On the path of a meaningful life

Texts, photographs and videos by Claire B.

Sustainable buildling and light habitats. to transform the act of building and rethink our relationship with living things.
Transition tales. towards an ethical, sustainable and united future.
Travel dispatches. discovering the world between solo journeys and life experiences.
Creative approach. photographic work and videos.

10 May 2021

My vegetable garden in pallets

Construction of a vegetable garden using pallets to reclaim my alimentation and experiment with the low tech approach.

In parallel with my training in eco-construction at the Gabion training center, I decided to focus on my diet with the search for the healthiest possible alimentation. This ties in with the second theme on which I have decided to focus my life since the beginning of 2021, natural health. Medicinal plants, alternative medicine and healthy food are part of this theme.

Food is a major problem today in a world plagued by junk food and ultra-processed foods. Reclaiming our diet is part of the process towards a transition to a healthier, simpler and more resilient life. Diet is one of the elements for maintaining a healthy body. It is the body’s first medicine. Beyond satisfying a desire to eat, food is used to provide our body with the energy it needs to function. It is the foods we eat that allow us to live. Except today the diet is so polluted that eating is almost like poisoning our body rather than taking care of it.

So I decided after moving into my rental in the small village of Mane to set up a small vegetable garden. This is part of the transformation of my relationship with food by seeking to produce part of my food, by eating almost exclusively organic, by supplying myself as much as possible locally, by buying in bulk, by developing my cooking practice, by cooking with healthy utensils, eating fresh, unprocessed and go back to limited storage times. With this is associated reflections on cooking methods, the importance of food in my budget, zero-waste, composting, the use of the fridge, the future implementation of low-tech elements (Norwegian cooking pot, pantry, winter fridge). This project has just started and will be spread over the whole year.

Setting up a vegetable garden means having access to the land. In the rental where I am there is a steel fire escape staircase with two integrated balconies overlooking a tiny garden that does not belong to me. In addition, having in mind the construction of my Tiny House next Fall and therefore the fact of not having any land of my own and the possibility of moving my small house, I turned to the construction of culture tanks. The low tech and recycling approach led me to use pallets to design my boxes. Based on my needs, I therefore decided to design three tanks 35xm wide x 120cm long by 35cm deep using the dismantled pallet boards. I also designed a small 35x45x35cm tank. And I used three pallets placed vertically to plant seedlings with small roots.

In the four tanks, allowing a slightly greater depth of soil, I planted flowers (borage, marigold, nasturtium), herbs and medicinal (mint, lemon verbena, parsley) and vegetables (cucumbers, tomatoes, peas, beans, carrots, turnips, beets). In the pallets I planted strawberries, radishes and mesclun (watercress, arugula, purslane, tetragon). I also used planters already present to plant aromatic and medicinal plants (basil, chives, sage, tarragon, oregano, thyme, lavender, chamomile, rosemary, helicrysum). My reflection on the choice of plants focused on plants supporting pot culture, rustic, relatively local, corresponding to my desires (food and medicinal). The permaculture aspect of the vegetable garden was also very important to me, although at the very small and “above-ground” scale of my crops, I am not allowed to do as much as in a real vegetable garden. I wanted to integrate honey flowers (lavender, thyme, nasturtium, borage, marigold) for insects, the majority of which are edible, and play on crop associations in order to enrich my vegetable garden and protect my plants from unwanted insects.

  1. Work site pallets collected at the Gabion training center, at the recycling center and at Gamm Vert.
  2. Tank built with pallet planks.
  3. Pallets must be stamped “HT” for Heat Treatment. This certifies that the woods have only received a heat treatment.
  4. Plantations of watercress in pallets placed vertically.
  5. Three storeys of strawberry plantations in a vertical pallet.

Building in a pallet is a very good idea given the number available everywhere. However, care must be taken when choosing. Non-returnable pallets  are intended for the transport of goods locally. They are very solid, with joints made of large blocks of wood and often without inscriptions. They do not receive treatment. Returnable pallets intended for transport abroad have joints made of wood fiber blocks. They are noted with a logo. Only pallets marked with the EUR EPAL logo (European pallets) with the initials HT (heat treatment) should be taken. This means that the wood has undergone a non-polluting heat treatment to strengthen it.

To plant directly in the pallets, I simply put them upright. The depth of a pallet “hollow” is barely 10cm and so I decided to add a strip of wood for each level to allow a depth of about 15cm-20cm. To design the boxes, I had to dismantle the pallets. This turned out to be relatively complicated because the pallets that I had collected (mostly very strong non-returnable pallets) were very difficult to undo. Crowbar, hammer and a lot of time were needed to remove the large wooden block joints and nails. Using my Japanese saw (manual saw), I sawed the boards to the desired length. I also learned to design the boxes using the entire structure of the pallet rather than taking it apart. Once the structures of the boxes were ready, I assembled them using a screwdriver and screws.

I then lined the bottom of my boxes and pallets with a geotextile film to hold the soil and let the water flow. A layer of clay balls and rice husks was put in the funds to facilitate drainage. I then went to collect topsoil, dead leaves, sand, cut grass and nettles in the forest and bought potting soil to make the earth for my plants. The plants were bought from Bioflore Provence, the organic nursery of Forcalquier, just next to Mane. For the seedlings I bought mostly organic seeds from the nursery, Gamm Vert and Botanic. I regret not having bought seedlings from a local producer but I was taken by the time. Once the plants and seedlings were planted, I covered everything with hemp mulch to keep the humidity in.

Between the construction of the boxes and pallets, the recovery of the different layers (soil, potting soil, leaves, etc.), the purchase of the plants and seedlings and the planting, it took me almost three weeks. It took me a lot longer than I thought. At the end, a little pressed for time (already at the beginning of May when planting), I gave up certain desires, which I regret a little. The design of the boxes and pallets was done a bit hastily, the solution of geotextile (synthetic material) questions me, the choice to buy rather than recover and recycle (mulch, plants, seedlings, potting soil) exploded my wallet and the abandonment of respecting the plantation according to the lunar calendar disappoints me.

However, I am very happy to have installed this vegetable garden. I would have liked to do it in an even more ecological and low tech way. It is a first step towards establishing a healthier diet. I plan to make it evolve in the future towards something even better. In the short term, the next step will be the installation of oyas (terracotta pots filled with water, planted in the middle of the plants and allowing an optimal distribution of the water) then of insect hotels (ladybugs , solitary bees) to welcome biodiversity.

  1. Boxes and pallets.
  2. Borage and Marigold flowers in the background.
  3. Rows of turnip and beet seedlings.
  4. Thyme in a planter.
  5. Mulching in chènevotte (hemp mulch).
  6. Rosemary plant.
  7. Aromatic and medicinal planters.

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