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Safe containers?

 
pollinator
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Wondering what your thoughts are on safe containers for growing veggies.  I'm super frugal but I'm always kind of reluctant to grow veggies in a lot of containers because of fear of toxins.  Every time I research it, I find so much information about the nasty stuff plants take up in their roots from containers, but it doesn't seem to be addressed in any container gardening books I've read.

I read a post the other day about what plastics were safe to grow in and they listed the numbers that are food safe.  They pointed out that they got a flower pot from a garden center and the number on the bottom was a type of plastic not considered safe for holding food.  Most people would assume a flower pot would be safe for growing veggies.  But even the food safe plastics don't strike me as very safe anyway, as plastic breaks down in heat.

And then I've read all these reports that grow bags and "cloth" grocery bags are made of a type of plastic and have tested positive for things like lead, not to mention a ton of nasty chemicals....

Plastic containers like kiddie pools have pthalates and such to make them bendable, not to mention all the stuff in plastic and in the coating and coloring.  Even things like reused metal containers can have lead and aluminum. And obviously tires are full of all kinds of toxic stuff, but I see people growing veggies in those.  And then some kinds of pallets have dangerous chemicals in them and you're supposed to look for numbers but I never know which numbers...  It turns out those concrete blocks can have awful stuff in them if you don't know which types are safe, which I never realized at all. I know from following Lead Safe Mama that almost all dishes and containers (even expensive ones) are full of stuff like lead (mostly older and cheaper stuff) and cadmium (especially stuff with colors).  And some wood is treated, and on and on.

I know I sound like a crackpot to most people when I say any of this.  LOL  But I figured this was a safer place to mention health concerns and ask questions.  

Obviously I know fresh grown organic stuff is still healthy but I really don't want to grow plants that are taking up all kinds of nasty stuff from the things they're grown in.  Our oldest child is a cancer survivor and I'm not one of those people who just says everything is bad for you so you might as well just give up.

What are your favorite frugal, safe containers?
 
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Trying to stay away from Toxic Gick territory but I imagine most of us here have at least one plastic pot in the mix. I referred to this post about plastic use and was at least somewhat put at ease in the way I use plastic in the garden. Plastic is not a perfect solution but It does have a place in some instances for me.
https://www.gardenmyths.com/growing-food-plastic-containers-safe/
 
Alicia Bayer
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Robert Ray wrote:Trying to stay away from Toxic Gick territory but I imagine most of us here have at least one plastic pot in the mix. I referred to this post about plastic use and was at least somewhat put at ease in the way I use plastic in the garden. Plastic is not a perfect solution but It does have a place in some instances for me.
https://www.gardenmyths.com/growing-food-plastic-containers-safe/



Yes, I've read that one. That's the article I referenced when it said they looked and the plastic flower pot they bought was a type of plastic not considered food safe.  I know they basically have it come down to it's probably all fine because it's low doses but it didn't reassure me that much.
 
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I'd say that ceramic or terra cotta are likely pretty safe.  I've seen coconut coir hanging baskets that might be great.  I'm not sure if there's something on the coir though?  If you want to build them yourselves you could make wooden boxes that might hold up for a few years before rotting too badly (untreated wood only).  Or weave some baskets from willow or some other handy material to use as a pot.  

 
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It's a scary world we live in.  Unfortunately as you have already discovered almost everything has a risk. Could you just plant in the ground?  What about locating an uncontaminated straw bale?  Sew your own grow bags out of cotton or wool?  You could build a bed out of heat treated wood and line it with cotton, or some other natural material. They do sell large peat pots, I believe if you don't put them in the ground they will last a couple of years.  I have seen pots made out of bamboo, but I haven't researched them, so don't know if they are safe.
Good luck to you, I hope you find what you're looking for. Please share if you do.  Happy gardening
 
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You could  use a stainless steel sink or pan to grow in, toilet tanks or glass jars.

