Garden in galvanized tubs

We’ve been looking for a good option for raised planters that were taller than some of our raised garden beds made with wood.

After plenty of scrounging around on the internet we ended up deciding to use galvanized water troughs, also known as round end tanks, to fill these spaces in our yard. Check out how awesome these look in the garden:

Bamboo in planter at my friend Bob’s house.

Circular planter in my yard planted with 2 cauliflower plants & there’s a goji berry hiding in the back.

One of our oval galvanized troughs planted with scarlet runner beans.

We looked at buying them at the local hardware store but the markup was fairly high. After a bit of research, we found the following options online with free shipping and much better pricing:

123 gallon water trough is shown – $157 when we last checked, with free shipping. Showed up at our door in about 2-3 days.

Amazon size and pricing options at the time this was published.

The other one we purchased was a round version:

73 gallon round end tank option – $121 when we purchased it. The option at the time of updating this post is an 80 gallon round tank for $130.48.

These arrived in a few huge boxes, which would be good for sheet mulching if you need them. I drilled plenty of holes in the bottom for drainage, and placed them around the yard.

We ordered 3 tanks total – 2 oval and 1 round.

Here’s what the empty trough looks like on our patio

We filled it with some compost, branches (for a lazy hugelkultur bed), aged chicken manure, and towards the top mixed in some potting soil.


15 Stunning Galvanized Water Troughs

Here are some more photos from around the web of awesome troughs in action:

1) Nice Placement of Galvanized Water Troughs

3 troughs in a row. Not much going on with the plants in these, but the placement looks great. Photo by Kane Jamison.

2) Galvanized Water Troughs Among Other Planter Types

Planter spotted outside of Seattle Tilth’s demonstration garden. Photo by Kane Jamison.

3) Galvanized Water Trough With Succulent Plants

One day I might get around to making an arrangement in my bucket… But for now I will keep putting my overflow plants in it and hope it makes one for itself 😃 #galvanizedmetal #vintagegarden #rusticgarden #succulenthoarder #succulentobsessed

A post shared by TinyWonders (@tinywondersgardens) on Aug 6, 2016 at 6:32pm PDT

This galvanized trough is filled with small succulent plants. The metal acts as an insulator, keeping the plant roots warm.

4) Tri-Level Galvanized Water Trough Planter

One of A Year In The Yarden’s 15 tips for trough planters is to build up, not out. Taking advantage of the vertical space in your garden is always a good idea, both for productivity and for the health of your back.

5) Galvanized Water Trough Planters For a Clean Look

The folks at also recommend metal troughs. This example shows how troughs could fit really well in a modern, clean-looking garden, set alongside stone pavers. One advantage of metal beds over wood or stone is that metal is going to be easier to wipe clean or even pressure wash. (Until the galvanized coating rubs off, and it starts to rust.)

6) Adding Galvanized Water Troughs To An Urban Farm

These standing galvanized water troughs create a welcoming atmosphere for this sitting area. The tubs are round making the plants easier to access.

7) Galvanized Water Trough Planter Beds Raised Even Higher

Erica at Northwest Edible Life asks if this garden in Williams, Oregon, is the most attractive veggie garden ever. These troughs sit on concrete blocks. This brings the soil closer to waist height for easier maintenance. Raising the beds onto concrete also keeps them from marinating in standing water after steady rain, which is all-too-common in the Pacific Northwest. If troughs sit in water too often, the bottoms could rust faster, though they’ll still last for many years.

8) Flowers Looking Terrific

The reflections off this planter give the flowers a little extra pop, to my eye. Like any raised bed, these troughs will bring your flowers closer to eye level, which is where you really want them, right? Via Two Men and a Little Farm.

You Can Paint Galvanized Troughs

Andrea Crawford at is one of the only people we’ve seen who has painted their troughs using Rustoleum’s metal paints and it looks insanely good. When I found this on Pinterest I nearly hit ‘order’ on the paint on Amazon before I decided that the copper wouldn’t fit well with our yard’s style. But dang – hard not to get jealous of her garden looking through the photos.

9) An Alpine Garden

According to Matt Mattus of Growing with Plants, troughs were first used in Victorian England as a way to grow alpine plants in lowland gardens. Alpine plants can thrive if planted in shady areas where they won’t get too much sun. If you’re worried about the container getting too heavy, try filling it with empty plastic jugs at the bottom.

10) A Salad in a Trough

Shayla Groves, a graphic designer and homesteader in the tiny mountain town of Basalt, Colorado, bought this trough at a feed store and turned it into a small veggie garden. Once the tomatoes ripen, she can harvest a full salad right from the trough.

11) Small Flower Pot From A Galvanized Trough

Large Vintage Galvanized washtub with two handles, great condition, no holes or leaks…$25 #vintagewashtubs #galvanizedmetal #partytub #industrialstyle #homedecor #homeaccents #homedecorating #kyjunk #farmhousestyling #farmhousestyle #farmhousedecor

A post shared by Kelly Myers Robertson (@kentuckyjunk) on May 31, 2017 at 4:25pm PDT

This galvanized trough is the perfect size for a small planter. You can place galvanized troughs within larger garden beds to separate and prevent crawling plants from taking over your garden.

12) Trough Planter in a Parking Lot

Jean McWeeny of State by State Gardening wrote about urban folks and apartment dwellers using troughs as planters. This is outside an artist’s studio; the artist wanted a splash of color. You can see why. McWeeny’s piece also mentions that some people put water trough planters on their apartment balconies for easy access to cooking herbs.

13) Trough Planters as a Water Garden

The designers of NeoTerra, a passive-solar house in North Georgia, list a bunch of design concepts on their how-to page, including using metal troughs for a water garden. Many people use troughs for fish ponds, and why not? After all, they’re meant to hold water.

14) The Eclectic Landscape’s Galvanized Troughs

Designed for a family at Menlo Park in California, these troughs are a perfect place for gardening. The designs and explanation of the project can be found on their page here.

15) Another Behlen Tank Customer

Hey, those look familiar—Andrea of Blueberry Hill Crafting bought the same tanks I did for her trough experiment. She bought nine of them and points out one really good benefit for people with rodent issues: the metal base of the trough will keep moles from devouring your plants. That’s also of huge in Coastal areas like Seattle, where rats are common.

What Is Galvanized Metal Anyway?

It’s pretty simple, just metal dipped in a solution of zinc (here’s a cool 1:20 video of the galvanization process). The zinc prevents rust. It was probably first used on metal armor—a case in which rust protection was literally a matter of life or death.

#galvanizedmetal #atskatter #shopsantacruz

A post shared by skatter (@skattergirls) on Jun 26, 2017 at 9:39am PDT

Later, galvanized steel pipe replaced lead pipe in water systems, which probably saved plenty of lives too. Now, plastic is used, and builders recommend replacing galvanized pipes due to the risk of rust.

Though galvanized metal isn’t used for pipes anymore, most metal products that are going to be exposed to the elements undergo galvanization. This includes ladders, balconies, and outdoor metal benches, among others.

Galvanized Metal Troughs Won’t Last Forever

You can’t stop the aging process for a metal planter anymore than you can for other types of metal. The galvanized coating will eventually wear off and the tank will start to rust. When this will happen is going to depend on factors like your climate, the chemical composition of your air and water, and the acidity in your soil. Some people report rusting after three years, some people say their tanks lasted 10 years or more. This chart gives an estimate of galvanized metal lifespan based on climate zone:

Chart via American Galvanizers Association.

The best cities for galvanized metal survival are those in rural areas with little to no air pollution. The worst are those in heavily-industrial areas. The American Galvanizers Association provided example cities for each area.

This message thread at HomesteadingToday has ideas about refinishing metal troughs. If you want a trough-esque planter that’s going to last longer than that, you’ll have to invest in a porcelain tub, or stainless steel. But, while your trough will begin to rust, that doesn’t mean it’s going to immediately collapse. There’s a good chance some light rusting will look charming in your garden and have a longer lifespan.

Metal Plant Containers: Growing Plants In Galvanized Containers

Growing plants in galvanized containers is a great way to get into container gardening. The containers are large, relatively light, durable, and ready made for planting. So how do you go about growing plants in galvanized containers? Keep reading to learn more about planting in galvanized steel containers.

Growing Plants in Galvanized Container

Galvanized steel is steel that’s been coated in a layer of zinc to prevent rusting. This makes it especially good among metal plant containers, because the presence of soil and water means a lot of wear and tear for containers.

When planting in galvanized pots, make sure you have adequate drainage. Drill a few holes in the bottom, and prop it up so that

it rests level on a couple bricks or pieces of wood. This will allow the water to drain away easily. If you want to make draining even easier, line the bottom of the container with a few inches of wood chips or gravel.

Depending on how big your container is, it might be extremely heavy full of soil, so make sure you have it where you want it before you fill it up.

When using metal plant containers, there’s some risk that your roots will heat up too much in the sun. You can get around this by placing your container in a spot that receives some shade, or by planting trailing plants around the edges that shade the sides of the container. Lining them with newspaper or coffee filters can help insulate plants from heat too.

Are Galvanized Containers Food Safe?

Some people are nervous about planting herbs or vegetables in galvanized pots because of the health hazards associated with zinc. While it’s true that zinc can be toxic if consumed or breathed in, the danger of growing vegetables near it is very low. In fact, in many areas, drinking water supplies have been, and sometimes still are, carried by galvanized pipes. Compared to that, the amount of zinc that may make it up your plants’ roots and into your vegetables is insignificant.

