Go Sky High With Your Garden

6 Easy Steps to Your Own Pallet Garden

Vertical gardening has become more and more popular every year.  One of my favorite types of vertical gardens are made from recycled pallets!  I have created pallet gardens for both edibles and ornamentals, and have also offered workshops to make your own for many years.  With the urban and suburban sprawl in the DC Metropolitan area, where I live, many people don’t have the space for a traditional garden – or maybe you just want to do something DIFFERENT…so instead of growing out, lets grow UP!

Supplies needed:

  • Empty, clean pallet with all boards intact (Check out http://www.1001pallets.com/pallet-safety/ for info on pallet safety with edibles)
  • Landscaping fabric
  • Staple gun
  • ProMix potting medium
  • Organic fertilizer blend  – Plant Tone, Green Sand, Rock Phosphate, Garden Gypsum

Step 1: Lining your pallet

This can be a one man (or woman!) job but it’s much easier if you have a buddy.  Here you’ll want to line the pallet all the way around with the landscaping fabric (except the front, where we’ll be planting our plants).  I always try to do it with one large piece instead of cutting it up and lining each side separately.  You want to make sure it’s tight, as this is what’s holding the soil in.  The top of the pallet I typically line separately since we’ll be removing that portion at a later date when we stand the pallet up.

Step 2: Adding Potting Medium

Next we want to fill the fully lined pallet with potting medium.  I usually use ProMix Organic Herb & Veggie as it’s a lighter soil…and organic!  Lay your pallet down flat and start scooping!  Be sure to fill in, leaving ruts between each slat (where our plants will go).  I try to pack the bottom pretty tight – don’t forget this will be standing up so stuff can shift a little.  You don’t want to leave room for much movement.  The top doesn’t have to be packed as tight since we’ll be planting there later on.

Step 3:  Don’t forget to fertilize!

I like to use a blend of 4 fertilizers – and I use this blend in ALL my container gardens, so this is a cocktail to always keep in mind when potting…and it’s organic!  My very unscientific method is to take a small scooper and spread a thin layer of each of these products down each row where we will be planting.  When you’re done, rake your hand over each row to slightly blend.

Step 4:  Planting

Now for the real fun to begin!  Get your creative juices flowing – choose your plants and how they will fit in.  I often choose to do an all edibles and then a separate one for color, but feel free to mix it up.  The options are endless!  If you choose to do edibles, I recommend to use herbs and/or cool season leafy veggies, i.e. lettuce, spinach, violas, etc which you can grow two seasons per year – spring and fall.  Summer veggies (tomatoes, squash, eggplant, etc) just grow too large for the pallet.

Once I pick out my plants I line them up in my pallet before planting.  This way I can play around and switch things around if I want to.  So now I’m ready to plant!  It’s as simple as popping them out of the pot and inserting them into the pallet where you want.  Don’t forget to break up your roots like you would if you were planting a container garden or into the ground.

Step 5:  The Backfill

Now that we have all or our plants in the pallet where we want, we’re ready to fill in the gaps with more ProMix.  Fill in and push down tight, just like in a container garden.

Step 6:  Water and Wait

Okay, we’re all done planting so just water these guys in and set for about 10-14 days for plants to grow in a bit.  The root growth is what’s going to help keep these guys in place once we stand the pallet up so water regularly.  Once the pallet is ready to stand up we can remove the landscape fabric in the top and plant something fabulous there!  Tada!!!  Your vertical pallet garden is complete!  Have fun harvesting lots of goodies or simply admiring its beauty throughout the season!

Pro tip:  When watering while vertical I use a watering wand.  The water spray is gentle and thorough.  Be sure to water the top and some will drain down, but also water the body of the pallet as well.

Have fun and please share your own pallet gardening experience with me! Whether you’ve done it before, or starting now, I want to hear about it!

If you have any questions about any of these steps, please ask me for more info/photos. I have more to share!


I’m a worm farmer!

My friend, Sue, who used to work at the garden center with me, gave me her worm farm a few weeks ago.  I’ve never been a worm farmer before and by the looks of things so far, it’s not too hard!  This is a super easy way to make your own organic, nutrient rich compost.   The cool kids call it vermicomposting and you can do it yourself just about anywhere!