You might want to keep in mind that most every food you purchase to buy has been exposed to the very materials you are trying to avoid.
The water used in growing or processing has passed through these same materials.
This includes certified organic products.
No need to get into the contents of the soil itself, except to say that we as humans have spread our waste everywhere.


.
 
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Hi Alicia,
I think this is a great question. And while I don't think it is a big problem, I can also understand your situation, and I too would be trying to reduce my exposure as much as possible.

It seems like you are talking about growing the plants out to maturity, but just in case you meant for seed starting, I will throw out the idea of soil blocks. For growing to maturity, you have lots of good answers already.

I will mention, that as a general rule, the softer a plastic is... the easier it is to degrade and release junk. The harder the plastic is, the longer it takes to degrade and there is less junk being released.
 
pollinator
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Just look for HT on the pallets. That means they're heat treated, rather than chemical treated. Of course, you never know what has spilled on them, but you could say that about a lot of things.

I've built a few open ended boxes out of pallets that sit on the ground, and then I fill them with dirt and sticks for a hugel type planter. The oldest one I built out of 1x has been getting a bit rough the last couple years, but still hanging together. It's six years old. A five year old one built out of 2x shows no signs of rot yet. I do have pretty dead soil, though.

I dont grow much in containers cause they need too much water, but when I do I mostly grow in terra cotta. I haven't actually looked into it, but I assume that the ones made in the EU are safer from contaminates than ones made more cheaply elsewhere. So I buy the Italian and German made ones, which are easy to find here.
 
Jen Fulkerson
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My work sells pots made from bamboo. I haven't done any research, but it may be an option.
 
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I recently inherited a large number of plastic grow pots. They're made in China and have no recycling number so I'm concerned about using them for plants intended for food.  I'm considering applying shellac to the interior surface, assuming it adheres well. Thus far in my search, I'm reading that shellac is considered a food safe surface sealant. Any thoughts appreciated!
 
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I'm assuming you're planning to grow veggies to maturity in some sort of container versus growing transplants.   Also assuming that maybe you don't have adequate space for a garden or perhaps are in a rental which may not allow it.  If I were in that situation,  Id probably do some research on wine or whiskey barrels.  Personally I've never grown in them because they're a bit price prohibitive but if I were to find one reasonably priced at a yard sale I'd snatch it up in a minute.   Cedar planters are another option but I'd probably try to make them myself or source them from a local craftsperson as I believe it's possible to obtain better quality for less than the cost of store-bought.  Possibly food-grade plastic buckets would be the more frugal option but then again is the question of just how safe are they.

Personally I reuse all my plastic seed-starting containers until they fall apart.  The majority of my plants go in the ground,  but a few go in large plastic pots and I've never given much thought about contaminants before.  Maybe it's time to relegate the pots for ornamentals only.

Also I'm happy to hear that your daughter is a cancer survivor.  My daughter has special needs which has made me more aware of and receptive to contaminants and herbicide-laden world we live in.  
 
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My favorite container is a really large one.  The earth :)  In areas that isn't an option, as Mike mentioned, I'm a huge fan of plain boxes built from wood.  When they inevitably break down, they just contribute to the soil.  

If you want wooden boxes to last longer, simply char all sides of the boards well.  I don't believe that makes them as impervious to rot as some people believe, but it will slow down the rate of decay, possibly by a great deal.
 
Robert Ray
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I looked into silicone baking products and the FDA claims the silicone is chemically inert so they are food safe, that might be worth a look. I might try the ice cube trays for seed starters to see if the hold up after poking in a drain hole.
silicone-ice-cube.jpg
[Thumbnail for silicone-ice-cube.jpg]
 
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Trace Oswald wrote:
If you want wooden boxes to last longer, simply char all sides of the boards well.  I don't believe that makes them as impervious to rot as some people believe, but it will slow down the rate of decay, possibly by a great deal.