C a y l a w r a l

I’m going to recap our complete stock tank vegetable and flower garden build sequence here so that any blog visitors from the e-ether won’t have to sift through a multitude of my different garden posts, many of which are personal and anecdotal, in order to find the basic facts of this project (and if you decide after reading that you like this stuff, we also have a post called “Rainwater harvesting from start to finish” that you may want to check out).
DISCLAIMER: I have limited local gardening experience, although I DID stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. I wrote this blog entry to compile information that might be of use for urban and suburban homeowners, particularly those on the upper Texas coast and similar subtropical environments, who would like to incorporate productive, limited-space, “architecturally-appropriate” gardens into their landscaping using stock tanks or other large structures, but who might not have the time or energy to run down all this information themselves. Here, I pull together the best knowledge I’ve obtained from internet investigations, a public horticultural class sponsored by a local university, market research, and interviews with local gardeners and vendors. You might think that making a stock tank garden simply involves throwing some soil in a big container and shoving plants into it, but there’s really a heck of a lot more to it than that if you want to maximize your chances of success. I’m relating personal experience and opinions only here for the purposes of commentary; other people might have different and quite possibly superior ideas on this same subject. This is a noncommercial post; none of the vendors named herein has given me any consideration in exchange for citing them.
I’ve had this idea for years, and when I saw that Houston City Hall recently put in stock tank gardens, I decided the time was right for us to try it as well.

This pic is from the URL given above. There are several design elements that differ between this set-up and ours, however, and that’ll become apparent in this post.

I emailed a few people within City of Houston and Urban Harvest, the nonprofit team member on the garden venture pictured above, but nobody would ‘fess up as to what brand of stock tanks those are, or where they got them. Little did I know at that time, but this reluctance to disclose materials sources would characterize our garden-building experience from start to finish (but I rectify that in spades in this post).
After a lengthy internet search, I settled on Behlen Country galvanized round stock tanks. They appeared well-made to me, and they add a contemporary design element with their bands and side-ribbing. The construction of our house was completed in February 2010, and we’ve got the trendy stainless-steel theme happening in the kitchen appliances, light, plumbing and hardware fixtures, etc. It made sense to balance this out by also incorporating some steel into the exterior landscaping design.
Plus, I have a rule for residential property modifications: even if improvements are nonconformist and unusual, they must add some monetary value, recouping at least a fraction of our original investment. If I had dug something that the less-earthy-among-us would consider to be a hillbilly hole of a garden in our back yard, it would have cost less, but it correspondingly would have detracted from the appraised value of our thoroughly-suburban property (we would have had to plow it under and re-sod in order to sell the place… not that we are planning to sell any time soon, but life can take unexpected turns). The above-ground steel tanks are more sophisticated and versatile – they could be used either passively or actively to grow vegetables, flowers, roses, shrubs, etc. and thus would appeal to many potential buyers as an asset rather than a liability.
I also believe that stock tanks will better accommodate our limited space and family lifestyle. A conventional row garden installed just above grade would have intruded upon our play areas and would have naturally invited our dog into it, both to scratch at the plants and to relieve herself (we don’t have enough space to cordon off a dedicated garden area). She is trained not to jump on furniture, however, and I have a high degree of confidence that we will be able to keep her from jumping into the tanks for the fulfillment of either purpose. Stock tanks also reduce the hands-and-knees work, raising the planting surface to more accessible heights for adults and children.
The Behlen Country tanks were conveniently sold by American Fence and Supply, which has a store about two miles from us, and whose salespeople I found to be really helpful. The tanks themselves cost about $220 for the 6-foot diameter model (we got two of those), and $160 for the 4-footer. We rented a small U-Haul trailer for about $20 in order to get them home.

Three tanks nested: Behlen makes the 6-footers in slightly-descending diameters so that they can ship inside of each other. We mounted them flush on top of the trailer instead of angling them in because we were worried that they might warp if all the weight were placed on one edge… the 6-footers are about a hundred pounds apiece.

For much of this process, I felt like I was INVENTING the wheel, so it’s only fitting that we rolled our stock tanks LIKE wheels into position. Fortunately, the land to the east of us has not been sold yet, so we put a temporary hinge on a section of our fence so that we could take all the landscaping supplies into the back yard that way – much easier than trying to maneuver through a foot gate and around the side of the house.

Now, as far as the actual engineering of the garden installations, this is where it got a bit dicey. I found almost nothing in the way of useful precedent on the internet. There is a very pretty blog entry about the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s recent stock tank garden addition (two separate URLs there), but no technical details were provided about how they were installed (the importance of the installation will become apparent in a few more paragraphs). Furthermore, the climate of Austin, Texas bears little resemblance to that of greater Houston despite its proximity. There were plenty of posts about using stock tanks for bog gardens and ponds, but very little about growing edibles in them. One commercial entry described a bit about installation of them for vegetable gardening, but that was geared toward use in the desert southwest.
One of our biggest challenges on the upper Texas coast is RAIN. As if to emphasize this point, Mother Nature delivered MORE THAN SIX INCHES! of the stuff (my rain gauge overflowed at 5 inches) in less than 3 hours in the early morning of November 2, after we had purchased the stock tanks but before we installed them. This temporarily turned them into wading pools.

So drainage is a critical issue both for the tanks, and for the landscape itself. In fact, we had to arrange the tanks so as to not interfere with a broad drainage swale that cuts across our backyard on the diagonal.

I got some serious criticism of this arrangement from one local hard-core gardener to whom I’d showed this picture. He thought that the aesthetics would be dramatically improved if the tanks were clustered together rather than dispersed, but the shape, size, and drainage of our back yard really would not allow that to work, we believed. The drainage swale basically runs in a line that would connect the two roof shadow points you see here. Nothing can block that swale. We also need to leave the central area open so that we can have room to play with the dog you see flaked out on the grass there in the middle. The back yard is 70 feet wide but only 39 feet deep in the foreground, 22 feet deep off the back patio. Our layout choices were limited.

Here’s where we gritted our teeth and plugged our ears, taking perfectly good expensive water-tight stock tanks and peppering them full of drainage holes.

This drill bit was an unexpected expense at about $45. As reported in one of the URLs given in paragraph (4), you could also try using a pointed metal bar to punch holes, but we didn’t want to tear up the bottoms, especially since we needed at least one clean hole per tank to run irrigation lines through.

Holed tank. You can see the tentative layout for the support ring in the background.

Initially I did not want to complicate the clean lines of the tanks by adding a base, but we needed to engineer the drainage for that worst-case rain scenario (plus Lawrence is taller than I am, and wanted the tanks to be set as high off the ground as possible). Equally importantly, we needed to LEVEL the tanks and so we needed a solid substrate upon which to do that. Leveling is a step that they did NOT appear to take in the City of Houston installation described in paragraph (1) (at least, the tanks don’t look level to me in the photos), but any time you install any structural feature that is not level, plumb and true, you will eventually have problems. When full of watered soil and rock, these tanks are incredibly heavy – even the four-footer approaches fifteen hundred pounds, and that’s enough to seriously deform the underlying soil unless it’s properly supported. We found these generic cement retaining-wall blocks for about $1.73 apiece at Walmart and used construction sand as a leveling filler.
Our dog kept a constant vigil as the strips of sod were removed, because she loves eating the grubs that live in the root zone. 🙂

Once upon a time, Lawrence was the youngest person in the state of Texas to hold an irrigator’s license (back when it was a more profitable way to earn teenage spending money than sacking groceries). Our irrigation system is currently under design and will be installed at some future point but, for now, we stubbed out the lines to each tank. This requires some headwork because order of operations is important. You have to be able to install the stub but then remove the tank to place the rest of the drainage base, as the next photos will show. For ease of removal and replacement, we clipped the stub short after initially placing it.

Gravel (about $65 per cubic yard, with one yard being more than sufficient to underlay all three tanks plus add layers into the bottom of each tank for aeration and drainage) filled the inside of the cement block ring. Once the gravel is poured in, it is best to stomp it with a twist like you’re putting out cigarette butts, in order to compact and lock together the individual stones. A board can then be dragged across to smooth and level it.

If you want to strike terror into the heart of any Houstonian, all you need to do is utter the word “ants”. I doubt that anything could ever totally stop fire ants, but because I had leftover landscape fabric stored in our garage, I duct-taped a layer of it at the bottom just to see if it would slow them down.

On top of the landscape fabric, a layer of gravel to help disperse drainage toward the holes underneath.

Next came the plastic layer. My sincere thanks to Garn Wallace of El Segundo California for educating me about zinc, which is the metal that was used in the tank galvanizing process. Zinc is not particularly toxic to humans or animals (remember, livestock typically drinks directly from these tanks by design), but apparently zinc inhibits woody growth when soil concentrations get too high. I lined the interior of the tanks with 6-mil plastic to shield the soil from contacting the tank and thus reduce any leaching. Lawrence thought that the black plastic would stand up better to the little bit of UV light that is expected to reach it. You can’t see it in this photo, but the bottom of the plastic is slashed liberally in a radial pattern to further promote the flow of water through to the underlayers. I threw a bit of extra gravel on top as well.

