railroad ties for raised bed?

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Does anyone know if it is safe to use railroad ties to make raised bed vegetable gardens? I'm wondering if the creosote used to treat them is harmful. If it is, would it help to line them with plastic on the inside of the bed? I'm really getting the garden itch!!!

-- bwiliams (bjconthefarm@;yahoo.com), December 10, 2000


I would think as long as you drain down hill it shouldn't be a problem. The plastic would also eliminate the problem.

-- Jay Blair in N. AL (jayblair678@yahoo.com), December 10, 2000.

I have them and really like them.I've got a really bad back,and the ties enable me to sit down on them and weed and pick.We got a big load of them for $6 each, and have abt 1/8 acre in raised beds.

Now for the bad part.If you ever want to be certified to sell organic, at least in my state, Ties won't pass the muster. Yes it's the cresote that is the problem.My contention is they are old with little cresote left, but my point of view didn't hold the day.

Option to make a raised bed are seconds of concrete block from a local plant.

We make raised beds in JAN, weather permitting.There is never a bad time to garden.

Hint-you can just sheet compose by spreading material right on your raised beds and let nature takes it course. Fat Old Lazy Woman with a Bad Back compose method.To meet organic guidelines,make sure it's 4 months at least, before planting. I don't do food scraps this way,but any old hay,manure,leaves etc,go on in the fall as soon as the crops are done,usually early November for me.Works good for us.

If you put plastic under your plants you will create an "effective hardpan".Not what you want.Or did I misunderstand?

-- sharon wt (wildflower@ekyol.com), December 10, 2000.

According to everything I have read you should NOT use creosoted wood for beds that would be raising food in. You are not supposed to use them for fence posts that animals might chew on either.

Here is one source I found on-line http://ohioline.ag.ohio-state.edu/hyg-fact/1000/1641.html

There seems to be a lot of opinions about this subject and you would have to make up your own mind. My personal opinion is that creosote is toxic and I wouldn't want to take the risk of it getting into our food supply.

-- beckie (sunshine_horses@yahoo.com), December 10, 2000.

If you are going to use the creosote ties, you can also line your beds with cedar shingles, the kind used by contractors for shims are cheap, and eaisly push right into the ground. The plastic deteriorates and also gets stuck in your hand spades when you use them. I have had rail road tie beds in the past that I did this with, now some of my beds are landscape treated timbers, and I use the shingles. A really good bed can be made with channel drain roofing. I have 4 good size beds and can grow amazing amounts of veggies in them. Learning how to trellis is a must, and always think up! Vicki

-- Vicki McGaugh TX (vickilonesomedoe@hotmail.com), December 10, 2000.

Creosote is a concoction made from hydrocarbons. Toxicity depends on the amount and as it readily leached out of wood, old ties would have less than new ones. Only you can decide if you want them (hydrocarbons)in your soil.

-- JLS in NW AZ (stalkingbull007@AOL.com), December 11, 2000.

The word from this organic gardener and Master Gardener is NO!!!!!

-- grant (organicgrange@yahoo.com), December 11, 2000.

NO NO NO NO NO! Never use railroad ties or treated lumber for food crops! NO NO NO NO NO!

-- Laura (gsend@hotmail.com), December 11, 2000.

On further research, I have found in a couple of my gardening books that cross ties are only suitable for plants that like high acid soils. Both of the texts advised against using them for any food crops. They were only suggested for decorative plantings. Cinderblocks would be better, or you could do as we are, using salvaged oak barn timbers to make 18 in wide walkways for a "square foot gardening" raised bed.

-- Jay Blair in N. AL (jayblair678@yahoo.com), December 11, 2000.

Well my ties are old and were put down before the creosote debate started,so they'll be staying, till I find out the final say on it anyway.Might end up like asbestos,not as bad as first reported. I'll seriously think on using the barrier suggestion tho.

-- sharon wt (wildflower@ekyol.com), December 11, 2000.

Thanks everyone for your help! Sharon, I had planned to put the plastic on the side of the ties facing the plantings and running the plastic on around the bottom of the ties. I guess they could still leach though to the next bed. I will probably try the concrete blocks. I had checked on the price of concrete blocks and they are 99 cents a piece and thought that rather high as I would need quite a few. I will check and see if I can get seconds. Hadn't thought about that. We don't sell any of our produce but I do want to keep it organic and healthy for our own use. I have a really bad back and our soil is clay so the raised beds really appeal to me. I have been adding compost to the soil for a couple of years and it has helped but it is still less than desirable. I had thought about having some top soil hauled in for the raised beds.

