The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Tire garden beds

Tire garden bed

I enjoyed reading Kimball's chapter on making tire garden beds not so much because I want to follow his lead, but because I like hearing about working with tires.  I'm still looking for the perfect use for this waste product on our own homestead, so his ideas were welcome.

When making garden beds out of tires, Kimball recommends cutting off the sidewalls with a jigsaw to turn your tire into a more space-saving container.  After removing the sidewalls, he turns the remaining part of the tire inside out, which makes it a bit more vertical (and hides the tread).  Finally, Kimball learned the hard way that it's best to sink your tire into the ground if you don't want your crops to dry out.

Where do I see potential for using tires on our farm?  If I'd been smart, I would have sunk a processed tire into the ground as a root barrier before planting my mint.  And I could see using tire raised beds to help me build the soil up in the forest garden, where the groundwater is so close to the surface that roots often drown.  I'll bet you can come up with even more good ideas for using tires in the garden --- feel free to share them in the comments section!

This post is part of our Idea Book for Gardeners lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I am in the midst of preparing for a tire garden. I have about 3/4 of the tires cut and in place. Now I am starting to worry about any possibility of chemicals from the tires leaching into the soil that contain my plants. Thoughts?

Comment by Andrea Thu Mar 20 13:27:33 2014

Looking at the picture, I see a patch of radish(?) sitting in a garden with part of a tire around it.

Why bother putting in the tire? Wouldn't it grow just as good or bad without it?

Comment by Roland_Smith Thu Mar 20 13:42:25 2014
Do you worry about leaching?
Comment by Maggie Swift Thu Mar 20 13:46:46 2014

Roland --- I'd say aesthetics is the primary reason, which is why I've never gardened in tires. :-) However, they could be useful as a root barrier for plants that are prone to becoming invasive, and they could also solidify raised beds.

Andrea and Maggie --- Here's what Kimball writes about leaching: "Some people have expressed concerns about using old tires in the garden because of the possibility that chemicals may leach out of the rubber. As far as I know this is not really an issue. Tires seem to be very stable and I'm not personally concerned that they are a source of contamination. Nevertheless, you should be aware of the matter. Paul Farber, author of 'Tire Recycling is Fun' discusses the safety of tires for garden beds in more depth at his web site"

Comment by anna Thu Mar 20 16:51:25 2014
I'm with the folks who worry about tires leaching chemicals into the soil. I wouldn't lick a tire (well, for lots of reasons I'm sure), so why risk soaking edibles in wet tires? When we have a tire replaced, the fix-it shop keeps the tire...which begs the question of what truly happens to the tire... I'm sure few are recycled/upcycled. I don't use chemically treated wood for raised beds or edging around food either. I grow things with the purpose of having food that is theoretically chemical free, so, gotta be choosy about materials.
Comment by jen g Fri Mar 21 00:22:20 2014

It's the resistance to degradation of the tire that makes it such a problem after disposal. That also means leaching is probably a minimal concern when used in your garden. And rubber is, after all, organic.

Of more danger, I would bet, is stepping on the sharp metal mesh in the tread as the rubber oxidizes and crumbles away over time.

Comment by doc Fri Mar 21 06:58:40 2014
Possibly tires could be cut into sections, after being halved, say into 1/4s, of each half, so they could hold gravel or some fill, to use for your floodplain. Instead of using cinder blocks? OR maybe these 11/8 sections could be put down upside down, to anchor the mud, then driven over, to pack them in? I guess you'd want to know there was no leaching into the floodplain, for the frogs' sakes, tho!
Comment by adrianne Fri Mar 21 11:03:15 2014

patrice at rural revolutions has been using tires for most of her garden. there are extensive entries into the subject, including citing studies on tires leaching (they don't). She takes some great pictures and has had a couple seasons of results, you might find it interesting.

Comment by mizztanya Fri Mar 21 12:42:02 2014

The composition of tires and what compounds are released by them is covered in this collection of reports (PDF).

From the reports, there doesn't seem to be a significant danger.

With regards to zinc (which is used as an activator in the sulpher vulcanization of rubber in the form of zinc oxide "ZnO"), this metal is also widely used to protect iron and steel from rusting. This is commonly called "galvanization" or zinc-plating. So if you have e.g. zinc-plated gutters or roofing material and some buried tires in the garden it is impossible to tell where elevated levels of zinc come from, if any.

Comment by Roland_Smith Fri Mar 21 14:43:57 2014
My grandfather and dad both used a tire around each tomato plant. They built wire cages that went on the outside of the tires (that just laid on top of the ground). The tires protected the young plants from wind and the cages were large with plenty of space for the tomatoes to grow.
Comment by Melisa Anderson Fri Mar 21 21:17:14 2014
As a follow-up to Roland's comment: Zn is a good "contaminant.". A typical American diet contains ~10mg/d. Supplemental doses are on the order of 100mg/d. Zn is important in our immune/wound healing functions. I've seen "miracle cures" of non-healing diabetic skin ulcers when Zn was added.
Comment by doc Sun Mar 23 07:04:36 2014
Tires also make for good vertical planting of potatoes. After rooting and plant sprouting above the soil, just place another tire on top, fill with soil and continue upward about 4-5 tires high. It yields a great amount vertically saving ground space for other plants that need horizontal growth.
Comment by Rob Thu Mar 27 09:16:48 2014
You couldn't pay me enough to use old used tires as a garden bed!! Studies were done where one inch strips of cut tires were added to one ltr of water. Trout fry were added to the tanks and after 24hours, 100% of the fry were dead from contamination. That's enough evidence for me NOT to use these things anywhere near food production. During the manufacturing of tires a material called Carbon Black is added. This is a known carcinogen. There are a million other things to grow your vegetables in!
Comment by Gardentalk Tue Feb 28 01:30:37 2017

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