One more thing to do before the soil can be added: remember, we had to clip the irrigation stub in order to easily lift the tank back off so that the space in the center of the cement blocks could be backfilled with gravel. Now that the base is all assembled, I had to splice on the riser.

And now for the discussion about soil, which has been the most frustrating part of this whole job.
I took a six-hour vegetable gardening course through Texas AgriLIFE Extension Service a few weeks ago (if you want to divert and read more detail about that class, you can access a blog entry here). In that course, the instructors stressed soil, soil, soil the way real estate agents chant location, location, location.
Only trouble was, soil with the composition and virtues that they so passionately extolled basically does not exist in our area.
The sad story goes like this. We cannot grow much of anything except weeds and Yaupon in our native soils because they are very poor “gumbo” clay soils and because they drain so poorly. Therefore, the only way to establish a decent garden is to build it on top of native soils using “created” soils with the proper physical, chemical, and biological characteristics.
I guess I’m a spoiled American because, when I hear about a commodity such as “garden soil”, I expect to be able to march right out and purchase it from some convenient retail location which is open seven days a week. If I don’t know where a good retailer is located, I naturally expect that simply asking someone who is in-the-know will yield the information I need.
Not so with soil. I think I would have had an easier time determining where and how to buy crack cocaine. The Galveston and Harris County Extension agents were not able to advise me – this much I expected, because their public service role requires them to be impartial. But I also found that the local Master Gardeners seemed equally reluctant to talk. I felt like screaming, “Honestly, I’m not an industry spy gathering market data! I’m just a suburban newbie who is trying to fill some tanks with nice dirt!”
I have a basic rule of thumb for anything having to do with landscaping in greater Houston: if it’s not strictly within the scope of Randy Lemon’s expertise (he concentrates mostly on ornamental landscaping), and if I can’t find the answer anywhere else, I go to Maas Nursery. It will rarely be the most economical route because top quality does not come cheap, but they WILL have an answer to whatever the issue is. And so it was on the issue of stock tank soil: one of their salespeople recommended that I use commercially-available gardening soil from any of the local yards, but that I but amend it with both Cotton Burr Compost and Microlife fertilizer. So I bought 12 cubic feet of the former and 80 pounds of the latter.
After visiting about four local soil yards, I chose Living Earth Technology as the soil vendor. While their “ultra” soil (about $28 per cubic yard) appeared to my un-trained eye to have an undesirably large fraction of wood fragments (decomposition of wood sucks nitrogen from the soil and correspondingly robs the plants of it, as this very useful local blog post describes), at least they DID know the difference between sharp sand and bank sand. Their “ultra” soil was actually reported by the salesperson to contain masonry sand, but at least it isn’t bank sand, which was reported by the Extension agent as being too full of native weed seeds to be of much use for vegetable gardening.
If you live on the north side of Houston, reportedly Nature’s Way is THE place to go for gardening materials; several of my electronic and human sources alleged that they are the best vendor (and in fact they’ve won awards to that effect). But we are about 70+ miles from them, which would have made delivery costs prohibitive. I decided to go with the Maas salesperson’s recommendation (Maas Nursery actually sells some of Nature’s Way’s soil, but I believe it was about $100 per cubic yard, which I found to be prohibitive for our size of project, thus the salesperson’s alternative suggestion of using ‘regular’ garden soils with the aforementioned amendments).
I wanted about 3 inches of freeboard available at the top of my tanks, and therefore I filled them to the very top, even after climbing in and gently grape-stomping some (but not all) of the air out of the soils. I expect that gravitational compaction and natural organic breakdown will reduce the volume by at least another 10% in short order.
I concentrated most of the Microlife and Cotton Burr compost in the top 12 inches.
When we moved into our house about six months ago, I picked up some generic starter herbs at the local Lowes Hardware, and grew them in pots to get the roots established, with a future eye toward transferring them to these tanks.
In the weeks preceding the completion of the first two stock tanks, I visited the Clear Lake Shores Farmers Market and found a micro-business known as Faith’s Garden Shed “Naturally”. From the most cheerful proprietor, I bought more herbs and some vegetable starts. She also sold me some wonderful flowering plants that would be appropriate in terms of color, growth size, and sun tolerance when used as central ornamentals.

The four-footer with two varieties of oregano, lemon mint, sage, rosemary, a hacked-off basil that is telling me it wants to come back from the root ball, an Indian curry plant, and an ornamental (mona plectranthus) in the center.

Close-up of the mona plectranthus. Way too pretty!!

The first six-footer with four broccolis and one Swiss chard. I’m starting off by spacing them widely, just until I see what happens with this thing. The central ornamentals include a cigar plant and the yellow one beside it is a thryallis.

Close-up of the cigar plant. I wanted to be able to keep the central ornamentals light and airy.

Tanks 1 and 2 in oblique view, ever-curious dog (Catahoula / Australian Shepherd mix) for scale. I hope to fill the back side of this first six-footer with onions and garlic this coming weekend. Bear in mind that these plants are new and it’s mid-November right now… I foresee much more luxuriant growth once everything is established and also when spring comes.

Major expenditures for this project were roughly as follows :
(a) Labor: you’ll notice that we have no labor costs listed above. That’s because we did it all ourselves.
DANGER, WILL ROGERS – if you are not physically fit by virtue of a rigorous existing exercise regime, you will hurt or kill yourself if you attempt this type of project without assistance. The materials listed above weigh about ten thousand pounds, and moving them is no small feat. I’m no spring chicken, but I exercise seriously and can swim a 22-minute kilometer without breathing hard. Even at my fitness level, this garden project wore me out! (which was half of my purpose in doing it – exercise is a habit of mine that has got to be fed). At the first snowfall every winter in my native Nova Scotia, I used to turn on the radio because I knew that they’d announce the local death statistics: the people who gave themselves heart attacks by shoveling snow from their driveways without first working up to the level of fitness that the task required. Well, soil and rock are the Houston equivalent of snow.

Excerpted from:

(b) Aggravations: Other than sourcing the soil, there were very few aggravations on this project. The main aggravation involved the Microlife organic fertilizer. It seems to be a great product, but guess what? It contains alfalfa, fish meal, bone meal, and other natural substances. Does that combination remind you of anything besides fertilizer? If you said dog food, you win a prize!! It turns out that our dog will dig up every little bit of it that I inject into our landscaping (beneath shrubs and whatnot) and eat both it and the soil it’s mixed with. Not only does this cause me to lose all the hard work I expended on my fertilization efforts, I then have to deal with all the residual soil that re-emerges from the dog’s rear end (resulting in about 3 times the normal volume of feces, as if we weren’t having to pick up enough as it was). I wrote an email to the company that makes Microlife, and they responded that they are aware of this issue, noting that some dogs do become “addicted” (their word) to the stuff. There’s nothing they could do about this without degrading their product, so it is what it is. I can’t watch the dog every second that I’m outdoors, so I’m going to try applying a bitter spray and/or a garlic spray (both sold in pet stores) to the fertilized areas to see if that will dissuade her.
Of course, there’s the potential for future aggravation if our plants won’t grow after all this effort and expense, but I foresee myself respecting a natural learning curve there. If it turns out that we have problems with the soil even after adding compost and Microlife, I guess we’ll just have to keep iterating with additional amendments and fertilizers.
Happy gardening!
***POSTSCRIPT, MARCH 8, 2011***
I thought I’d provide an update here on the same post because I can tell from the internet traffic that this information is probably being useful to some folks.
We newbies have been delighted by the success and productivity of these gardens!!

One of the broccoli plants on December 22, 2010,
with 12-year-old child for scale.

March 8, 2011: The same broccoli plant, now in flower, just two months later, and the same child for scale, still 12 years old but now going on 20 years old despite being just two months older. In other words, the child appears to have matured more rapidly than this broccoli. Is that even physically possible?? Apparently it is, because other parents report similar phenomena occurring with their children.

Broccoli is now one of my favorite things on earth because I get to have my plant and eat it too: I had no idea it would produce this profusion of yellow flowers.

Black bee.

Honey bee.

Of course, we DID eat some of the crowns before letting the balance go to bloom:

One of the crowns from that same plant.
It was an AWESOME feed!!

Anyway, the verdict is, we highly recommend stock tank gardens!! Easy to build, easy to maintain, a feast for the senses, and not once has our dog attempted to jump into them!
***POSTSCRIPT, MAY 11, 2011***
Here below is the current state of the organic onion crop. I realize now that we could grow a heck of a lot of food in a six-foot stock tank, if we had to:
One day’s harvest of organic cherry tomatoes, representing contributions from three vines planted in a six by two foot (169 gallon) round-end Behlen Country stock tank that was not featured in the original blog post above (we installed that one in a narrow side-yard, where its long skinny shape was more appropriate). As of right now, our rate of tomato harvest exceeds the rate at which our family is able to consume them:
By the way, thanks to everyone for making this post one of the highest-ranked stock tank garden information sites on the internet! (Because of the way Google works, you’ll see different rankings based on your geographic area and internet traffic patterns). If I’ve helped people across the world with their own gardening projects, then all the time and energy that went into this post has been well worth it!
***POSTSCRIPT, MAY 3, 2011***
FYI, in the spirit of urban homesteading, we now have a companion post to this entry for a new gardening project:
“Watergarden from start to finish”.
*** POSTSCRIPT, JUNE 5, 2011***
I wanted to provide an update regarding the economics of the stock tanks, because the results have been surprising to me. We did this garden project for the love of it, not to recoup our investment, but the financial aspect is interesting in its own right, so here goes.