-- bwilliams (bjconthefarm@yahoo.com), December 11, 2000.

Old railroad ties work just fine for a garden. If there is any doubt on age of ties or if anything is leaching out take a soil sample from under each tie each season with your other soil tests. You will proabaly find no residue from old ties. It will also make you feel better. Fresh ties no!

-- Nick (wildheart@ekyol.com), December 11, 2000.

As a former employee of a Tie Treating Plant I would like to say that anyone who puts these, old or new, near food is, IMO, crazy. If you question this, visit a plant when a treating cylinder is opened. Ask why the treating employees wear respirators.

Have you ever been to a treating plant? The green ties are allowed to air dry and then are placed into trams and put into a treatment cylinder. They are treated until a certain saturation point is reached (about 20 hours) and then allowed to cool down and moved to sit on a drip pad for hours to finish dripping. This drip pad must be cleaned THROUGHLY every day, it must be stripped and resealed/painted regularly.

Have you ever seen someonw with creosote on theie skin? We had a woman truck driver pick up a load for the first time wearing hip hugger shorts a midriff halter top and sandles. By the time she got her load chained down (dry ties, not wet) she had creosote all over her legs, stomach, breasts, etc. When she came into the office, where I worked, for her paperwork she was on fire. We quickly gave her some burn cream and told her to strip in the bathroom. One of the girls went to her truck to get more clothes while a trucker parked her truck. The next time she was dressed properly.

Ask a truck driver why he/she will not haul ties, the creosote does not come off the trailer. You are resticed to hauling either ties or other such items. Creosote is a very Haz Mat and should be treated as such forever. Also, when I worked a typical size cross tie, 7X9X9, was about $75. Switch ties were a lot higher.

If you want ties, contact a local saw mill and ask about untreated tie rejects (culls). You can then treat them yourself.

Oh yea, the 2 1/2 years I worked in the office I was sick all the time. Had never been sick in my life before then and have not been sick since. Makes me wonder just what creosote does to people.

-- Viv in TX (kudzu1@webtv.net), December 12, 2000.

B I have raised beds for the same reasons,clay soil and bad back.I'm still trying to come up with something that I can sit on,and be reasonably priced like my ties.We have more beds to put in,as well.

Someone somewhere had mentioned putting in something like concrete curbs-put up a form and pour in concrete. I'm also trying to hunt down a full load of 6x6 cedar to get a reasonable price,as an option, but I really hate going with new timbers.See,I felt I was doing a good thing recycling instead of using new.

What about that side of this issue,folks.

Do you have a neighbor that has an old barn with some old manure in it that they'd like to get shoveled out? This is one way we got alot of material quickly.Don't go more than 50% manure to soil tho, and do at least 4 month before planting.Fresh manure is ok but I'd say more like 6-8 months till it's like soil,in my experience, anyway.

We moved abt every five years, for a long time, and had to learn how to make quick raised beds,cause we didn't have time to wait.

Sorghum mills have alot of left over stuff after pressing,have any in your area?

The Horse Park gives out free compost by the truckload,at least they still did last fall, according to the gardener there,but you are probably too far from them.

Finally,we use alot of spoiled hay. It's weedy, but we mulch everything anyway,so not a problem that way.

There is an organic extension agent in Fayette Co- Dawn Ripley-who can prob give you some ideas.She's strident,no shrinking violet there.Give her a ring.

-- sharon wt (wildflower@ekyol.com), December 12, 2000.

Sharon, thanks for the info. We have cattle so have plenty access to manure but I will try the Fayette cty ext. agent. Ours isn't too helpful. As I see it, for me, the raised beds are the only way to go. Concrete blocks 2 high would be 16 inches I believe which should be good to sit on as you work but man the cost, unless I can find some used ones or some 2nds cheap enough. I'm not sure I could talk my husband in to making concrete forms! He is so busy. I'm really getting anxious to garden since I didn't get to have one last year, and the year before was a drought.

-- bwilliams (bjconthefarm@yahoo.com), December 13, 2000.


Start looking for big construction sites. When you see one going up, made of cinderblocks, stop by and say Hey. Most of the time you will see blocks laying arroung that heve been discarded for one reason of another.

If you have time, and are resourceful you should have enough blocks in no time.

Don, the scrounger.....

-- Don Shutes (gshutes@aol.com), December 15, 2000.

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