Self-Sufficiency Series

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The beginning of a tire garden

We've lived in north Idaho for nearly nine years now, and it's worth noting that we've never had a successful garden. One year we had a pretty good one, but I wouldn't classify it as great. And that was just one year.

Gardening in our area is tough. If it's not the heavy clay soil, it's the boggy spring conditions, the weeds, the short growing season, the deer, the voles, or even the grasshoppers. In short, the odds are against us.

It's not that we haven't tried. We've plowed endless amounts of composted manure into the soil in an effort to improve it. It hardly made a difference since we were still competing with the other issues (boggy spring rains, deer, etc.).

BUT (I say with gritted teeth), I am determined to succeed at gardening. A self-sufficient lifestyle is literally unreachable without one.

Last year we finally gave in and made four raised beds for our small fruits (raspberries, blueberries, strawberries), which makes perfect sense. Raised beds mean the soil drains better, warms up sooner in the season, and the beds can be netted against deer as well as meshed on the bottom against voles. In short, raised beds seemed like the perfect solution. With materials we had on hand, we made those four beds for the small fruits, and what a difference it's made!

But we were stymied with repeating this process for vegetables, because we'd need lots more raised beds. As in, lots and lots and lots, in order to grow enough veggies to keep us reasonably self-sufficient in produce. The problem wasn't space -- we're blessed with plenty of that. The problem was materials to build the beds (and a lack of money to spend on said materials).

We are fortunate to have a decent stockpile of boards and beams from an old barn we disassembled many years ago -- but even that supply of wood was limited and we didn't want to use it ALL on raised beds for the garden because it would leave us without wood for other projects.

So one day about a month ago -- God alone knows why it took us so long to reach such an obvious conclusion -- we decided to try tire gardening. It was one of those head-clunk "duh!" why-didn't-we-think-of-that-sooner moments.


The more we thought about it, the better an idea it seemed. Tires are tough to the point of indestructible, they're free, they're black (the better for absorbing sunlight and warming the soil earlier in the season), and they're abundant.

First thing we did was research potential problems with leaching. Nope, no problem. Any potentially hazardous chemicals are bonded into the tire structure, and unless and until the tire itself degrades (which should take, oh, decades and decades), then those tires are essentially inert.

And my goodness, they're everywhere! We started asking around gas stations and auto repair places and other potential sources, then nearly staggered back as the owners practically shoveled all their old tires in our direction. We also have a friend named Jack who works at Les Schwab (a regional chain of tire centers), and about once a week he loads about thirty old tires onto the back of his truck and delivers it to our place, and we compensate him for his time and gas.  We've paced off our garden spaces, and potentially we have room for about 550 tires!  (Obviously it will take awhile to work up to that.) There's a lot of garden space inside that many tires.


We learned a thing or two, especially from Jack. Don't get steel-belted radials, he told us, because the steel extends into the sidewalls and we wouldn't be able to cut through it. We also learned that, aside from the occasional giganto tractor tire (what a treasure!), tires can be roughly divvied up into three sizes: small, medium, and large.


The first thing to do, of course, is cut off the sidewalls.  We thought about cutting off both sides, but in the end decided to do only one side.


"Like cutting butter," Don said.


We'll have to figure out some function for the cut-out sidewall pieces.


Meanwhile we started putting out word with friends that we're on the lookout for old tires. Our neighbor told us he had an old tractor tire down in his woods that his grandkids used to use as a fort. We were welcome to take it.


Tires like this are a bonus. Here in farming country it won't be hard to find them -- we just have to put out the word.


But tractor tires, being so big, are harder to fill. While we'll welcome a few such tires, the smaller ones are easier to handle. In fact, we used the tractor to fill the tractor tire, layering soil and lots of composted manure.


Since we want to do built the tire garden correctly from the start, we need to put in safeguards against both weeds and voles. The tough prairie grasses around here can push up through nearly anything; and voles will burrow up from below and munch down the root system of vegetables.

So before we lay down a tire, we're putting down a thick layer of newspapers, then anchoring them with mesh hardware cloth. Here Don's cutting the hardware cloth.


The hardware cloth (which we bought last year) comes in three-foot-wide rolls.  We need strips two feet wide to go under the regular (not tractor) tires. The long strip of one-foot-wide wire we cut up and lay two pieces together. Can't waste this stuff, it's too expensive.