So far I calculate that we have saved about $125 in groceries by virtue of the stock tank harvest, here in the first eight months or so of experimentation. When I took the gardening class from the local Ag Extension office, the instructor stressed that home gardening did not have good prospects for becoming effectively cash-flow positive. But that instructor was talking about conventional costs, whereas we buy organic at 2x to 3x the cost of conventional produce. That becomes a different equation.

Urban homesteading at its finest:
Home-grown organic onions, hi-tech ELFA shelving, and a wireless router in the background.

Furthermore, we have 16 pounds of onions drying on the shelves above our fridge. This morning in Walmart, organic onions are going for $1.50 per pound, so those onions represent at least another $24 saved. Plus there’s probably another 10 pounds of onions still outside in the first stage of sun-drying. And another 3 pounds of tomatoes that we have not yet used (we cook intensively, so we will use all of them).
So we’re seeing at least 13% of the original tank-building investment recouped in less than a year – and we didn’t even try. This was entirely an experimental year for us. And that figure of 13% recoup does not include the gas and time I saved by NOT having to run to the grocery store numerous times.
In sum, I’m impressed. If a gardener wanted to focus on return-on-investment, I’m convinced that these tanks could be made to pay for themselves within a few years.

Our very first organic Anaheim. I could have allowed it grow much larger, but its presence was required in a Sunday morning omelette I made for us this morning, along with our own onions, garlic, tomatoes, and jalapenos.

Something else to consider regarding our yields: we had everything working against us. So far this year, Houston has gone through the coldest February on record followed by the worst drought in recorded history. Weather conditions are so bad here that the National Weather Service actually dissolved into uncharacteristically flowery language two days ago, noting that the City of Houston has entered “uncharted territory” with respect to the severity of its weather.

Screengrab from the NWS URL above.
This might not seem like a big deal to those of you in arid regions, but Houston is subtropical, receiving an average of about 48 inches of rain per year! To not have rain for 80 days is simply unheard of.

And through this persistent meteorological nightmare, we have actually raised about $160 worth of near-organic food, including a set of three vines that produced more than 500 (five hundred!!) cherry tomatoes – but those vines never once saw a drop of natural rain. All their water came from the municipal supply emanating from the end of my garden hose, chlorine residual and all. So I wonder what might have been possible if we’d had even remotely normal weather during this time??
Right now, because of the drought and the absolutely stunning high temperatures that have come with it, we have moved into “temporary-repurpose” mode.
I’ve got those three sunflowers that I raised from seeds in the middle of this tank, and some hardy ornamentals decorating the remainder. And the rocks.

Bat-faced cuphea doesn’t seem to mind the heat.

Now that we have 100 degree temperatures almost every day and no rain whatsoever for months, I’m experimenting with new ways to slow the incredible evaporation that is occurring from the tanks. I covered part of the surface with loose flat landscape rocks to shield the soil from direct sun. When conditions abate and I can resume with more vegetables, I can simply set the rocks aside for later use. Meanwhile, we think they look very cool. We are sorta turning the tank into an art object of steel, stone, and flowery splendor.
As I write this, we are 12 degrees above normal and 5 degrees above the previous record-high temperature. I think I better go pull in some more of our tomatoes.

Thumb from Houston Chronicle.

Another amusing screengrab from that NWS URL above.

Galvanized tub fountain, water garden, ottoman or just a planter, see these 18+ creative DIY galvanized tub uses in the garden!

If you are stuck with a long and narrow patio that needs to be defined and distinguished from the driveway, consider placing a series of large planters. They’ll take away the focus from the narrow space and serve to enhance the curb appeal. These spray-painted galvanized tubs are cost-effective, durable and give the feel of a knee wall without taking up space. The DIY is here!

2. Create a Mobile Container Garden

What do you get when you combine galvanized tubs and casters? Mobile planters that give you the twofold advantage of growing various plants in raised garden beds, as well as shifting them around, to maintain ideal weather conditions. See the DIY of this latest container gardening trend here!

3. Upcycled Garden Hose Storage

This clever storage feature is a must for every forgetful gardener or anyone who is guilty of tripping over the garden hose lying carelessly in a spot. You can also store a garden rope the same way. Click here to see the tutorial!

4. Bulk Display Bins

These display bins are perfect for showcasing anything, right from your spring harvest to clay teapots. They are also a great way for storing gardening essentials in a quick grab-and-go manner.

5. Outdoor Light Fixture

Few things are more creative than this series of uniformly-sized light fixtures recreated from galvanized tubs. The minimalistic metal sheen makes a beautiful contrast with the lights, thereby creating a dreamy atmosphere for a fun evening under the stars. Visit the DIY Network to get this project!

6. Alpine Garden from Galvanized Tubs

Galvanized tubs become good containers for growing alpine plants. If you think the container is too big and getting heavy, consider filling with some empty jugs before adding the soil. Learn to make this Alpine Trough Garden here!

7. DIY Garden Fountain

Make your garden more inviting with this charming outdoor fountain created from reclaimed objects like a watering can, galvanized tub and pump. The gushing sound of the water will drown out your woes and offer a calm atmosphere to rewind in the lap of Mother Nature. You can also do this project for your balcony. Learn more here!

8. Tiered Herb Garden

Grow your favorite herbs in this tiered herb garden made from galvanized tubs. Good for limited spaces, one more benefit is you can move it around to test different sun spots to grow a productive herb garden. Here’s the tutorial!

9. Make Trough Vegetable Garden

Galvanized troughs can be used as raised beds, bringing the soil to the waist level for easier maintenance. Plus, they look good and a way more durable and long lasting than wooden ones. Here’s more of it!

10. Topsy-Turvy Galvanized Planter

Take a cue from this DIY to make your tipsy flower tower using a galvanized tub and a series of smaller pails. It’s a great way to showcase colorful blooms and other ornamental plants. Learn more here!

Also Read: DIY Flower Tower Ideas

11. Outdoor Coffee Table from Metal Tubs

Turn a galvanized tub upside down or simply fill it up with some handpicked yard finds such as redwood branches and birch logs, then top it with a layer of glass for a fascinating outdoor table that is sure to set the pace for an interesting evening chat. Take the DIY a step further by painting the tub to accentuate the surroundings, if you please.

12. Raised Garden Beds

Galvanized tubs are perfect containers for creating raised garden beds. They are inexpensive, durable, last long and enclose enough space to accommodate several cuttings together. Just keep in mind that they work best in dappled shade, as the metal tends to heat up, thereby heating up the soil and causing the plants to wilt and wither. Experts recommend lining the insides of the tub with plastic, to avoid leaching of zinc or cadmium into the potting soil. Learn more here!

13. As a Container for Bamboos or other Similar Plants

Growing bamboo is a challenge as it sends the runners and become invasive on the ground. But planting them in large containers can prevent them from spreading and taking over your yard. You can also place these bamboo containers on your front porch or balcony for privacy.

14. DIY Outdoor Bath

When it comes to pampering yourself, you shouldn’t leave any stone unturned! This DIY shows you how to create a mini outdoor bath from galvanized tubs. It’s an inexpensive venture that rewards you with a luxurious feeling at a minimal cost. Visit the Apartment Therapy to learn more about this DIY project!

15. Use Galvanized Tubs For Privacy

We know how galvanized planters are perfect for growing pesky, invasive plants like mint or bamboos. Another reason why they are preferred is for growing tall rush plants and grasses that can act as a sort of privacy screen.

16. Outdoor Christmas Tree Skirt

This rustic tree skirt repurposed from a galvanized tub gives stability to a gigantic outdoor Christmas tree and blends beautifully with the outdoor panorama. Also, it comes with endless options for customization- you can spray paint in metallic shades, or decorate with a string of fairy lights to create a nice mood for a barbecue party.

Also Read: Christmas Garden Decoration Ideas

17. Create a Patio Ottoman

Make cute little ottomans from worn-out galvanized tubs you are not likely to use ever. Try them as outdoor seating. You can also stuff them up with toys, blankets, and anything that needs to be stored for quick access. Click here to see the DIY tutorial!

18. Galvanized Tubs as a Water Garden

It’s remarkably easy to create a water garden in a galvanized tub. Just fill it up with water, test the pH, establish the potted water plants, anchor them with rocks or pebbles, and add a floating water plant. Learn more here!

Choose Safe Containers for Growing Food

Do you want to grow food in safe container gardens? Whilst not wanting to dampen your enthusiasm for using repurposed planters or getting started, I encourage you to do your due diligence when choosing that perfect container. Even raised beds are big containers. So it’s worth considering the materials you use so you are not accidentally introducing chemicals that leach.

The majority of pre-loved or second-hand goods may well be safe to use. However, before you reuse a container for planting in, there are some considerations, other than whether it can hold some dirt and leafy greens!

My philosophy is “to err on the side of caution – it’s better to be safe than sorry!”

