Powerscourt, Ireland.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Raised Beds From Repurposed Shipping Pallets

 Building a RRR (Reduce~Reuse~Recycle) Garden at Cabrillo Elementary
Caleb watering the RRR Garden.
My son, Max is a First Grader at Cabrillo Elementary School in San Diego, California. I help out in the classroom quite a bit and I was shocked at how far removed our kids are from the food chain.  This got me thinking.  The first graders should have a first person, hands on experience with their food...and what better way than to start a garden.  The largest issue was that starting a garden is expensive.  Materials, soil, plants and seeds can add up.  Where there is a will, there is a way.

I had been looking on youtube and came across several variations of using a shipping pallet to build a raised bed.  None of the videos were exactly what I was looking for, but they were definitely the catalyst for the project.  I checked on the "Free" section of craigslist and found that a neighbor was doing some landscape work and had pallets to spare.  

I was after a simple method.  My initial thought was to use 2 pallets per bed.  I figured we could just cut the first pallet in half and the second pallet in quarters.  The only issue with this was that I needed my husband's tools (& help) so with that came his vision of the project.  He is more of a perfectionist where I am more of a 'quick and easy as long as it works' type, so we actually did both methods!

Larry assembling the "pretty" version of the boxes.
Larry's idea was to take the pallets apart and reassemble them into the planter boxes.  This method produced much more attractive planter boxes, but it was a pain in the neck.  We used a nail pry bar to loosen the boards and then took them apart.  We removed all of the nails, since they would be used by kids and reassembled the boards with an impact driver (like a drill & screwdriver combo) into a finished box.

Small box made of left over short boards.
The other added advantage to Larry's method is that the boards are close together so the soil will stay in the boxes without additional steps.  For another class of older kids, we made the box Larry is working on (above) that was square, about 42 inches on each side.  For the First Graders, we made them about 42 inches by 21 inches or a half pallet by a quarter pallet.  We did this because we wanted the kids to be able to reach into the boxes.

Two of the finished boxes.
My method was to cut the pallet in half (Larry used a sawzall to cut through the board and nails) and used the short scraps (like 1/4 pallet size) to form the sides using the impact driver and screws.  Although this was much faster, the main drawback  was that there are gaps between the boards of a pallet, so cardboard was needed to line the inside of the boxes to keep the dirt in as pictured above right.

Larry & Max at Miramar Landfill.

So now we needed to fill these boxes.  Because the area that they were being placed was on asphalt, they needed to be fairly tall so that the roots of the plants wouldn't be scorched.  We filled the the bottom half of the boxes with composed hay, left over from the school's 71st annual Halloween Carnival.

As much free compost as you want...Max was in heaven!
The top portion was of each box was filled with FREE compost from our city's landfill.  Basically, they take the green waste collected from households and turn it into compost, which is then offered for free to any resident of San Diego.  Check your city to see what's offered in your area.

Finished Product!

 So our next step was to plant out the boxes.  Since it was nearing the end of the year, we needed items that would grow fast.  I had sprouted some sunflower seeds from raw seeds at Trader Joes.  The only issue is you know you're going to get a sunflower, but not sure what variety...giant or dwarf.  The plus is that you get thousands of seeds for about $1.50 and can eat the rest.

The kids then each got to plant beans, radishes or lettuce, all of which grow pretty fast.  Our local Crown-Ace hardware donated the marigolds and tomato plants.

Cabrillo Elementary School First Grade RRR Garden Area.
Box on the left contains yellow squash, sunflowers & marigolds.
Box on the right contains sunflowers, beans, radishes,
lettuce, tomato,marigolds & pinwheels keep the birds away!

Brianna, Jennifer, Margarita & Miguel.
 As part of the curriculum, the kids made observations on the things they had planted, including drawings!  In the red tub, each kid threw in a hand full of birdseed and made predictions as to what would grow.  We got predictions on everything from a peach tree to!  The green pots are potatoes, which grow green plants very quickly.

Overall, the RRR Garden Project at Cabrillo Elementary was a success.  The kids have a better understanding of where food comes from and the classes next year are set up to do the same.  On the last day of school, each kid got to take home a plant from the garden.  They were so proud of their accomplishments..."I grew this!"

Brandon & Reggie watering the garden &
making observations in their Science notebooks.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. nice idea to use wooden pallets.
    I am glad that you included kids in making the reuse of them.
    Keep going.

    Used plastic pallets

  3. This is really helpful! i plan to build a 4 pallet garden in San Diego. The tip about craigslist and the compost is very good. Thank you.