In Part 1, we left off considering important details about our project and gathering materials to build a pallet garden. Now it is time to move on to the next phase of the project:
Prepping Pallets for Your Pallet Garden
You now have your pallet at your work site. But it is a savage beast. It is probably beat up from a very rough life being abused by forklifts, left out in the rain, being stained upon, and for all intents and purposes being considered nothing better than “scrap”. But you are going to change that. Just as a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, with some TLC, sandpaper, and elbow grease you are going to release the inner beauty and functionality of your new pallet friend.
Look over your pallet for hazards and start with removing the big stuff. This means jagged shards of broken wood, protruding and headless nails, or other foreign objects you don’t want embedded in your flesh or falling off into your garden. Remove them all, front and back.
Next comes the stain removal. Who knows what has left its mark on your pallet’s tumultuous and storied past, but if it is any other color or texture than “wood”, it needs to come off. Grab a stiff wire brush and start scrubbing. Plan to take as much time as you need here, that stuff needs to be removed completely. You won’t know what that mystery stain was, and you don’t want it in your garden or your plants down the road.
We’ve removed the big stuff, now its time to exfoliate. This means sandpaper will be your new best friend for a while. Sand the crap out of that pallet. These things weren’t built with fine cabinetry in mind, so they are made with rough cuts and unrefined pieces of cheap wood. That being said, just imagine yourself backing into that thing on accident or snagging a fingertip on a giant splinter. Avoid this future and painful possibility. Every end, corner, face, and edge of that pallet needs to be sanded down. Don’t stop until you can run a gloved hand over the surface and not get snagged. Then go back and sand some more. Once you are confident enough to run an ungloved hand over the surface of the wood, you’ll probably be ok.
Once the pallet is starting to look a little sweeter, it’s time to go over and replace any needed nails and/or reinforce weak or missing wood. This can be a great opportunity to use up scrap wood you may have lying around from other projects.
The final and optional step is painting or staining the wood. I chose to paint my pallet because I wanted one extra layer of splinter protection and a prophylactic against any stains I might have missed. Plus I had leftover paint from the house being painted so it was free. This step will be up to you.
This is where my plan deviates from all the other tutorials I’ve seen. They would have you staple weed fabric to the back, sides and bottom of the pallet, but that didn’t seem strong enough to hold gobs of wet soil for several years without sagging and pulling the staples out. Plus, it left the face of the pallet with no liner, which felt to me like it would lead to drying out and soil loss from watering. My solution was to sew the weed cloth into an inner “sack”, and insert it inside the pallet. Later you will fill the sack with soil and plant into it, and the pallet will hold the sack in place like a cage, but more on that in Part 3.
Now that we have completed the prep on the pallet, it is time to move it in place in the garden. Stay tuned for the next episode where we will position, fill, and plant the pallet. The home stretch is in sight!