Newspapers. Lots and lots of newspapers. I estimate I'll be going through stacks twelve or fifteen feet high. I'm soliciting newspapers from all our friends.


I'm trying to lay everything out as tidy and neat as possible, since the location of the tires (once filled) will be more or less permanent. (And, not incidentally, since I'm hoping to write some future magazine articles on this project, it doesn't hurt to have the end result as photogenic as possible.) Don also plans to run drip irrigation hoses among the rows of tires, so keeping everything in nice rows will help with that aspect.


The only thing I've planted so far is potatoes (which I'll write as a separate blog post) since we're still in the process of acquiring tires, cutting up tires, laying out tires, etc. Our warm weather is holding (unusual) so we may take chances and plant some of the cool-loving plants soon, such as broccoli and peas.

It would be far too expensive to keep ordering topsoil (we bought a load last year for the berry beds), so we're going to use our own stuff heavily amended with composted manure, and see what happens.

This is an unfolding project and I'll be documenting it as I go. But I'm so excited about its potential! I'm babbling about it to anyone who will listen. Maybe I'm just setting myself up for failure once more -- God knows it's happened before -- but at least we're tipping the odds of a successful garden in our favor this time.

And, as a side bonus, we'll eventually be keeping about 550 tires and a fifteen-foot stack of newspapers out of the landfill. Whoo-hoo!


Honestly, I never thought a bunch of old ratty tires would be anything but ugly. But now I think they’re beautiful.

32 comments:

  1. Patrice,

    Good move on your new raised beds. Those of us who use this method try to get the tires stacked 3 or 4 high on the potatoes, adding them as needed for the hilling process. I don't like to let spuds get more than 6 inches of growth before I start adding soil. Too much growth and the stem seems to decide it is a stem and not going to produce stolons.

    Also, for a more pleasing look, invert the tires so you have a smooth outside instead of tire treads. You can even paint them.

    And look here:

    http://www.tiregarden.net/

    And here:

    http://framboisemanor.blogspot.com/2012/05/happy-potatoe-planting-day-woohoo-and.html

    Enjoy!

    Winston

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  2. About those leftover "donut" shapes of tire that you cut off your tire planter...could you make one cut through them, so you have a closed "c" . Then you could open it and slip it around trees or bushes for an effective weed barrier and moisture retainer, tire mulch if you will ; )
    V

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    1. Just what was thinking!

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    2. I put the leftover donut in the bottom of the tire, seem like as good of place as any, then I filled the tire with compost with the donut in the tire. I painted my tractor tires white with left over house paint I had juat to make then pretty.

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  3. Can't wait to follow along, lots of good info in your post. We have been thinking about using tires for potatoes, I don't seem to have any luck with them in raised beds of traditional garden.

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  4. One day I'm gonna find Don Lewis and I'm gonna hug him. Real deal good man, that.

    I've seen some beautiful trees growing in tractor tires in the desert-like environment of the Kettleman Hills.

    And I've been told by a bona fide source that tires make one of the best potato growing methods you can ask for. She said she makes a simple basket out of chicken wire and puts it in the hole, which makes digging unnecessary at harvest time. It lets her lift the whole bunch out all at once and sifts the dirt off the spuds.

    She plants, and as the leaves grow taller she adds another tire and more soil. When harvest time comes she simply de-consructs, recycles the soil and tires, shakes out the basket and boom there be taters, all present and accounted for.

    I can't wait to see your orchard. This is gonna work.

    Good thing y'all aren't in California! You'd probably get arrested for hauling all thos tires without the proper permits. It used to be and no doubt still is illegal to haul more than four tires at a time there. Real smart. Oh yeah.

    I've always loved the rammed earth structures built from used tires (and other recycled materials). Likewise straw bale and adobe construction are very impressive. Sooo much potential.

    OK. I've gotta go water the berries.

    Garden on, babies!

    A. McSp

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  5. Have you tried "Lasagna Gardening"? Sometimes called sheet composting. It's pretty interesting and works pretty well. Here in Florida we are mainly one big sand bar and non native fruits/veggies don't grow well due to the soil not holding enough water. I've tried the square food garden and the lasagna bed and both work very well - actually REALLY well. At a local botanical garden, the Master Gardner there has been doing this method along with no tilling (refer to a book called Teaming with Microbes) and trying to work some permaculture aspects in to the veggie garden. She has had really great success. Her last project was planing the "Three Sisters" crops (corn, beans, squash). It looks stunning!

