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Most Sustainable Raised Bed Building Materials for Renters?

 
Heather Flanagan
Posts: 4
Location: Brooklyn, NY (Zone 7b)
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Hi all! I've been reading the forums for a long time but this is my first time posting!

I live in Brooklyn, New York, and I just moved into an apartment with a 12'x20' backyard that the landlord is letting me garden in. Because she's a bit traditional, and aesthetics are important to her, I don't think I can get away with a proper hugelkultur, but I wanted to do a hybrid hugel-raised bed (where the bottom of the bed is filled with branches and cardboard). My question is, what would the most environmentally responsible materials be to build the bed, considering that we're renters and will likely live there for 5ish years?

Cedar is of course the classic raised bed material, but I believe most cedar you can buy comes from the West Coast. Pine is plentiful on the East Coast, and much cheaper, but it rots much more quickly. I'm planning to grow bamboo as a privacy screen, so I thought that maybe I could make the beds out of bamboo and just replace it when it starts to rot with bamboo I'm growing, but I haven't been able to find any bamboo poles that aren't imported from China. (Oh, and I'd love stone or brick, but they would be expensive and difficult to move when we move out.) And then there's 100% HDPE plastic lumber, but even safer plastic seems like it could be questionable.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!
 
Tom OHern
Posts: 236
Location: Seattle, WA
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I built my first raised beds out of old fir 1x12s that I got free off of craigslist. They are starting to rot out now (6 years later) but I can still get at least one more season out of them. I now build my raised beds out of old concrete chunks (we call it urbanite) that I get for free off of craigslist. I don't expect that those beds will ever degrade. I fill in the cracks with dirt and then embed chunks of moss in them and now they look awesome. Your landlord might not mind you leaving them for the next renters if you can make them look nice enough.
 
dj niels
Posts: 177
Location: CO; semi-arid: 10-12"; 6000 ft
8
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We built some beds about 8 years ago out of thin cedar boards, but because they are very thin, it is hard to screw them together. We ended up having to put metal bracing on the corners. The boards haven't rotted, but the screws keep pulling out of the thin boards.

Recently, here at permies, I have read that cedar is allelopathic, and not really that good for garden beds. Mine have not been very productive, but whether that is because of our dry climate, or the cedar, or the nearby tree roots invading the soil in the beds is not clear.

I really prefer to use 2x6 or larger boards (like 2x8 or 2x10) to give a deeper bed, and one that I can kneel or sit on the edge while working in the bed. Yes, they do rot out sooner, but they still last a number of years. And if you decide to move, you can unscrew the boards and take them with you if not going too far.

I also like to screw 1 foot long pieces of white pvc pipe--1 1/2 inches diameter, to the bed frame, (with pieces of plumber's metal strips--not sure what the name is) so I can add hoops (made from black pvc pipe) and cover them with tunnels to extend the harvest season. Then I can start planting a few weeks earlier, and keep things growing a few weeks longer in the fall. Or even put up a shade cloth in the heat of the summer. In a heavy snow area I find the hoops hold up better if I get my son to bend pieces of rebar to slide inside the pipe to give it more support.

I have used these tunnel-covered frames in downeast Maine, and in New Mexico at 6000 ft elevation, and now here in CO, to give me an extended harvest of cold-tolerant crops. In a cold climate, I do prefer to install the white pvac foundation pipes on the outside of the bed, so I can lay another cover, made from 2x2s and plastic or rigid greenhouse glazing, to give even more insulation. in NM I was able to harvest greens all winter, even when there was snow on the ground.
 
Roxanne Sterling-Falkenstein
Posts: 97
Location: Cave Junction, Oregon
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food preservation hugelkultur trees
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I would consider small keyhole gardens from stacked broken cement, lovingly referred to as"urbanite" or maybe built from heat treated pallets..usually some to be found in a city. I use Google images quite a bit to help me visualize .. look up keyhole gardens and herb spiral. So many great designs
 
Heather Flanagan
Posts: 4
Location: Brooklyn, NY (Zone 7b)
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Hi all, thank you so much for your great suggestions! I got derailed on the garden beds after discovering that the best sun on the property is entirely on the driveway, so I've been busy building sub-irrigating planters out of tote bins and five gallon buckets.

