, and will get you a little bit farther on what watering you do.
posted by Gilbert at 8:28 PM on June 12, 2011

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