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Pallet Garden - Hugelkultur with Stacked Wood Pallets

Joel Greene

Joined: Jan 01, 2013
Posts: 4
Hello Everyone!
Here are some photos illustrating the construction of a hugelkultur inspired raised bed I built this autumn, which I call a Pallet Garden. I have access to free shipping pallets, which would otherwise be thrown away.

My location is Flagstaff Arizona - a high altitude (7000 ft) arid forest with poor soil comprised of clay and rocks. Flagstaff has a 61 day growing season and the first frost free day here is in the middle of June! Flagstaff is a challenging place for growing food, especially for a novice gardener like myself.

I stacked wood pallets, filling in the voids between the pallets with soil, horse manure, partially rotting logs, rotting straw, and mulch. Because the walls are vertical, the pallets are wrapped with 10oz burlap fabric. The burlap is 40" tall and is stapled directly to the wood pallets. Sticks were placed around the perimeter of the pallets to support the burlap that comes up above the level of the pallets. Soil and mulch was piled up to nearly to the top of the burlap. The bed is currently mellowing under a pile of snow. Now I have a few months to decide what to plant and where. Slits will be made in the burlap as needed to insert seeds and or plants into the vertical walls.

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S Bengi

Joined: Nov 29, 2012
Posts: 1229
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
Wood pallets are sometimes treated and the chemicals can leach into your food/soil.
The pallets have also been all over the world possible containing "bad" microbes.

You dont need pallets/stone/logs to frame a hugelkultur.
Its probably best to leave it with natural triangle/cone shape to maximize O2 exchange, planting area, sunlight/etc trade off.

I do love hugelkultur.
Strawberries and tomatoes seem like plants that would fit your bill.
Maybe some squash and beans too
Joel Greene

Joined: Jan 01, 2013
Posts: 4
Thanks for the input. I don't think I've ever seen a pallet constructed with treated wood. There were a few pallets I passed on because they had some paint on them. The boards are mostly pine and a few hardwoods. I'm in a somewhat suburban setting and don't have easy access to a quantity of logs and branches. Pallets can be pretty easy to get ahold of and are a little easier for one person to move around than large logs and stumps. So ease of handling and construction was a consideration too. Lastly, I figured my neighbors would be less weirded out by a big box as opposed to a big hugel pile.
S Bengi

Joined: Nov 29, 2012
Posts: 1229
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
The US governement makes it a law that wood pallets have to be treated. To cut down on the amount of microbes we spread.

I do understand the neighbor factor. Sound like a good time to create to vine/grape screen-fence that is 8ft high.

To me it seem like you are not burying the pallets to store water you are just using them to contain the regular compost.

Frank Turrentine

Joined: Nov 12, 2012
Posts: 73
All my pallets are heat-treated. There's a code stamped on each one to let you know whether they're heat-treated or chemically-treated. Heat-treated pallets are stamped with HT.
Joel Greene

Joined: Jan 01, 2013
Posts: 4
Thank you for this information! Now I'll have to check those pallets and remove any that are chemically treated. Ugh. So many ways to trip up.
Joel Greene

Joined: Jan 01, 2013
Posts: 4

Here is a different perspective on methyl bromide fumigation of pallets:

Ok, this thread may be drifting away from permaculture concepts, so I won't make more comments about this matter, and will leave it up to individuals to read up on the subject.
leila hamaya

Joined: Jun 30, 2012
Posts: 998
Location: northern northern california
i like this.
i've done some small ones just with one pallet, a board on top and then put recycled soil/bag soil/compost/leaves/straw/etc on top.... and plant on top of the whole thing. then it just rots in place....

i have access really close by of tons and tons and tons of free pallets, so i use them for lots of stuff.

those pine (?) flimsy ones, like you used, i didnt think they were treated, the wood falls apart and seems pretty plain.

you can get the fancy ones, those do seem like they may be treated or something.

i've used tons and tons of free pallet wood building things and in and around the garden, and especially for kindling.
i didnt think they were treated at all....guess i will have to look for the HT.
Lila Stevens

Joined: Jan 08, 2013
Posts: 12
We've been using pallets to build a bunch of raised beds in our yard, so I've done a lot of research on the treated/ untreated issue. What I've found, is that most pallets have stamps that say how they have been treated. HT= Heat-Treated, DB = De-Barked, KD = Kiln-Dried. I've found all of those codes on different pallets I've gotten, and they are all fine.

There are a few others that I've heard of, but have not seen in person: CT = Chemically Treated, MB = Methyl Bromide, PT = Pressure Treated. All of those involve nasty chemicals, according to my research, but I haven't actually seen those ones yet in person. Sometimes there are also stamps that tell what the pallet was carrying, so every time I see a new code, I Google it, and can usually figure out what it means.

My understanding is that this chemical treatment is only required for pallets used for international shipping.

That pallet garden looks cool, btw. I'd love to see how it works out.
Tom Davis

Joined: Sep 08, 2012
Posts: 156
I like this and forwarded it.

A lot of things come out of nowhere, so look everywhere.
Daniel Bilodeau

Joined: Feb 01, 2013
Posts: 1
Location: Flagstaff, AZ
There're forests everywhere - why not just go pick up some of the rotting/fallen trees?
You may have to ask permission from the forestry officials; they shouldn't mind, since you are adding value to the community with what you're doing.

You may need:
i. a chainsaw and/or axe
ii. a truck OR trailer (which you could either rent or borrow) to haul the stuff to your farm/garden.
Briand Collet

Joined: Feb 03, 2013
Posts: 5
Location: Middle TN
99% of heat treated kiln dried pallets made from southern yellow pine contain no treatment other than being heated to an internal core temperature of 130 degrees for 30 minutes. Very few exporters use fumigation (methyl bromide) for export pallets; however, these pallets are shipped overseas never to return to the states.
Angelika Maier

Joined: Jan 16, 2013
Posts: 640
Location: cool climate
You muat have a lot of pallets otherwise you would use them upright. Apart form the chemical issue, which is none if you read carefully what's on the pallets, I cannot imagine to grow root crops there. There is not much soil depth until the next pallett comes. There might be quite big air pockets too.
Why do you wrap something around your pallets and what is that?
subject: Pallet Garden - Hugelkultur with Stacked Wood Pallets