Documents: Kidz Korner:

Tire Planters
by Duane Campbell
June 6, 2010

OK, Campbell. Take a deep breath, grit your teeth, and just do it. Here goes. I think it’s time we said a kind word about tire planters.

There, I got it out.

I have an aunt, now a wonderfully exuberant eighty-something, who is known fondly, if discreetly, in familycircles as the Queen of Kitsch. Avon bottles, glass animals, and souvenir ashtrays from Buffalo and Pittsburgh blanket all horizontal surfaces; the refrigerator is hidden behind a shield of charming magnets; there’s even a deer head on the wall in the living room. I swear. Right next to Elvis rendered on black velvet. (OK, I lie about Elvis, but there really is a deer head in the living room. And every December it sports a red foil nose, leaving the impression that one of my relatives shot Rudolph.)

It goes without saying that tire planters flank her walk and dot her lawn. She is a typical rather than a fervent gardener, a gardener like many Americans, with a yard filled with flowers all summer, but nothing particularly exotic or difficult. Attaining and maintaining that seasonal color is a chore rather than a joy, akin to painting the trim and cleaning the screens. Yet she does her duty and her flowers thrive.

One reason they thrive is those tire planters. This horticultural dunderhead has unwittingly stumbled upon the concept of raised beds. She doesn’t know that, of course. She thinks they’re just art — scalloped, whitewashed, petunia-stuffed art. That these simple constructions also provide excellent growing conditions is unappreciated.

I do not have tire planters in my front yard. What I do have, and which serves the same function, is a small area built up with stones and filled with good soil. By some inscrutable process, American society has determined that materials scrounged from a creek bed are more tasteful than materials scrounged from an old Pontiac.

I don’t have tire planters in my front yard, but I do have them out back, behind the garage, in the vegetable garden. It’s my dirty little secret.

Raised beds, no matter what their construction, do several good things for plants. On soggy ground they add a drier stratum of soil in which to plant. On normal ground they provide that perfect drainage demanded by some fussy perennials. In spring a raised bed both dries and warms earlier than the surrounding ground, allowing for earlier planting. And since you are adding the soil, you can have exactly the soil you want. That is what prompted me to roll my first tire into the garden.

Things like pumpkins and melons want an extra rich and organic soil to produce the best and biggest fruits. So I filled a tire with almost pure compost and planted seeds. Not only did they love the soil, the additional fertilizer I applied during the season was confined to the root zone, so there was no waste.

A fringe benefit was that the black tires absorbed heat, warming the soil, which these plants also liked. Another crop that wants especially warm soil is peppers, though I use a normal soil for them. That’s the nice thing about tires. You can have heavy soil and light soil, rich soil or lean, depending on the needs of the particular plant, side by side.

I even did the potato thing. Once. You know, plant the potato in one tire. As it grows add more tires and more soil until you have a pillar of potatoes. It works, though those who have the space should stick to growing them in the ground.

Tire planters do have their place, and I say that unashamedly.

Excerpt: Best of Green Space: 30 Years of Composted Columns, by Duane Campbell

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