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trying heavy-weight CARDBOARD BOXES for "raised bed" system this year

 
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Location: Douglas County, WI zone 4a 105 acres
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The house will be far from done when I move May 1; the ground is nasty clay in the process of being improved - not ready yet; we've got voles, rabbits, deer, etc. and no permanent fence yet - maybe by the end of the summer.

Soooo, this is my crazy plan.
We have an old metal barn door about 12 x12 - got bracing -will add more.
Gonna whip up some cheap saw-horses to hold the door up and make a relatively flat platform.
Unlimited access to boxes 8" deep, 12" wide, 15 " long - heavy-weight/double-wall - used for soft-serve ice-cream mix bags. I'm using them for my packing - perfect for my fabric hoard!
Put boxes on platform - double row around perimeter of platform, fill with half store-bought potting soil and half  "black dirt": farmer sells mix of well-rotted manure+sand. Excellent - used it for fruit trees last year.
Drip irrigation set-up.
Surround all garden area with makeshift chicken wire/whatever to temporarily keep out critters.

Planting in BOXES: greens, lettuce, beets, brassicas, peas, pest-control flowers, and beans.
               DIY BAGS on the ground: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, okra. I'm talking "grow bags"  I can sew from landscape cloth or VivoSun bags from Amazon.
               ROUND BALES(3-yr-old rotting): squash, cukes - vines trailing down.
               LASAGNA BEDS(1-yr-old): potatoes, maybe sweet corn.

Labor is going to be in short supply, since I'm 67 and my son and "EX" will be working on finishing the house + other projects. We will have to get the tractor in there to work on building more lasagna, improving the clay, and installing fence. I'm not a beginner, but only have experience in Zone 7. I'm basically wondering if these double-layer corrugated boxes might completely fall apart, even if they were jammed all tight together AND if planting in a cardboard box would have the same drawbacks as a plastic container/pot. I'm thinking I could easily wrap poly "deer-fence" strips around the perimeter of the box rows to help stabilize the cardboard.
I know this community is busy planning for their own 2019 season, so I'm VERY grateful to you all for reading this and for ANY thoughts/advice/experience. Best wishes for a happy and productive 2019!






 
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I'm thinking the boxes would hold up just fine, especially where they're touching one another.  The perimeter may bow out but probably not that bad.  You could always put a chunk of wood inside each box on the side that is at the edge of the barn door so the wood is holding back the soil, not the moist cardboard.

Make sure that door's strong enough to hold all that weight  

Good plan with the rotted round bales.  You could do taters and root crops in them as well (according to the straw bale gardener - Joel Karsten).
 
Mary Beth Alexander
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Thanks, "neighbor" Mike Jay! You know, I follow you here - maybe I can accept your invite to visit on my way up from FL - will keep in touch. Regards, MBA
 
Mike Haasl
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Sounds good, don't come up yet there's still 3' of snow on the ground
 
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Mary,

Just a thought.

My biggest concern would be that the moisture from the soil would soften the box to the point where the box itself would fall apart.

I tried growing a seedling tree like this one summer when it was too hot to plant and the box began to degrade badly.  What saved it (I should have done this at the beginning of the project) was to wrap the box with duct tape a couple of times.  As the box continued to break down, the duct tape was just enough support to hold it together till I could transplant.

Duct taping would be cheap and easy and might save your boxes after you plant in them.

Again, just my 2 cents,

Eric
 
Mary Beth Alexander
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UPDATE: Working great - we added a little "circular" support from scraps from house-build. Boxes support each other ... might be able to re -use them next year!
Adding in 5-gal grow bags to a similar platform made from the other old barn door and  remainder of roof-truss pallets, like before ... PERFECT height for me/no critters!
 
Mary Beth Alexander
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Well, I am using those boxes again this year. As we suspected, they supported each other and have only deteriorated at the exposed ends, where I replaced them with grow-bags.
I have been surprised to notice there are no worms in the soil. Is the 8-inch depth too shallow to support their lifestyle? TONS of worms in raised beds and "black-dirt" pile.
I'm also re-using those 30?-gal grow bags and finding only a very few worms in them.
Everything has the same dirt mix of rotted manure, sand, wood chips - this year I added azomite and bone meal plus some new soil mix to amend the soil which grew plants last season.

Discovered a drawback to using that galvanized door as a table for boxes. With the drought and so much sun, the uncovered center area - 3' X 5' - is acting like a heat-sink/reflector and raising the ambient temp by 5-10 degrees! We used a meat thermometer to take temps last evening and were shocked. We have 14hrs of sun, and there is NO shade for my garden area. Today, I mulched that open area with layers of rotten cardboard. So, just be aware if you are using metal close to your plants. Best regards to all!
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