Tips to Help you Choose Safe Containers for Growing Food

  • Check the Skin it’s In! What is the container is made of? If you can, find out what material the container or item is made from (especially on the surface). Can you find out more from the manufacturer? Is the surface porous? Some materials such as terracotta or unfired clay are extremely porous. They can absorb and leach water-soluble chemicals through the surface into the soil.
  • Avoid Materials contaminated with Lead or Asbestos: Lead is a naturally occurring metal, but it is also a very toxic poison to all forms of life. Soil can become contaminated with lead if it comes in contact with lead based paint. Try to avoid choosing items to repurpose into a planter, that may contain lead and asbestos. Examples include old containers coated with lead based paint or building materials that may contain asbestos. Prior to 1970, paints contained high lead concentrations. Prior to 1950, some paints had as much as 50% lead in them. However, today the maximum recommended amount allowed in domestic paints is 0.1%. The danger with leaded paints occurs when the paint deteriorates (by peeling, chalking or turning into a fine dust).

Peeling or cracking lead-based paint on an old container is a hazard to watch out for.

The most common areas lead-based paint was used in homes is on interior and exterior walls, cupboards, skirting boards, window frames and doors, gutters, fascias, metal surfaces and areas with enamel paint. If you want to reuse an item such as an old window frame, it’s important to check the age of the house it came from. Make sure you avoid paint contaminated with lead.

If you are renovating or sourcing materials from a salvage shop, recycling centre or second-hand building supplier, it is wise to find out the age of the materials first. Be cautious about reusing painted materials for a garden planter if you can’t determine they’re safe – reuse them in a potting bench instead!

  • Past life: Do you know the history of the item? If you are salvaging it from a farm or garage sale, has it had contact with agricultural chemicals like herbicides, fungicides and pesticides? Or has it held other toxic chemicals or dangerous substances? For example, from medical or industrial sources, drugs or poisons. If so, it would likely not be safe to plant into and especially not for food. Many people reuse plastic buckets as containers to grow food gardens. If they’ve come from the food industry (and are food-grade plastic) this is likely fine. However, if they have come from a factory manufacturing polymers or other chemicals, perhaps it would be wise to find another planter! Pay particular attention to the recycle numbers on the plastic container. Avoid plastics numbered 1, 3, 6 and 7. Learn more about the dangers of PVC here.

You can check whether a plastic container is safe for use in your garden by looking for the recycling symbol. It’s usually on the base.

  • Still not sure? Read the comments on this page – there are so many questions that have been asked and answered! Or use the search box for further discussions on a wide range of materials. You can also look for the relevant MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) relating to the product or item you are reusing. This provides free MSDS information and is one source you can check. You can find out more about specific materials such as terracotta, concrete and plastic in Choosing A Container – the Pros and Cons.

Containers suitable for use as planters are made from all sorts of materials – each with pros and cons!

No matter how appealing the container looks, please consider carefully whether it could leach residues into the soil before planting directly into it.

Recognise this? It was once a computer terminal relegated to the scrap heap when some fancy, flat-screen newcomer came on the scene. Now, it’s been transformed by an innovative gardener into a funky ornamental planter.

A Safe Alternative – Use a Cachepot

If you have found the perfect planter but still have concerns over whether it’s safe to plant in, here’s an easy solution.

With a little creative thinking, you may be able to still use it as a ‘Cachepot.’ This is an outer decorative or ornamental container used to conceal a smaller pot plant. Cachepot comes from the French word cacher, to hide + pot, pot.

This technique is also known as double potting. You simply put your plant into a safer small pot inside your cachepot. Cachepots allow you to use containers that are visually appealing, without worrying about whether they are leaching toxic chemicals into your food.

A timber barrel treated with a preservative stain looks attractive on the OUTSIDE. Edibles are planted in a less attractive, but safer plastic pot INSIDE.

Nestle the plant pot down inside the cachepot or outer container. If you want to, cover the top of both containers with mulch so you can’t see the inner pot. No one will ever know!

Interested in Safe Gardening?

There are lots of tips and information on how to grow food with safe gardening practices in my ‘Container Gardening Tips Guide.’

Want to learn more? Check out: Is PVC Plastic Safe to Use in an Organic Garden?, Container Gardening and Growing Your Own Food.

© Copyright Anne Gibson, The Micro Gardener 2017. All rights reserved.

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Growing a vegetable garden in recycled containers is all the rage, but are there risks? I was reminded of this looming question when a friend asked if she needed to line her watering trough turned raised bed before planting.

My immediate response was and is no, but this is a blanket statement. There are nuances to keep in mind and, of course, there’s more than one school of thought when it comes to safe materials for organic gardening.

Zinc is used in the coating of galvanized steel. The concern is that this and other elements can leach into neighboring soil due to corrosion which, of course, is a natural process that takes place due to weathering, watering and time. So how does this affect the food we eat? Are these materials taken up by plants and therefore consumed by us?

To start, zinc is a naturally occurring micronutrient found in soil and it’s a micronutrient we all need, plants included. (In fact, you may remember, zinc is a remedy often taken for the common cold.) The recommended daily allowance is approximately 8 to 11mg per day for the average adult. In soil, it’s present as a hundredth to thousandth percent of this, depending on location and parent material.

It’s also important to remember that we’ve been drinking water delivered by galvanized pipes until just a couple decades ago and it’s only under certain circumstances that zinc becomes toxic or that there’s a possibility of zinc poisoning.

Plants & Zinc

While zinc migrates in the soil, it will most likely be found in higher concentrations nearest the source or, in this case, planter.

Factors such as soil pH and the form in which nutrients exist in the soil effect a plants ability to take up those nutrients. Just because a spectrum of nutrients are present in the soil doesn’t mean a plant will become a sink for all or even some of them. Basically, not all nutrients or metals in soil are immediately absorbed by plants.

If a plant is out of balance and has taken in more of any particular substance than it needs (or not enough), it will look unhealthy. If you’re growing plants in galvanized containers and they look happy and are growing vigorously, you’re in good shape.

Acidity increases the presence or leaching of zinc. It’s generally recommended not to drink acid juices or other beverages from galvanized metal containers. Using the same logic, you may want to avoid growing plants in galvanized steel that require acid soils. Therefore, plants such as blueberries are best kept in the ground or in beds made from untreated lumber.

Common sense tells me to avoid gardening in galvanized containers that are very old and rusting.

Inhalation is the most common cause of zinc poisoning, not ingestion. See the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics and this Mother Earth News article for more information.

For more information on zinc, see the American Galvanizers Association, and for further reading on this topic read this Organic Life article.

Pros of Gardening in Metal Containers

  • They’re light compared to wood or ceramic.
  • Hold moisture well which is ideal for some plants though maybe not others.
  • Generally inexpensive. A 6 foot trough costs approximately $100 to $150 and trash cans vary from $10 to $25 depending on size.
  • Come in all shapes and sizes.
  • Durable and long lasting.
  • Drain holes are easy to add.
  • Portable.
  • Have a fabulous, no-fuss contemporary look pairing well with wood and other materials commonly found in a garden.

Cons of Gardening in Metal Containers

  • While they’re good at holding moisture, you can also say they don’t breath well. This is particularly important when working with drought tolerant plants or plants that prefer dry conditions like herbs such as rosemary and succulents.
  • Metal containers can effect soil ecology which benefits some soil microbes while harming others.

How to Transform a Galvanized Container into a Planter

To improve drainage in metal planters, first add a 1 to 2 inch layer of drain rock directly above drain holes before filling with soil. Read Deckening to a see step-by-step demonstration of how to transform a watering trough into a raised garden bed:

I obviously have no trouble growing kitchen veggies in metal planters. They honestly make my deck garden possible. (Which looks completely different from when I wrote Deckening, I’ll get more photos and load them soon.) Plus, I’d be far more concerned growing edibles in plastic let alone old tires (gross).

Note: Avoid burning or breathing in fumes from materials containing zinc.

Could the bio-digester which is galvanized steel leach out zinc and be harmful to the garden soil?

In my last post I discussed a new method of worm composting mentioned on the internet. It is called a bio-digester and involves planting a small galvanized steel trash can with holes drilled into the soil about 3-6 inches. After I started to think about it I wondered if the chemicals from the steel would leach into the soil. Galvanized steel is made using zinc. I don’t want to put anything into my garden which could be harmful. A few years ago I wanted to build raised beds using treated lumber. I purchased the lumber and had it cut for the raised beds and then realized that the chemicals in the wood could leach out into the soil so I never used it. If you are looking for an alternative to a galvanized steel planter you could click on this picture for a nice self-watering planter.

After researching on the internet I found a site called and a forum discussing the poisonous aspects of galvanized steel. Mostly there are questions from people who work with making galvanized steel but here and there I found questions about using it in the garden. Since they are spaced throughout the page I copied the relevant questions and pasted them below. If you click on the link above you can read through the whole forum:

May 28, 2009

Hi Ted! I have a question – I put galvanized fencing around my strawberry patch (to keep the birds out) and I’m wondering if that’s unsafe (could zinc leach into the soil, etc). In a previous post you stated that galvanized metal is not safe for food, but you also said that it’s okay for bath water. Thanks in advance for your response!

Catherine Chandler
– Orrville, Ohio

May 29, 2009

Hi, Catherine. Galvanized fencing is fine. When we say it’s not food-safe we mean you should not cook in zinc pots or serve food out of zinc containers because of the possibility of acidic food or drink dissolving the zinc, and you consuming too much of it. Zinc is not poison; cold prevention tablets are one example of the deliberate consumption of zinc.

Ted Mooney, P.E.
Brick, New Jersey

April 6, 2010

I would like to make balcony veggie garden boxes made from galvanized metal. These boxes will match the house. Will the zinc leach into my soil and poison my vegetables?

