I moved into a house last summer which was previously occupied by a gardener. The good news is that she left us four nice-sized raised beds. The bad news is that she evidently scavenged the boards to make the beds, and they are painted, inside and out. I don't like the idea of raising food in these beds where there is paint peeling off the inside of the boards. What ideas do you have on what I should do? Move the soil and line the inside of the boards with something? (If so, what?) Remove the boards and put something else around the soil to hold it in place?
Hi Kay, I've been there. What I did was to dig away the dirt next to the boards and place a black plastic liner next to the wood. Then, I replaced the dirt. Had no problems whatsoever. Most of the volatile chemicals are already gone, but for piece of minds sake, a plastic liner will do fine. 6 mil black or clear plastic will do well. Chances are, if the paint is peeling and not just "chalky" looking, the paint on the boards is latex based. With plastic as a barrier, you'll be fine. When I did this, the plastic lasted for as long as the boards did, and I suffered no (non gardening induced) brain damage.
Could you completely remove the boards and repurpose them for something else and just garden in a mound? I don't know if it's a viable solution, just seemed easier than going out and buying another petroleum based product. I would assume any of the ick that was put out by the boards has gotten in to most of the dirt so if that is a major concern you may want to start with some new soil or plant some clean up plants or non edibles. Hope this helps...
The first thing I would do is get a soil sample and get it tested through your local extension office. I live in Michigan and the MSU extension in Lansing offers soil test kits for $25 that you send through the mail. This will give you some measurements. You could also see if there are labs that will test for things like lead or other chemicals to give you some piece of mind.
That being said, my bigger recommendation is to remove the boards, lay a 2" layer of compost on the top and then follow John Jeavons' method of double digging the mounded beds to start the garden out right this spring. His book "How to Grow More Vegetables..." is a great resource when using raised beds. I highly recommend getting the book, as it blends seamlessly into the permaculture philosophy. Good luck to you!