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    1. I second the Lasagna Gardening! I have done my gardening this way for the last 2 years and have been amazed at the results! No digging, no tilling. There's a book by that name, even if you don't lasagna garden, it still has great information in it.

      Jane

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  6. Good idea on the tires. I hadn't thought of that one. Another idea is pallet gardening. Those things are everywhere around here. This is our first year to try it, but it's going OK so far.

    All we did was remove the slats from the bottom of the pallet and use 2 of them to box in the sides where the forks would enter. Fill with dirt/compost, plant the seeds in nice little rows and Wallah!

    Some lessons learned are:
    1) Putting newspaper underneath really helps keep the grass and weeds out. We have different trials going and it takes at least 4 layers to work well. Make sure the newspaper goes beyond the edges as grass will find its way in around the edges if you cut it too close.

    2) Lay the pallets so that the rows are North/South. This helps retain moisture in the evenings and since most of our wind is West/East there is more protection for the seedlings.

    3) It's easy to plant too many seeds in a small space. I was going to cull tomatoes, squash, and pumpkins as they get too big, but I may have to cut up a few tires around and try transplanting them.

    Good Luck with your garden this year.

    CB

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  7. Phyllis (N/W Jersey)May 15, 2012 at 11:47 AM

    What a great idea! The worst part of gardening is the endless weeding. I am going to try Anom's 9:54 post about making a basket to harvest the potatoes! Last year I grew them in cinder blocks and they were hard to empty.
    I always get such good ideas here. Thank you, Patrice and all the great people that comment.
    Looking forward to your results!

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  8. Patrice, Don - if you guys want some expert advice try kymber and jamie at http://framboisemanor.blogspot.com/. They're great a nice couple and really know how to 'tire garden.' Tell 'em Stephen sent you.

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  9. I had never thought of using a large tractor tire as a big raised bed, good idea.

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  10. It pays to be ingenious and always seeking to save money. I did recently come across another method of building raised beds that utilize less wood and have a built in natural water absorber. You can find it at instructables at this link: http://www.instructables.com/id/No-irrigation-raised-bed-gardening-system-Hugelku/

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  11. i have been using tires for gardening for several years...i dont bother taking the rims off. i just paint the rims white so that when it does get really hot my veggies dont get cooked...i put pine straw down, then set out the tire and fill with soil...i then take sawdust/wood shavings/and mulch up to the rims of the tires (and yes the leaky washtub and the buckets as well and even one cardboard box). then it gets planted. it is good to have a water source nearby for some things will need more water than others but the rubber tires and the mulch will help hold the moisture...because i leave the rims on the tires i fill those rims with old soda bottles, newspaper, whatever to take up the space so that i dont have dirt in places i cannot use. i have pole beans, beets, lettuce, cabbage,carrots, bell peppers, pumpkins, summer and winter squashes, okra, brussell sprouts growing in tires at the moment..the tomatoes are hanging on the clothesline poles and in pots on the deck...on the deck in large planters i took a soda bottle (2 liter) and pokes small holes all over the bottom half then planted the bottle along with the tomato plant-right up to the top with about 2-3 inches showing of the bottle..leave the cap on. when watering just fill the bottle with water and the plant has become self watering. i had some old long branches from the fig trees being pruned that i use for caging my tomatoes.

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  12. Wished I had placed newspaper or cardboard under my tractor tire. *** bindweed goes through almost anything. Might want to try using a slow trickle of water out of the hose when cutting the big tractor tires. Seems to keep the blade cool and lubricated.

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  13. Just wondering if you know if the material the tires are made up of would leach into the soil and then into the plants?
    Thanks for the answer!

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  14. Raised beds are a great first step. However.... Now it is time to consider building a Greenhouse so you have much more control over the environment. We have been collecting dual pane sliding glass doors and have plenty now.

    We live in cold country like you, though not as cold in the winter with much more sun. We will be pouring our 20.5 foot by 37 foot 8" thick concrete slab on 1.5" riged foam insulation in June. In cold country the key is to insulate your thermal mass. We will be using filled concrete block raised beds (more thermal mass). I will let you know how it works out.

    I know, all you neeed is another project!

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  15. Another raised bed gardener. My Mother-in-law went to our county's cooperative meeting and they were discussing just such a topic in one of the workshops. She decided it would be good for her as it would save her back (her's are very raised) now that she's older. Space isn't an issue for her (hundreds of acres) but age and health issues are.