Catherine Harley
– Boulder, Colorado
April 6, 2010

Hi, Catherine. No, it won’t.

Ted Mooney, P.E.
Brick, New Jersey

October 12, 2010
I see people using galvanized metal containers to grow vegetables. With water containing chlorides (salts), fertilizers containing salts, and eloctrolysis in the ground, I am wondering where the metals, etc are going when they dissolve. Is this not a hazard to eat food grown this way. Some even “line the galvanized container, but guarantee not to corrode for 8 years. So am I consuming heavy metals for 8 years until I replace the container?

Alex Kallas
Sustainable agriculture educator – Vista, California, USA

October 12, 2010

Hi, Alex. The MDR for zinc is 15 mg, and it is fairly common to take 100 mg per day for short periods to help ward off colds and flu. Although it is bad for welders to breathe zinc fumes, and it may be bad to put acidic foods into contact with zinc, zinc is not plutonium. Farm animals eat and drink out of galvanized troughs all the time, and in rural areas, people collect rainwater from galvanized roofs. It will take years for all of the galvanizing to dissolve into the soil, probably decades more for all of it to be taken up into the plants; then much of the plant will be thrown away or composted and only a fraction eaten. I doubt that the vegetables have much chance of providing your MDR let alone deterring colds.

The term “heavy metals” is often used in an alarmist context, and it can be obfuscatory because it implies commonality between the dangers from tin, iron, gold and zinc on the one hand with cadmium, lead, and mercury on the other.

Ted Mooney, P.E.
Brick, New Jersey

So it seems that it would be allright to bury the trash can as suggested in the online course. So my next step would be to find proper drill bits to drill in metal. One great thing about this trash can is the lid fits very tightly so that no wildlife can get into the compost for a nice dinner.

Do you have any interest in composting?? Worm composting is an easy way to get started!

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Here is a preview of my PowerPoint video: the Introduction and Chapter 1:

Galvanized steel for planting vegetables

60,000 Q&A topics — Education, Aloha, & Fun
topic 45056

A discussion started in 2007 but continuing through 2018


Q. Is galvanized steel safe to use as tomato planters? I am worried about leaching of metals into the vegetables.

Barbara Meserve
hobbyist – Fallston, Maryland

A. Zinc is an essential dietary element.
It is extremely unlikely that any will end up in the tomato but if it does you can put the price up.

Geoff Smith
Hampshire, England

A. Galvanized steel is commonly used for tomato plant towers. Don’t process the fruit in galvanized (or bare steel) containers though, as the acidity will dissolve some metal.

Ken Vlach
– Goleta, California honored Ken for his countless carefully
researched responses. He passed away May 14, 2015.
Rest in peace, Ken. Thank you for your hard work
which the finishing world continues to benefit from.

May 27, 2009

Q. I bought some large galvanized planters with no drainage holes (for indoor or outdoor use). Since they are square, I am having a hard time finding liners that allow me to maximize the space. I would like to plant some herbs and small tomato plants in them. If I drill holes in the bottom and plant directly in the steel, would the planters be considered food safe for planting?

Linda Gates
consumer – Bethesda, Maryland
June 17, 2009

Q. I use galvanized screen and fencing around my garden. It is buried in the soil, around the plants, to support vines. I also allow my vegetables to sun and dry on a galvanized screen tray. Are there any human health problems associated with vegetables or roots coming in contact with galvanized screen wire? Thanks.

Lance Laton
– Atlanta, Georgia
June 18, 2009

A. Hi, Linda. The earth is largely iron, and zinc is an essential nutrient. There is no safety issue with your plan but, placed in the ground, the planter may rust away to nothing sooner than you expect.

A. Hi, Lance. We relocated your posting to this thread which probably answers it for you. It is safe.


Ted Mooney, P.E. – Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live Aloha

May 7, 2012 — this entry appended to this thread by editor in lieu of spawning a duplicative thread

Q. I’d like to grow an herb garden outside my kitchen door. Crate and Barrel has a “Wide-rimmed planter in lightweight, zinc-finished galvanized steel” with an over-the-railing plant holder that fits over my aluminum railing – very convenient to run out the back door and grab what I need while cooking. And the plants wouldn’t take up space on the very tiny patio.
Is there any reason to think that this zinc-finish on galvanized steel could leach toxins into the soil, and then into the herbs? The planter is made in Vietnam. I am somewhat leery of the safety of food related items imported from China or outside the US. If there is the slightest chance of toxicity, I won’t use it.

Mary McShane
gardener – Westfield, New Jersey, USA
May 7, 2012

A. Hi Mary.

We appended your inquiry to a similar thread which should help reassure you about galvanized planters. On top of that, your planter is sold as a planter, i.e., it is designed for the purpose, which should offer some indeterminate extra amount of assurance compared to using something that wasn’t designed for the purpose.

But with cadmium in children’s jewelry that was sold in Wal-Mart, lead in the paint of kids’ glasses given away at McDonalds, antifreeze in the dog food … to require that there not be “the slightest chance of toxicity” is asking too much. Nobody can promise that, but I think we can say that it will be safer than using imported herbs 🙂


Ted Mooney, P.E. – Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live Aloha

May 17, 2013

Q. I have read a lot of answers regarding the safety of galvanized aluminum planters. My question is, what about galvanized aluminum sheets? I saw a raised garden bed on Pinterest made from a wooden frame but on the sides they used galvanized roofing material =>
Would that be just as safe as planters made from galvanized aluminum? I have the same concern that over time the zinc or other metals would leach into the soil. However this would be for a flower garden and not vegetable garden, but the planter would make a nice raised vegetable garden as well…

Roger Ross
– Manchester, Connecticut
May , 2013

A. Hi Roger. Aluminum has nothing to do with this. Aluminum is never galvanized; these sheets are made of steel dipped into molten zinc.

This is just an opinion-based public forum. I certainly don’t expect that any epidemiologist will ever, ever conduct a proper double-blind longterm study of vegetables grown in galvanized planters vs. vegetables grown in other containers. But again, zinc is an essential nutrient, not a toxin. And if you are not doing a soil analysis of the dirt that you are planting the vegetables in, or the wood that the frame is made of, or the fertilizers and plant foods you may be adding, trying to estimate whether there may be a slightly high zinc level in the soil as a result of using a galvanized planter box seems to me to be focusing on the inconsequential. I’d say study the origin of the seeds or seedlings, and any insecticide or herbicide use. Good luck.


Ted Mooney, P.E. – Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live Aloha

June 24, 2013 — this entry appended to this thread by editor in lieu of spawning a duplicative thread

Q. Hello, I have recently bought some large old galvanised drinking troughs. The idea I have is to fill them with soil and plant them up with edible fruits and vegetables. Should I be concerned about the cadmium and zinc leaking out into the vegetables? I have noticed that the bottom of the inside of these troughs is showing signs of rust so should I be concerned that the coating is breaking down and leaching into the ground also? Is it best to use some sort of liner and what sort do you suggest is the safest to use? Thanking you in advance for your advice. Regards David

david lee
– salisbury wiltshire England
June 25, 2013

A. Hi David. There will be no cadmium is a drinking trough, and the zinc is an essential nutrient.

You may need to be concerned about their durability if they are already rusting — so you may want to paint them. But no worries about toxicity. Good luck.


Ted Mooney, P.E. – Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live Aloha

June 26, 2013 — this entry appended to this thread by editor in lieu of spawning a duplicative thread

Q. I am trying to find out if there are any long-term issues with growing edible plants in galvanized steel stock tanks or garbage cans. Does galvanization only use zinc in the coating (in which case I don’t have much concern) or does galvanization also involve other “heavy” metals, like cadmium? I understand that after several years, the coating will begin to flake off, so I am concerned about uptake into the plants, and hence into the edible parts of the plants. I want to plant in large metal containers to confine the spread of the plants, so it is for long-term perennial use.
Can you compare if pre-galvanized steel or post-galvanized steel would be better for this purpose?

Robert Healey
– Norwich, New York, USA
June 26, 2013

A. Hi. Galvanizing does not use cadmium. There may be small amounts of lead or chrome in galvanizing, but everything is relative, and galvanized containers will be safe to plant in. Post galvanized are probably heavier and therefore longer lasting.


Ted Mooney, P.E. – Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live Aloha

Galvanized Sheet and Composting Rack

April 22, 2016 — this entry appended to this thread by editor in lieu of spawning a duplicative thread

Q. Dear Sirs, I am interested in building an above-ground composting rack. One component will be corrugated galvanized sheet metal. Eventually this material will rust. In your best available opinion will the leaching metals be concentrated enough to be harmful. I know that is a broad question, but simply looking for some general guidance. Thanks in advance for your help. Scott

Scott Steinbach
– Waco, Texas
April 2016

A. Hi Scott. No.


Ted Mooney, P.E. RET – Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live Aloha

March 2, 2018

Q. I saw an ad for a space saver strawberry garden. It is made of 3 stacked rings made of corrugated aluminum bands. Is it safe to plant vegetables in aluminum containers?

Linda Griffiths
Home gardener – NORTON, Ohio United States of America
March 2018

A. Hi Linda. There may be more aluminum in the soil in the strawberry garden than could dissolve from those bands in a lifetime. Aluminum is over 8% of the earth’s crust, and the 3rd most abundant element of the earth.