This is known as Shou Sugi Ban. The life expectancy can be many decades when properly maintained. It’s environmentally friendly since wood is a renewable resource and no chemicals are required for finishing. Common woods used include cedar (preferred), pine, spruce and even hardwoods like oak or maple.
This is not lightly scorching the surface but a deeper char. We do it to poplar boards, which tend to rot quickly when in contact with moisture. So far the only downside I’ve found is the soot that rubs off on your skin/clothes but once it’s weathered a bit that’s mostly gone.
Well worth researching and trying as a non-toxic planter.
 
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I just watched a video where a guy tried growing potatoes in various pots and containers.  The one that worked best was just a plain old cardboard box with dirt in it!  (I'm sure you could plant whatever else, no problem.)

Only good for one season, of course, but they're basically free to replace every year, so why not?

And when they're spent... they're halfway to compost already!
 
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Robert Ray wrote:I looked into silicone baking products and the FDA claims the silicone is chemically inert so they are food safe, that might be worth a look. I might try the ice cube trays for seed starters to see if the hold up after poking in a drain hole.



Well, depending on how the silicone containers are used - they might be safe. Remember how 'safe' Teflon was when it was new in the markets as pots, pans, and skillets, only later to find that the fumes coming off the Teflon were strong enough to 'kill the canary'?

Silicones can out-gas depending on the temperatures and probably the age of the container too. They are probably food safe up to, but not over 400 degrees F. But, if you're expecting a large container for gardening that will be very thick walled and very heavy.

IF you have the capability try building some 12" tall, 1.4" thin-walled wooden buckets. You don't need anything other than straight staves, maybe angled on the sides by about 5 to 9 degrees so they mate up in the circle and just do straight walls, a 1/2" bottom, and possibly some poly rope handles, or no handles and move them using a dolly. To assemble lay two rows of blue tape out on a bench, line up all the staves, then start rolling up and sit up to see if you have any large cracks you need to fix or replace the stave. Lay back down, use some Titebond glue on the vertical edges, then roll up. While one person holds the upright staves have a second person put a couple of bungee cords around to hold the staves together until the glue dries overnight. Wipe off any excess glue. Next day install the bottom and any handles you've designed.

Fill the bucket with Planter Soil, sow your seeds, sit back and sip a tea to congratulate yourself!    :-)
 
Robert Ray
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I don't usually subject my seed starting trays to 400 degrees so I think I'll be safe there. Silicone is used for many medical  applications, because of its at present purported inert properties. Maybe they're right this time? Food grade silicone does not break down into micro plastics and it is readily recyclabe. Milk jugs and carboys for starting seedlings outdoors is something many of us do. I mentioned in a previous post about acquiring over 100 carboys and cutting them for seed starters just bigger versions of the milk jug seed starter and then after seed starting using the tops as cloches. You can buy silicone seed starting trays but the ice cube trays seemed to be cheaper and using the lids under them will work well. The flimsy black seed starting cells don't seem to last for me for many seasons.
 
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Gary Singleton wrote:I recently inherited a large number of plastic grow pots. They're made in China and have no recycling number so I'm concerned about using them for plants intended for food.  I'm considering applying shellac to the interior surface, assuming it adheres well. Thus far in my search, I'm reading that shellac is considered a food safe surface sealant. Any thoughts appreciated!




This is what the Home Depot says about shellac coating:
"Shellac, derived from Indian lac bugs, is a common food-safe film finish. It is water-resistant, but can be prone to blushing or water rings. Available in different hues, shellac is sold in liquid form or in flakes that must be dissolved in ethanol before application."
 