    I am amazed at all she has going so far. She has some gorgeous lettuce, tomatoes are beginning to ripen, radishes are nearly ready, squash is popping up, potato plants are huge, and she has corn. I couldn't believe when I saw corn stalks in her containers. I never thought it would work that well.

    She used what she had on hand. She has 50 gallon drums everywhere (left over from the days of my father-in-law's many uses for them). She cleaned them out, cut them in half, put them on pallets or tires to raise them to the level she wanted them, and filled them with soil and manure. Voila, raised beds that you don't have to even bend over to tend. I think she's in love as she keeps finding more barrels to use so she can try something else.

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  16. I wouldn't want too many tires too soon. If you somehow don't want them, they would cost a lot to dispose of - that would be a nightmare.

    Good luck!

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  17. Mrs Patrice, I live in the south in a heavy clay area too. We go from boggy spring to hard as a rock late summer conditions. To combat this we not only use multiple manures/compost but we add sand. It keeps the soil much more loose allowing plant roots to spread easier. Its about a 1/3 to 1/3 to 1/3 mixture for best results

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  18. Our lot was part of a worn-out cotton farm with lots of root-rot fungi to add to the problems. We have tilled in up to a hundred bags of shredded leaves into the 15 by 60 area without adding much tilth. It's still gray and compacts easily. We have started putting in even more compost in hopes of some improvement. This we put compost into the rows before planting and then added more after the plants came up. So far it seems to help the squash and the green beans. We are waiting for the results on the tomatoes and peppers.

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  19. Back before we became full time RV'ers I saw an artical on raising potatos in old tires. You plant four (4) eyes around the edge of the rim of the first old tire. Do not cut the rim off. after the plants reach above the tire fill the tire with straw and add another tire on top of the first tire. After the plants reach above the second tire fill it with straw and add another tire on the second. You can get about five tires high by the end of the growing season. When the season is over start by removing the top tire and the straw and the potatos. Each tire will have potatos in the straw. It works.
    Thanks
    Mike

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  20. We live in the northeastern part of Calif, and have acidic soil from the volcanic activity in this area. Getting things (except blueberries and blackberries) to grow in acidic soil is hard. I put out the word to everyone I know asking for bagged leaves during the fall. I stopped at people's houses when I saw bags of leaves on the curb. They are always happy to let me take them away. I have one heck of a compost pile going. I had about 30 bags this year. Each year by spring I have a huge mound of wonderful new compost for my raised beds. I try to keep pine needles out, but its not realistic in this area. I do get manure from a friend and let it age, then mix it in with the coposted leaves. Straw gardening works well too. My mom lives in the thick pines and has small areas with direct sunlight for gardens. The straw bales are great for gardening, you add a little bit of soil to the part where you plant the seeds/starts and the straw does the rest. Even in an area with a short growing season, there are things you can do for a good harvest. Our season is supposed to be Memorial Day to Labor day, but we have had to wait to plant until mid-June several times in the past 5 years. We have made hoop houses and cold frames from found materials. That really expanded the growing season. Things that we have in raised beds that make it through the winter are parsley, mint, leeks, rhubard, asparagus, chives, sage, rosemary, thyme, lemon grass (takes over like mint) and green onions. I let the lettuce, dill, and spinach go to seed and re-seed itself. After the snow melts, everything but the dill are almost ready to be picked.

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  21. Fwiw, we have the same clay soil, although ours is more rock than soil (and our yard may have been part of a horse farm 100 years ago, who knows). Our garden beds that have the most fun growing things are the beds that we sifted. My husband put a mesh screen on a wooden frame, and shovelful by shovelful we've sifted slowly through our garden beds. Less rocks to get in the way (poor little carrots), it fluffs up the top layer of soil, and makes it easier to add in compost/manure and all that jazz.

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  22. Some folks use the leftover sidewalls to block watergaps in fences. I don't have a picture, but they are bolted or chained together (think olympic symbol) then hung from a cable across ditches and creeks. I wonder if you could use this plan and dome frames to make gates, etc...

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  23. I love free resources! We're trying huglelkultur, we had AMPLE logs and branches. Also, we recently stumbled upon Back to Eden, http://backtoedenfilm.com/
    We just got a load of wood chips dumped in our front yard this morning from our big tree trimming company, Asplundh, chips & delivery free! Our neighbors think we're loony, why can't we just garden like 'normal' people? ;-)

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  24. Patrice -

    Just found your blog - really enjoy reading it!