Ted Mooney, P.E. RET – Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live Aloha

March 3, 2018

Thank you very much for answering my question

Linda Griffiths
Home gardener – NORTON,Ohio United States of America
April 10, 2018

Q. Hi! I am planning on using galvanized mesh cloth to line my raised beds. It is steel galvanized post-weld.
Should I be concerned at all about metals leeching into my soil over time? I understand that acidic soil may leach the zinc. Would it be able to leach toxic levels? And I’m worried that the weld is lead based. Is that a possibility? And if so, does the galvanization process seal it in? Would I need to be worried about lead leaching over time as the galvanization degrades?
Or I guess, what would be your suggestion of what to look for in gardening mesh that will be underground to control gophers in a veggie garden.
Thank you!

Jenny Ladd
– Atlanta, Georgia USA
April 2018

A. Hi Jenny. I don’t understand your question about lead-based welds. To my knowledge steel is welded with steel welding rod.

What I would look for is any product designed for the purpose. The chance of you being harmed by it then is quite small; it is when we re-use things that were designed for other purposes that we must worry about what they might be made of. But even galvanized wire cloth may not last more than a couple of seasons underground.

The zinc “leaching” question has already been answered many times already on this page; if you are not confident about internet opinions you can obtain white papers on the subject =>

Luck and Regards,

Ted Mooney, P.E. RET – Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live Aloha

August 29, 2018

Hi there,
Instead of using hardware mesh on the floor of my raised bed to keep out voles I want to use painted aluminum soffits with holes. I believe they will last much longer than galvanized hardware mesh. These soffits (2-3) feet are at many construction sites I have seen are for the junk yard.
Is there any issues with the aluminum or the paint poisoning the soil?

frank zaman
– rossland, bc, Canada
August 2018

A. Hi Frank. Aluminum per se is probably not dangerous to plants, as much of the earth is aluminum. However, soluble (dissolved) aluminum is more problematic and quick googling reveals that it can be a serious strain on plants if the pH is under 5.

Hundreds of papers have been written about the subject of aluminum in plants, and I’ve spent no time with them, so I suggest that you invest an hour or so in research on the topic before committing to this plan.

Paints are of many different types so it’s hard to say what is dangerous in the soil. Some consumers would be leery of, for example, the fluorinated paints that are commonly used on industrial and commercial buildings.

Personally, I think you’re better off with the galvanized hardware cloth.


Ted Mooney, P.E. RET – Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live Aloha


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Growing food in metal raised garden bed is a crucial step in one of my house goals. I love the zen of combining beauty and function. I was able to turn a pretty ugly portion of the yard into a thing of beauty.

After days of deliberation over logistics, size, aesthetics, and cost between the different types of raised garden beds, I eventually settled on corrugated metal raised garden beds. I read several other accounts across the web and planned out my own version, a combination of the best parts, plus some fresh, original ideas. This is the result.

DIY Raised Metal Garden Bed Finished at Last

Table of Contents

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Thoughts and Process

Some questions I’ve been asked and have asked myself.

Will the corrugated metal rust?

Nope – it is galvanized and will last a long time. However, the galvanization is a coating on the metal. I’ve broken that layer when cutting some of the pieces and drilling holes with the screws. I’m not sure how fast rust will spread, but I am now on my way to finding out!

How hot does the metal raised garden bed get?

So far, I’ve felt the metal in 90+ degree weather. It remains fairly cool to the touch. Partially the galvanization and partially insulation from the soil on the other side. It still has a wicked glare, though.

How does this affect frozen soil?

While I don’t live in a growing zone nor climate where the soil has freezes, I was told a raised beds means warmer soil sooner, increasing the potential growing season.

Are the sheet panel edges sharp?

The precut edges aren’t sharp at all. They haven’t cut me yet and I’ve gotten pretty wild with handling them. The edges I cut with the reciprocating saw are wicked sharp. That was part of the reason for using wood corners on the outside instead of inside.

Why is the raised bed so high?

Mostly aesthetic, partially so I don’t have to bend over as far when picking shorter plants like chilies. Having a higher bed also provides a bit of disease resistance.

Where can corrugated metal sheets be purchased?

These are in the roofing section of your local home improvement or hardware store. They generally come in 8 foot, 10 foot, and 12 foot sections. I based my size on what would create the least amount of waste or leftover materials.

Are galvanized steel garden beds safe?

Absolutely! There is nothing in part of the galvanization process and steel process which will leech and harm you through the foods you grow. Zinc (from the galvanization process) poisoning comes from inhaling the metal, not ingesting it. You will hear about galvanized steel not being safe when you are cooking with it. Soil and metal garden beds are completely fine.

Planning the Metal Raised Garden Bed Layout

This whole project started when I had 3 large trees die and come down in the yard freeing up tons of potential sunlight space. I wanted to slowly tackle the yard in stages, and home-grown food was a priority. With a kind of L shaped open area between grass, bulbs, and the fence, I had a large stump to work with.

To help guild the layout and maximize potential sunlight, I put down several bricks at different parts of the day, marking shady areas. After several days of adjusting bricks to ensure the beds were in the sunlight for the most amount of time, I had a basic area to work with.

Grading dirt for metal raised garden beds

I took the time in between evaluating shade to level and grade this entire area. I also pulled up a lot of very large roots from the tree in the process. As for the weeds? One of my favorite tools is a sharp hula hoe. In addition to destroying the root systems of weeds, it tills the soil.

Clearing weeds with hula hoe and prepping

The shade ended up being in the perfect spot for me. I had enough of a buffer between the planned beds and fence to walk and tend to plants, which happened to be where most of the shade fell.

Planning raised bed layout with old bricks and scrap wood

I lucked out with my bulbs as well. I knew the metal raised garden beds would be 8 feet long, based on metal sheet and lumber sizing in order not to have waste. The bulbs were 11-15 feet from the fence, providing enough room on each side for beds.

Leaving 4 feet width for each bed and 3 feet between them for walking, I found I would be able to fit 3 raised beds between the large stump and the shaded areas. That is 96 square feet of growing area. 96 more than I had before!

With bricks placed on each bed corner, distances between metal raised garden beds measured for comfortable walking, and making sure things were aligned in a way which looked good from multiple angles, I began trenching for irrigation.

Digging trenches for irrigation pvc pipes beneath the raised beds

You know those roots I mentioned. Yeah. This happened several times. It also screwed up my wonderfully leveled area. I laid down piping like this to make sure I was digging mostly straight. Let’s just say I use the term “straight trenches” very loosely. I’m also making sure to post my mistakes to properly dissuade any friends (Robert) reading this from asking for help. After filling in the trench, I have to admit I got pretty lazy on re-leveling the area. I found out just how bad I not-leveled later on.

With a lot of measurements taken, trenches dug, and an idea of how many raised beds I could fit in the area, it was time to go shopping. As an experienced DIY’er, I know that any project has a 3-trip minimum to the hardware store. I always overbuy small parts. Its terrible to have to make the drive back to the store for one measly 29 cent part.

Plans for Raised Metal Garden Bed Materials and Supplies

I wanted to use screws which would blend in with the wood, so I opted for red star headed screws.

For wood, I ended up with redwood based on availability, although cedar would have been a great option as well. I am one of those people that spends a ton of time bringing down half the pallet of lumber evaluating curves and how dry each piece is. And yes, I put it all back. I bought 16′ pieces, but you can buy 8′ as well and double the amount appropriately.

I wanted to get some kickass soil for my new raised beds, so I got a “veggie mix” which was comprised of “premium” organic topsoil, humus, mushroom compost, sand, lava fines. Each bed needed 2.25 cubic yards per bed, but I also wanted extra for some other garden areas while I was getting it delivered.

While corrugated metal was the main project, I also opted to get some pavers are build a 4th bed in order to deal with a strangely shaped area and large stump, which had me stumped for ideas. Yeah, I just went there.

In addition to building the metal raised garden beds themselves, I wanted to redo my irrigation and reroute some of the underground piping to each bed. I always buy new cement and primer for large projects, as I usually go a ways between irrigation fixes and the pvc cement expires quickly.

The adapters and connectors purchased were on a case-by-case basis. I already had some parts, and had to get more than necessary in other areas. You shouldn’t follow my irrigation purchases exactly.

Irrigation Protip: If the cement is jelly or gel like in the least bit, it has gone bad. The cement should be very runny.

Laying out the supplies for the metal raised garden beds

List of materials for 3 metal raised garden beds:

Tools and Equipment Used

  • Electric drill for pre-drilling holes
  • Impact drill for screwing
  • Pipe cutter for pvc pipe
  • 12″ Miter saw for cutting wood
  • + carpenter’s pencil for marking wood cuts
  • Reciprocating saw for cutting corrugated metal
  • + sheet metal blades
  • + Sharpie for marking corrugated metal cuts
  • Level to make sure things are mostly even
  • Tape measure to measure twice and still go back to the store.

Estimated Time

  • Planning, thinking, measuring, prepping land: 5 days
  • Irrigation setup: 3 hours
  • 3 raised beds materials purchase and assembly: 1/2 day
  • Moving dirt: 1 day
  • Planting: 1 hour


The plan was to run 3/4″ lines from 2 main pipes. Based on distance and roots discovered, I didn’t want to feed all three beds from the same line. I also wanted to minimize the amount of elbows I would need to fit. If I had to dig around in the future, simplifying the lines would make this easier to not break things.