Jen Fulkerson
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I made this raised bed from a heat treated pallet. I painted linseed oil on it hopefully to help it last longer.  It has a hardware cloth bottom ( might not be right for you.). It's definitely not perfect, but I'm quite happy with it. It cost me nothing to make, and didn't take very long to build.
IMG20230311170341.jpg
Pallet wood raised bed
Pallet wood raised bed
 
Jen Fulkerson
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Because of a terrible gopher problem I can't plant anything in the ground. But some things just do better in the ground for me. So I have tried a few alternatives. I tried the food safe 5 gallon bucket. I drilled many holes in it. I dug a hole and basically planted it. I filled it like a mini hugel. It worked well, I was actually over watering it and had to water less. So year one success. I noticed it was full of weeds but when I tried to clean it up I discovered the top that stuck out of the soil was brittle and broke away.  Now I have to dig it out.  I did the same thing with the black nursery pots. Some I bought, and some I already had from buying trees.  They have held up so far. It didn't occur to me to research the plastic. I just assumed that because it's meant for planting it was ok. I know better than to assume.  So much of my learning comes from the back end.
 
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Good Morning to all, I too feel uneasy about growing food in large 5-galllon plastic buckets because I don't know what is leaking from the container into the plants that produce the food I eat. I've done it, but no longer.

Here is what I do, I start seeds in the shallow black plastic you get when buying ground beef. I think if it is safe enough for raw meat, it will be safe enough to use to start seeds. Then, I transfer the seedlings into large clear plastic drinking glasses I purchased from Walmart about 6 years ago. Use them, empty them, wash them and store them in the garage until next season. From those containers I transfer the seedlings into the large cottage cheese or yogurt containers, then into the ground. Again, if it safe enough for ground meat, cottage cheese and yogurt, it's safe enough to grow seedlings.

I especially like the clear plastic drinking glasses (which one of my brothers told me is an oxymoron) for rooting rosemary stems. In early September I cut the stems about 6" down from the top, dip them in a rooting compound, and into the containers filled with a mixture of potting soil and perlite. I like these containers because I can monitor the root growth and can see when it is time to put them into larger containers.

In past years I have used the 5-gallon buckets for growing hot peppers because in my area the rabbits eat the hot pepper plants, along with beet greens, Brussels spouts plants, green beans and I forget what else.

This year, we are going to grow potatoes in cardboard boxes. As another contributor said, they are safe, and free. What's not to like?

This morning I was on You Tube and watched a video on "Plant Abundance" channel. One of the comments was from a women who used a hanging shoe container, the type that hangs on the back of a door, to grow herbs. The containers are made of canvas which drains. Sounds like a good idea to me. I also like the suggestion about sewing growing containers out of burlap, canvas, or white cotton fabric, the cotton container will probably not last more than one growing season but might be safer than the 5-gallon containers.
 
Julie Reed
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Catherine Guzovich wrote:  
I too feel uneasy about growing food in large 5-galllon plastic buckets because I don't know what is leaking from the container into the plants that produce the food I eat…I start seeds in the shallow black plastic you get when buying ground beef. I think if it is safe enough for raw meat, it will be safe enough to use to start seeds. Then, I transfer the seedlings into large clear plastic drinking glasses… From those containers I transfer the seedlings into the large cottage cheese or yogurt containers, then into the ground. Again, if it safe enough for ground meat, cottage cheese and yogurt, it's safe enough to grow seedlings.



I agree with your concerns about 5 gallon buckets, but by the same logic as your other plastic containers, the 5 gallon buckets are equally safe- they are often used to contain bulk food ingredients at an institutional level. Prisons, schools, retirement homes; they all have huge kitchens that buy food in bulk. The bakery at your grocery store has lots of buckets. We have gotten them that held honey, peanut butter, pickles…
Here’s a fairly informative article- https://www.wikihow.com/Identify-Food-Grade-Buckets.
In a previous comment I mentioned getting buckets that held drywall mud. They are all stamped HDPE 02, which is considered food safe. So far I haven’t found any information to indicate the plastic would be unsafe to grow plants. Maybe a chemical engineer can chime in about whether the plastic breaks down over time in contact with soil and begins to release toxins?
 
William Bronson
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I just acquired a bunch of dish pans to use for seed starting.
I use two, the second is inverted on top of the first, as a "bell" for wintersowing.
 
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