For the last three years or so I've been happily growing my shallots and leeks in my homemade recycled polystyrene broccoli box wicking beds. And Using polystyrene broccoli boxes for my home made solar food dehydrator And Using polystyrene vegetable boxes (the ones with the drainage slits) filled with homemade compost to grow some green leafy veg. Then I found the chooks and duck eating holes in the polystyrene veg boxes that they had access to. This just didn't seem a good food source for them so I removed the vegetable boxes completely moving the green leafy veg to the Aldi above ground beds I purchased last year. The polystyrene broccoli wicking beds I moved to a tabletop out of reach of the chickens and they kept producing my shallots and leeks. Recently I was away for a while and the shallots and leeks had died off during my absence. I've just been thinking about replacing them after refreshing the soil when I realised how powdery the boxes had become and one had popped a polystyrene pellet or two from down at the water reservoir level and it was leaking. The thought came to me, I wonder how safe these are. I searched the internet and came up with some great info including the following excerpt.. From the blog http://goinggreyandslightlygreen.blogspot.com.au/2014/01/is-it-safe-to-grow-veggies-in-styrofoam_23.html "The biggest problem with styrofoam is pollution, as the foam contains polyethylene, which out-gasses ethylene gas. This smells like ripening fruit and it will entice animals and birds to ingest the foam. The styrofoam breaks down over time into beads and like any plastic product, these are persistent for a very long time in the environment." Which helps me with why my chooks and duck were attracted to the stuff but I needed some science to backup the comment so I went searching for more 'science' and became hopelessly confused and lost. Has anyone done any research that they can share in layman's language with me? I'm at the stage where I'm not going to use the polystyrene boxes for growing beds anymore, but this is a personal preference not one I can backup with published argument.

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  • I used Polystyrene as a base material for puppet heads and I even sculptured life sized animals out of it for various jobs by sanding to contour. I used to 'weld' pieces together with white glue, toothpicks and bamboo skewers. I'd then cover the shape with a paper clay and glue mix and sometimes used felt as a surface material. 

    So I collected and used a lot of the stuff :it became an often used material.While 'breakdown' may be a problem I think the real complication is Polystyrene's brittle nature. It cracks and deteriorates easily. Over time your garden gets infected with bits of Polystyrene. Chips and balls all over the place. You'll never get rid of it.

    It doesn't stand up to wear very well so I've never used it for gardening.

    I've used car tires to very good effect  -- and I'd prefer using them to Polystyrene boxes. 

    However, with the tires, while the surface area in contact with soil is small,  the short term consequence won't  be significant. . But eventually the rubber degrades, Zn gets in the soil, and if the soil pH is 6 or below, uptake may be too much. Again, the higher the surface area, the more rapid the release of Zn and toxicity .

    I've not been gardening using pots for some time-- but hope to begin the use of a pot system to grow target veg. I'd not use Polystyrene , nor would I go back to relying on car tires -- but I'd explore another material I love: milk crates.

    If you do your homework you'll see where these can be lined with landscape fabric ....but you could also utilise hessian or even old rags instead...or garbags, or coconut fibre... Depending on your preferences.

    I suspect that a papier mache mix may work for the life of an annual, using a formula like paper sheets + either white glue or  flour paste + clay + water.You know, akin to a cob build. ..and slapped over a cloth overlay. Even wet paper laid flat out in sheets mixed with a little water, white glue and clay.You could also add cow or horse manure to the mix. (An often used ingredient in Indian papier mache work). Even rags. The pressure of the soil against the paper and the crate structure should keep the 'pot' in place and functional. The mix would be both insulating  and -- as it deteriorates-- fertilising.

    There's' a lot you can do with milk crates and since I've got a few that's my plan (had em for years and used in in so many ways) -- my experimental plan, anyway: my hypothesis.

    • Hi Dave thats clever mate you could stiill make them wicking containers if you used that black plastic I spoke about.I trully beleive that water is a big issue now and unless you have a free endless supply of water it just doesnt make sense to grow straight in the ground much these days. My above ground gardens as they exist will not be growing anything untill they are wicked' your milk crate idea will reduce that worry from the styrofone pollution and contamination worry and Im sure that paper mache setup would work wonders even inside a wicking bed setup perhaps used as an inner sleeve. HAPPY GARDENING

  • Hello this is an interesting topic but really I myself have been growing spring onions etc in them also with fantastic success and dont worry about this problem.I have even had the same thing said about my drum gardens leaching chemicals.You see a lot these days throughout various media outlets the use of, and how to biuld an above ground wicking bed and guess what they all use that black plastic for the liner . Perhaps if you are worried you could line your foam boxes with this same black plastic. I only wonder how long till they deem it unsafe  in using this stuff also .As far as the chooks go  I Have plants in an aviary like set up and some in my drum gardens these are chook and duck proof why not take a look at our last garden visit comments and pictures .Hope my comments are helpful have a nice day.

    • Thanks Darren, yes I really liked your yours which I saw on Saturday, and your photos were amazing.
      I meant to ask where did you get the insect cloth?
      Yes, they would be good for greens especially as they would keep the chooks out till ready to harvest, After I saw yours I was thinking of a set of them for a sequential 'clucker' crop in the pen with the girls.
      • Yes hello again the insect mesh  I got from bunnings but make sure you get the insect and not the bird netting wich could easily be done without properly looking.Alternatively you could use a light grade of shade cloth lighter the shade the better ..As stated at our garden group shade cloth is harder wearing and you may have some laying around .I do hope this helps dont forget the previous edition of grass roots magazine has my story and directions  on how to make these please dont hesitate to contact for any other help.

  • We've used them too - who hasn't? ;-) We painted the outsides with water-based paint which improved their looks and kept them from becoming powdery so soon. The paint may not be all it's supposed to be either so I'd also love to know something definite about them.

    Such an easy source of quick vege beds but maybe like coal abundance and cheapness don't make good environmental sense.

  • After the visit to Roman and Jana's place this discussion came up (he uses them to make all his beds) and someone mentioned the toxicity. It's plastic after all. I've just found the original report and added a link, but the comments aren't there, must have been another discussion about the same thing.

    Personally I wouldn't use them. I would prefer something natural or that doesn't break down. Timber, metal, clay. I know they're cheap and easy to come by but that doesn't make using them a good idea.

    Maybe someone can come up with something a little more scientific for you Susanne :)

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