in honor of darwin
May 21, 2012 11:42 AM   Subscribe

Best way to turn a wooden box into an herb garden?

Around 5 years ago, we got a baby sulcata tortoise named Darwin. My dad built us a big plywood pen for him; maybe five feet by three feet, with one-foot walls. Sadly, Darwin met an early demise a couple years ago, and I've had this big wooden box in my garage ever since.

I'm thinking it would make a nice herb garden in the backyard. But I assume the plywood would rot pretty quickly, right? What would be the easiest way to seal it -- some kind of paint? lining it with plastic? Should we punch holes in the bottom? What would you do? Our skill level is medium.

If you can think up any other brilliant uses for a big wooden pen, let me know. No more tortoises.
posted by changeling to Science & Nature (4 answers total)
The plywood on its own would rot. The moisture would cause it to swell and delaminate (the layers of the plywood would peel apart).

You'd certainly get more life out of it by painting it with something. A few coats of yacht varnish (suitable for exterior wood), plus lining it with thick polythene ought to work. Alternatively, there are wood preservers that go on like paint, used for decks and benches and the like, that would provide some protection. Expect to have to renew the protective finish every couple of years.

Holes in the bottom are a very good idea. Drill a hole every couple of inches. Stand the box on a few lengths of timber to raise it an inch or so off the ground, otherwise the drainage holes won't help much. Fill the bottom of the box with pebbles or small stones before filling with soil/compost.

It it were me, I'd probably just dismantle the box; but then, I'm someone who could always use a bit of plywood.
posted by pipeski at 12:11 PM on May 21, 2012

If you protect it with varnish or paint, plus line it, put it up on bricks or timber every foot or so (wet soil is heavy and it will sag), drill holes, etc, as pipeski mentioned, you will be surprised at how long it will last. Use two layers of the toughest polyurethane you can get. Certainly it would do for a 'starter' herb bed for the six or so years it takes your potted herbs to out-grow it. Afterward, you'll probably want to move the herbs further apart or give them more space. If so, a new and bigger bed could be built of redwood around this one, and it would be dismantled, having done its job. You could then even put pieces of the wood down to prevent weeds between the herbs in the bigger box. The nice thing about having it off the ground would be that the herbs that tend to go crazy: oregano, sage, thyme, would be contained. If you plant mint, put it in a large pot and sink it to keep from taking over. It doesn't just spread, it takes over.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:50 PM on May 21, 2012

Make sure you're not treating the wood with anything that will be toxic to you if you eat it, since chemicals may leech into the soil and then into the herbs.
posted by curious nu at 3:27 PM on May 21, 2012

Turning it into a wicking bed is an option, if you're willing to spend on a waterproof liner and a some pipe. Lining to the top of the soil line should spare the inside surfaces from constant water exposure.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 4:20 PM on May 21, 2012

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