Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Tires

Tires in landfill (1)
There are tires all over the world that are currently not being used for anything other than gathering dirt and bugs. Tires don't degrade well, and so they're not good for putting into landfill. Yet that's just what happens to the vast majority of them. Some are now being used as fuel for cement kilns, and others are being shredded and turned into rubber mats for animal stalls or for gym floors. Still, there are hundreds of thousands just lying around, waiting to be used in some way. In the garden, we can use those tires for a variety of things!

Some people worry about chemicals leaching out of tires and into their vegetables and herbs. There's a sharp divide between the camps on this issue. One side says that leaching always occurs and you should skip using tires, period. The other camp provides quite a bit of research and information. The bottom line is that this is a personal choice. My observation over the past ten years of using tires in a variety of ways in the garden, is that my vegetables and herbs are healthy, vigorous, and beautiful. There are no odd tastes, and often my garden seems to do better than other standard gardens in similar conditions. I am FOR tires in the garden!

The most popular use for tires in the garden is as planters of some sort. People have gotten crazy creative in their uses, going so far as to paint them up in bright colors, cut them into shapes, stack them in piles ranging from large to small, and many other ideas. The possibilities really are only limited by your imagination.

In my garden, we use tires for a two main things. In the past we've used them for planting potatoes. This is an incredibly easy method for growing potatoes, especially if you've got poor soil. The other use is as a raised bed or beds.

Potatoes in tires
When planting potatoes in tires, you put down your base tire and fill it with compost. Add your potato piece, eyes down. Put a bit of dirt over the top, and allow it to settle itself for a week or two. When the greenery begins to go over the top of the tire, add another tire and more dirt. Continue this for as long as you like. I find that three to four tires are optimal, and provide us with a good batch of healthy potatoes. The best part about tire planting is that, when harvest time comes, there's no digging. Just tip over the tower of tires and your 'taters are exposed and ready to be harvested. Children especially love to harvest from the knocked over towers.

The herb garden, 2012
Larger tires, especially of the tractor variety, work very well as instant raised beds. Once you get the tire into place (and you will need a tractor, backhoe, or very strong friends to do this), you want to cut off the sidewall. Some people cut off both sidewalls, leaving just a cylinder of rubber, but I prefer to keep the bottom sidewall on. It curls up into the garden space, but not far enough to interfere with vegetables. What it does is store water. Water is trapped inside the curl of the rubber, deep in the bottom of your garden, and it holds there well through even drought conditions. Last year my regular raised beds required regular watering, but the rain water was enough for my tractor tire beds, because it held well inside.

Some people like to paint their tires white. This isn't a bad idea. one which I plan on implementing this year. The white color reflects the sun away, and the soil is cooler. For crops that like to bolt, such as greens or broccoli, the extra heat held by black tire planters can actually cause issues. Painting them white alleviates that issue. Of course, you can choose to use your black tire planters for heat loving crops such as herbs or green peppers, solving the problem naturally.

Bean poles (2)
The third way I intend to use tires this in this summer's garden is as the base of a variety of climbing vegetable trellises. My pole beans are the first to come to mind. I purchased both Kentucky Pole and Rattlesnake beans this year, and both like to climb upward as high as they can. They're prolific providers, if you can give them enough space. To that end, I plan on planting ten to twenty bean seeds around the edge of each soil-filled tire (car sized). Into the tire itself, I will stand several tall, straight branches, tied together at the top to form a teepee. The beans will sprout and grow up the teepee legs, creating a thick, abundant growth of beans that are relatively easy to harvest. I expect to have several of these small planters scattered around the garden area, since they are small enough to fit into any corner or space.

Standard trellising
Compared to the standard row method for planting pole beans, the tire method is much easier and more compact. In the space it took me to do one double row of pole beans (see picture to right), I could have planted three or four times as many in tires. Wire trellising can be useful, but for beans it isn't the best option, in my opinion.

Stacked tires can be used to plant bushes in, such as raspberries and blueberries, giving you control over the soil and encroaching weeds. They can be filled with dirt and used as a retaining wall. For people with rocky soil, tire planters can allow you to grow carrots and beets easily by keeping the roots out of the bad ground and carefully inside the tire limits. The results are tasty and healthy, of superior quality to those grown in poorer soil.

Tires have so many uses. Why not give them a try this summer, and see how they work? Make a little tire garden for the children, plant some marigolds or sunflowers in them, and watch the growth happen almost before your eyes!

Shared at the Backyard Farming Connection Hop #23

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1) Image by simonfilm / mourgueFile2) Image  by fattymattybrewing / morgueFile