But I did keep researching the lumber issue, and I recently found a very interesting solution for this problem: "retired" scaffolding lumber. There's a reuse organization, Build It Green! NYC (http://www.bignyc.org/inventory/item/astoria/scaffolding-lumber) that sells (and donates to local community gardens and non-profits) old scaffolding lumber from the construction projects that are ubiquitous around here. It comes in yellow pine, hemlock, and spruce. It's $1.50 per foot (the boards are generally 10 feet long, 9 inches wide, 2 inches deep, although they'll do cuts for $2 a cut). From everything I've read, scaffolding lumber is untreated and safe to use in gardens. (For NYC dwellers, they have two locations- the Astoria location has much more lumber, but it's pretty remote from the subway. The Gowanus one is one the same block as the Smith and 9th St. stop. Both have onsite parking.)

Another solution is black locust, which would last much longer (possibly decades). But I'd most likely only use it for sub-irrigating planters or something that is definitely portable enough to take with me easily. There seems to be a lot of black locust in the Northeast, and it's considered a fast growing "weed" tree, so it certainly seems like a responsible choice. The only hitch is that because the wood is so hard I think you might need stronger bits and saws to get through it, so I'm thinking that because of the possible time/equipment investment involved I might not want to use it on something that could potentially get left behind whenever we move!


 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1556
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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I've spent the last few years dealing with the decrepit remains of the previous owners raised beds. Eventually the boards just break down and rot, and as they do so i've found them to make hiding places for slugs and a nice nursery for the roots of grasses and weeds.

Those same boards are now buried under 6 inches of compost and wood chip and are acting a little like a hugel culture.

If you do end up building raised beds make sure that you build them in a way that is readily reversable for the next tenant. Also, i think you might be able to make a hugelbed work for you - dig down to make a decently deep hole for the logs first, then pile the soil back on top. If it is getting too high, use some excess soil to make amsecond raised bed or for another purpose in the garden. I don't really see a need for hugelbeds to be 6ft high monstrosities - you can get a lot of the benefits by incorporating rotting wood beneath more modest beds.
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1355
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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Dont plant and eat veggies out on lead/heavy metal NYC soil. Go ahead and plant some herbs: Rosemary, mint, thyme, oregano, sage, savory, winter savory they are perennial.
Cilantro will self seed. You can also put grape vines up for a privacy screen, just put it on the fence or a two pole with a string connecting them. There is also a lot of 6ft fruit and nut trees that you can plant. You can can plant about 8 of them in that area.
 
Heather Flanagan
Posts: 4
Location: Brooklyn, NY (Zone 7b)
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@Michael Cox Excellent points! We'll definitely try to leave things nice for when we move out, and it's good to hear I don't need a 6ft pile to see the benefits of a hugel!

@S Benji Yeah, we definitely weren't going to plant vegetables directly into the soil! Part of the reason I wanted to do raised beds was to get around the possible lead issue (although we are planning to have the soil tested). To fill the hugel/raised bed hybrid, I was planning to take a bunch of brush, soil, and compost from my grandpa's yard in Massachusetts. He had a massive garden for decades but as time has gone on the oak trees in his yard have shaded it out, and brought along with them scores of chipmunks that have eaten up everything he's tried to plant. He still composts faithfully though, so his compost pile is taller than I am!

Since I've lived in New York for the past ten years, I've only ever done container gardening in sub-irrigating planters I've made myself. That's what my shrubs and trees are planted in (bananas, Meyer lemon, Calamondin orange, strawberry guava, pineapple guava, red currant, nannyberries, black huckleberries, an experimental pawpaw just to see if it can be done in a container, etc). My herbs are in commercial sub-irrigating pots from HDPE plastic that were weirdly discounted at Home Depot (I think maybe based on their color?). Oh, and I am doing a screen like you suggested! I'm using arctic and hardy kiwi in one area, and in another I have a few different Phyllostachys bamboo in containers with maypop and other passionflowers running up them. For the raised beds, I was initially thinking of putting chinkapins, hazels, berries, and anything needing protection in them, so that I could easily just hardware-cloth off one area.

Yeah...I'm almost obscenely excited about all of this...
 
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