Some of you might be wondering just what exactly IS vermicomposting and why is it different from the compost pile in my backyard?  Vermicomposting, to put it simply, is composting with worms.  It can be done year round, inside and in small spaces too!  With traditional composting you’re typically working with a large pile or a cool looking bin you can spin to turn – and you need heat.  With vermicomposting there’s no heat or turning involved – the worms do all the work!  They’re aerating and “turning” the soil for you!  The best composting worms are Eisenia fetida, aka Red Wigglers or Eisenia hortensis, aka European nightcrawlers, also called bait worms.  These guys are more surface dwellers unlike your typical earthworm who like to burrow deep into the earth.  But be careful – these guys aren’t hardy here in the Mid-Atlantic area.  It gets too cold in the winter for them to survive outside which is why you must keep your worm farm indoors – 59-77 degrees F is ideal.

So, wait, why have a worm farm if the worms die if it gets too hot or too cold?  Easy, it’s actually the worm castings, or their POO we’re after!  I know, sounds gross but it has great nutrients for our plants.  And no, it doesn’t smell.  My current set up is super clean and easy, and takes up hardly any room at all.  It’s just a plastic storage bin and lid with small holes drilled in the top.

To make your own, start preparing the bedding by tearing newspaper into 1/2″-1″ strips.  Stay away from colored print as it can be toxic to the worms.  Dampen the newspaper strips and place into your bin – don’t flatten them though, keep them fluffy so they do not cut off air to your worms.  If your newspaper ends up getting too wet you can always add some dry strips as well.  Your bin should be about 3/4 full of fluffy, damp newspaper strips.  Then add 2-4 cups of soil…pretty much any soil is acceptable (and depending on how large your bin is, you may want to add even more soil than this).  Potting soil, soil from your back yard or garden, etc.  Gritty soil is great for worms as they have no teeth and it aids in their digestive process.

Ok, now we’re ready for worms.  Add your worms to the newspaper and bury food scraps under the bedding.  Practically any type of kitchen scrap is acceptable…fruits, veggies, coffee grounds, egg shells, etc.  Breaking it all up into smaller pieces makes it easier for the worms to eat.  A few things to stay away from include bones and/or meats, oils and dairy.  Also it’s important to limit the amount of citrus that goes into the bin.  Some people are pretty scientific about the number or amount of worms they have and the amount of food they feed their worms.  I’m not.  I check on my worms about twice a week and if it looks like it’s low on scraps or newspaper, I’ll add some.  I typically end up adding food about every 10 days or so and occasionally spray with water.  It’s as easy as that!

You can see the egg shells, potato peels and coffee grounds for my worms.
And not sure why this pic came out vertical but you get the idea.

Now to harvest.  I’m still so new at this that I haven’t harvested any compost yet.  Typically the time to start harvesting is 3-6 months after set up and the material in the bin should look like dark compost.  There are a number of ways to harvest but the method I will probably do is a “hands on” method.  Before harvesting it’s a good idea to stop feeding approximately two weeks prior.  This method involves dumping the entire farm onto a tarp or a large area lined with newspaper.  Separate the compost (which will also contain worms and possibly some unprocessed newspaper and food scraps) into a number of smaller, cone-shaped piles.  Once the piles are exposed to light the worms will migrate to the bottom and you can remove the compost on the top – but you may have to also remove some of the unprocessed food and bedding.  This process may have to be repeated a few times for each pile as the worms will migrate further down to the bottom of the piles the more they’re exposed to light.  Finally you’ll be left with a pile of worms and a small amount of leftover scraps which you can then start a new farm!

Using your fresh compost is easy.  Simply add it to your potting soil or bedding soil as a soil amendment or use it as a top dressing for house plants and bedding plants.  And don’t feel like you have to use all your compost at one time.  You can always save it as you would regular potting soil.

It’s as easy (and not smelly) as that!  Happy New Year all and make a resolution to compost a little more and do something great for your plants.  They’ll thank you for it.