    We too garden in tires - have for many years. We have grown just about every kind of veggie in tires with success.

    I wanted to share how we get a bigger yield from our potatoes that are grown in tires. Also how we use less soil in each cutting down on the amount of dirt needed yet still getting an excellent amount of crops produced.

    One thing that we do different is – in the bottom of each tire we drill 6 – 8 drainage holes about the diameter of your thumb. To drill the drainage holes we use a large drill bit on a drill. We also tried using the utility knife to cut the drainage holes, which works but takes longer to do than the drill. However if you don’t have a drill this is a way to cut them out.

    When we grow regular potatoes in tires we don't cut the sidewall out of the bottom tire - instead we leave as is (more on this in a minute as to why).

    We have found through trial and error that there are several different mediums to grow potatoes in. I am sure depending on your climate, temps, etc . . . that depending on where you live some may work better than others.

    We have found that you can grow completely in straw with no dirt – this means you will be harvesting clean potatoes at the end of the growing season. Take each tire off and in the “clean” straw you will find your “clean” potatoes. That is the advantage of using straw over dirt in the tires.



    Or you can grow completely in dirt as usual.

    Or lastly, this is our favorite - you can fill the inside ring of your tire with straw and fill only the “hole” with dirt resulting in the need for less dirt.

    For us we put straw in the “outer” part of the tire and fill the “hole” of the tire with dirt several inches deep. Next put in the seed potatoes, usually around 3 – 6 depending on the size of the tire. Lastly goes straw to cover the entire tire. Be sure to cover it well as any sunlight getting to the taters will turn them green.

    Now to why we did not cut out the side wall – we are going to make a potato tower about “5” tires high.


    Once the potato leaves start emerging we add another tire and more straw around the sides and then more dirt to where there is only a couple of leaves sticking out of the dirt. As the plants continue to grow keep doing this. We usually end up with a stack of tires “5” high.


    Once the green leaves of the plants start to die, it is time to harvest your crop.


    For us growing in potato towers gives us a bigger yield in less growing space as we are growing vertically.

    I really like your idea of the hardware cloth. I have also used cardboard in place of the newspapers when I run out and have had good success with them.

    Happy Gardening ! ! !

    Deb

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  25. I'm using the side walls to make a sweet potato tower.

    1) First of all create large sprouts from sweet potatoes left partially submerged in water, and root them.

    2) Sort the side wall for the largest at the bottom of your stack and the smallest at the top.

    3) Place the largest sidewall on the ground with the slanted outer edge upwards, so as to catch rain.

    4) Cover with 4 inches of mulch and 4 sweet potato sprouts, and cap with the next smallest sidewall.

    5) On top of that place 4 more inches of soil, 4 more sweet potato sprouts, the next sidewall etc etc.

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  26. I am going to tire gardening this year for the first
    time. I am so excited. I spray painted the tires grey to reflect heat. A friend told me to add some worms from
    the bait shop to enhance my soil. has anyone else ever
    heard of this?

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  27. You can use the cut out sidewalls to anchor chicken wire or landscape cloth inside the tire. Just invert the sidewall and place it inside the bottom of the tire on top of the cloth/wire.

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  28. You have made a terrible mistake, the role of all gardeners is to create a better world - even if its "Back in your own backyard". When the novelty wears off getting rid of these tyres will place an enormous strain on you, and your family. You could have created a floral landscape, a Dutch Masterpiece, an English Rose Garden, a French Formal Garden, and you chose Fords-Ville, Michelin Man, and polluted Mother Earth. Scrap timber is everywhere, so are bricks, tiles, even rockery stones, but tyres no. Are you sure the food grown will be free of carbon rubber tyre oil moisture? A carcinogen?

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    1. You ignorant juicebox. You know nothing about the role of appropriation in the arts. The use of tires is brilliant. Found art is art that is created with ordinary objects, such as household appliances, industrial equipment, or even seemingly random junk such as tires. Marcel Duchamp and other Surrealists pioneered the use of found object art in the early 20th century. Artists such as Man Ray, Pablo Picasso, and Andy Warhol have created found art. Found art played a key role in the postmodernist movement of the late 20th century. It has influenced later art trends such as "trash art" and the Young British Artists movement of the 1990s. This use of tires reflects our times. A simple reuse and recycle for self sufficiency. Get with the program. One last thing. as an engineer tires are safe for this application. Try and prove me wrong.

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