I discovered another secret to plumbing irrigation. I wanted to photograph some of the process for this blog, so I managed to convince my dad to do a lot of the work for me. I told him the entire point of my blog was a long-term plot to get him to do the shitty part of the work for me. I like to think it worked.

He started by priming both ends of the pipes. When connecting multiple pieces together, try to do them all at once and quickly. You must wait 15 minutes before moving them around to allow the cement to cure. If you have to do 4 or 5 pieces on a strange turn, as pictured below, that can be a lot of wasted time.

Priming pvc irrigation for the raised beds

You’ll also want to keep a couple clean rags nearby. A clean work area and clean pipes will ensure you have a problem-free process. After applying the purple primer, add on a nice thick gob of cement, covering all sides. Try not to inhale. Push the fittings together and hold them together tightly for about 20 seconds. This is a good time to ensure things are straightish and aligned correctly. You won’t get another chance unless you want to cut and redo things.

Waiting for the pvc irrigation pipe cement to cure and set

I somehow managed to plan the beds with the biggest root found right where I wanted to place one of the irrigation manifolds, dead center in a bed. I adjusted for off center, but it was still a bear to get into place. Correction: It was a bear for my dad. When placing vertical pipes, it is crucial to make sure they are straight. A level is recommended to assist with this.

Setting vertical pvc irrigation to come up through the middle of each raised metal garden bed

If the pipes aren’t perfectly straight, the mistake shows up immediately. Short of redoing the entire thing, there isn’t much you can do about it. I got the idea about using a level on the third pipe plumbed, featured in the forefront.

Filling in the irrigation trench and ready to move the metal raised garden beds in place

The curing process for the irrigation takes a couple hours, which meant it was time for building the actual raised beds while the PVC cement did its thing.

DIY Corrugated Metal Raised Garden Beds

Positioning each raised metal garden bed over its spot and eyeballing the layout

Cutting the corrugated metal panels

With x9 8 foot panels, 3 needed to be cut into 4 foot pieces for the ends. The sheets were laid out on some scrap lumber to keep them above the ground and the reciprocating saw was put to work. 4′ / half was measured out and marked with a sharpie to stay on task with the reciprocating saw.

Preparing to cut each corrugated metal panel

In cutting the panels, I ended up being so happy to have an extra set of hands helping. The extra pair helped in stabilizing the metal and keeping it from shaking too much from all the saw action.

Cutting the corrugated metal sheets with a reciprocating saw

As you can see below, the cut edges are pretty sharp. The redwood 2×4 corners would serve to help mask imperfections and prevent accidental injuries.

Cut corrugated metal panels ready to be screwed back together into garden bed form

Redwood Corners

The redwood 2×4’s were all cut down into 2 foot pieces. But therein lies a problem. You’ll notice when you buy lumber, 2x4s are all slightly smaller. An 8 foot piece will yield 3 four foot pieces and a fourth slightly smaller piece, plus you have to account for the width of your saw blade removing wood. The found solution was to make sure whichever piece was short was used on the backside of the assembled bed.

Putting the raised metal garden bed together

In addition, when screwing 2 of the pieces together to make a single corner, pay attention to which side of the wood is showing. Consistency will keep everything looking amazing.

Make sure to pre-drill all of your holes to prevent the wood from splitting. This is a critical step and you will find yourself incredibly frustrated if you need to replace a single 2 foot piece. This didn’t happen to me on THIS project, but I’ve had it happen plenty of other times. This is when you will be so happy to have 2 drills going. One for drilling and one for screwing.

I did 3 holes and screws per corner.

Predrilling the redwood to reduce the chance of splitting the wood

You might be wondering why I told you to get the pax/star/torx screws. For one, they resist cam-out much better than Philips and slot head screws. Less stripping for your screwing. Uh huh. It also allows a higher torque to be used. You can reach your desired torque consistently and better drive the screw’s head into the wood without the bit slipping out when maximum torque has been reached.

Installing the screws halfway into the redwood in preparation of attaching the corrugated metal panels

Corrugated Raised Bed Assembly

With your redwood corners screwed together, law them out and set the sheets on top. Start with the 8 foot longest sides. Again, make sure you are consistent and careful with how your corners are placed. Don’t forget about the one short piece to accommodate.

You will notice the sheet extends past the length of the wood. You have 3 options for this. The least recommended is to cut the extra. What I ended up doing was making the extra the bottom portion and bending it inwards. What I would have rather done is evened it out and bent both top and bottom. The bottom holds dirt and helps to keep the sides stable with the weight of dirt and water once the beds are filled. Bending the top as well would allow me to install a wood railing, adding some extra stability. I might still do something, depending on how the growing season goes.

Grab a handful of sheet metal screws and start attaching. I did 4-5 screws, attached to the inside, depending on how the sheets were bending.

Screwing the corrugated metal panels into place

This is where having a second person helps. The person not screwing can provide counter pressure to make sure the corrugated metal is tight against the wood. Standing in the sun so shade is on the person screwing helps a lot, too.

When attaching the short metal pieces to the wood, I found placing the corners on wood to keep them slightly off the ground helped a lot. A second person holding and providing counter-pressure is key in this step. I crouched on the inside of the beds and tediously attached all sides.

All four sides of the raised metal garden bed screwed together, upside down

With all four sides attached, the extra metal on the bottom, facing up, was bent inwards, then attached with a sheet metal screw for good measure.

Even with self-drilling sheet metal screws, I had a lot of slippage. I’m pretty sure I had a green thumb of sorts. Or at least a blood blister between slipping and holding the spinning screws waiting for it to catch.

Green thumb or blood blister from the metal screws: gloves advised

The first bed was done and it felt pretty successful. The other 2 were knocked out very fast in comparison to the first. It also helped I didn’t stop every moment to take photos.

With all beds assembled, they were easy to lift and put into place.

Perfecting the spacing plans for two metal raised garden beds

With the beds mostly in place, I grabbed a tape measure and perfected the placement with spacing.

Okay, remember earlier how I mentioned after running irrigation, I was lazy on regrading the dirt? Yeah, this is what happened. Now, I was forced to level. So much for getting away from that.

Aiming for between the bubbles on the short side, a couple shovel-fulls of dirt later, a lot of harrumphs, the beds were ready for the next stage. Dirt.

Leveling and regrading some of the dirt and slope for the metal raised garden beds

Dirt Delivery

A local company delivered right into my driveway.

10 cubic yards of premium soil compost mix

This is what 10 cubic yards of dirt looks like. I was quite pleased with unintentional sign placement alongside the dirt humps. If you recall from earlier, I needed 2.25 cubic yards per raised bed, and ordered additional for the rest of the yard.

10 cubic yards of lovely dirt humps on my driveway

The downside with creating beds which are 2 feet tall, is filling them with dirt required shoveling from the wheelbarrow to the bed. I could simply dump the wheelbarrow. I contemplated building a ramp, but due to space, I opted for a workout.

When filling the beds, in between each wheelbarrow’s worth of dirt, I sprayed it down with water. This would help with settling and keep the dirt from really going down once I had plants going on. I was incredibly pleased with how everything looked once the beds were full.

Filling the metal raised garden beds up with dirt

In researching this project, a lot of other blogs mentioned support systems and bulging for the sides. I opted for no such thing. Evaluating the sides and their bulge, I felt it was pretty minimal. Everything felt quite sturdy. I liked the seamless aesthetics over extra wood.

“Hey dad, can you fill this bed for me while I take some photos?” Is a line which worked well for one out of three raised beds.

Filling the metal raised garden beds up with even more dirt and some shovel action

Those bent insides worked really well in holding the sides together and stable. Dirt rested on the lip and kept the metal from sliding outwards.

Peering inside the raised metal garden bed and evaluating workmanship

With everything filled, in place, and irrigation tops attached, I felt incredibly happy with how the beds turned out. They were beautiful. I couldn’t wait to start planting.

Attaching irrigation valves for each raised metal garden bedSurveying how crooked my pvc irrigation techniques are. Oops.This raised metal garden bed is a hot spot for chilies and soon to be hot sauce!

Bonus Round – Pavers Raised Bed

You might be wondering why the third bed is not aligned like the other two. Well, I happen to be the proud owner of a very large stump. I ran back to the store and picked up some pavers. I wanted to dry-lay a multi-tiered bed for larger plants to grow up into the stump and hide it. Doing tiers would also allow me to avoid mortaring.

Building a raised bed with paver stones

I had to play with a multitude of layouts and designs to figure out what worked and also allowed ample room between raised beds. This is what I ended up with for the bottom tier.

Paver stone raised bed with two layers and utilizing a rotten tree stump

For the second tier, I simple placed the pavers on top of the dirt where they stand with their own free will. As much free will as pavers have, at least.

The Final DIY Corrugated Metal Raised Beds

Finally! Please excuse my wild arugula and trampled bulbs. I am thoroughly thrilled with how the beds turned out. As an unexpected bonus, I have a couple hummingbirds that come down and bathe when the irrigation is on.

The DIY Raised Metal Garden Bed Project is completeChecking out the beauty of the metal raised garden beds from the roof

One Year Later

One year into using these beds – I am thrilled with them. Water retention is great. The metal never got too hot in the summer. The wood and shape stayed intact once the dirt settled as shown in the photos above during installation. This project was totally worth doing.

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