Self-watering Mini-greenhouse With Europallets

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About: I have all my life felt all thumbs until I last year joined a makerspace. Building stuff is fun.

Do you think that it is annoying to water your plants in your mini-greenhouses even though you live in a rainy climate? And to lift the lid every time you want to water? I have two mini greenhouses which fit exactly on Euro pallets and their pallet frames. The available self-watering systems were not fitting the same ground plan, so I decided to build my own. I was lucky to get most materials for free in my neighbourhood, so the available material influenced the design. I only bought the greenhouses and the pond liner.

The idea:

The water-collecting basin is slightly bigger than the greenhouse, so that it collects the runoff water. The soil is raised above the water level, only the pallet-“feet” reach into the water. They have holes and are filled with expanded clay, so that the water gets drawn into the upper soil. There are many systems beforehand, this type is simply ideal for pallet frame raised beds and greenhouses in that size. The pallets are very robust so they will bear the greenhouse, you just need the right type of plastic pallet. They seem to be very common in my area.

Supplies:

Materials:

  • 1 plastic Euro pallet (scrap material. One might consider the food approved version)
  • 1 or 2 pallet frames (scrap, alternative build those frames yourself)
  • 1 mini greenhouse (there are instructions how to build one online), I gave approximately 50€ but they are normally double that prize
  • Wood (scrap, cross section 4cmx7.5cm)
  • Ground plate (not bearing, only protection for the liner), scrap plywood
  • Pond liner( I chose EPDM as material to avoid PVC, approximately 30 €)
  • Screws/nails
  • Optional 32l expanded clay
  • Compost, garden earth
  • Optional wood paint or oil

Tools:

  • Electric Drill
  • Chop saw
  • Hand saw or jig saw
  • Hammer
  • Knife
  • Drill bits

Step 1: Calculate Size of the Frame

Measure the pallet and estimate the offset needed to collect rain water.

I simply decided to use 1 time material thickness (4cm) for spacing, but more is better. You could start to sprinkle water on the roof to see at how much distance it hits the ground.

You want a height that the pallet and the outer wall are in line. The height of my material is exactly half the height of the pallet (15 cm)

  • For the long sides I used 4 pieces á 120 + 2 x 4 = 128 cm .
  • For the sides I used 4 pieces á 80 + 4 x 4 = 96 cm
  • Additional 8 pieces á 14 cm as connector and spacer.

Liner:

  • length: 120 + 2 x 4 + 2 x 15 + 2 x 4 = 166 cm + a little extra,
  • width: 80 + 2 x 4 + 2 x 15 + 2 x 4 = 126 cm + a little extra

It is also a good idea to double check the length after sawing the first pieces by placing them around the pallet.before you saw the pieces.

Step 2: Build the Frame

  • I screwed the long pieces to the connectors from the inside
  • I screwed the shorter sides to the long sides from the outside
  • I added spacer to the short sides as well.
  • If you have thinner material, consider reinforcing the long sides
  • Turn around and nail the ground plate on. It is not bearing if you put it directly on the ground, so I used some old plywood.
  • Optional: reduce the height in a section to steer the runoff

Step 3: Put in Place and Level Out

I put the frame on my terrace and used the existing slope to have the runoff away from the house, but check if the slope is too big for the basin to fill. If you need to raise on end of the ground, remember to reinforce the ground plate or fill the area below completely.

Step 4: Add the Liner and the Pallet

  • Put the liner approximately in place, it should be possible to raise it
    above the height of the frame
  • My pallet had only holes in the bottom of the feet, so I drilled some extra into the sides at ground level to provide better water flow
  • Put in the pallet
  • Add some water to press the liner into corners and edges
  • Nail the liner to the top of the frame
  • Cut the protruding material off. You might want to save it as liner for the frame containing the soil.

Step 5: Add the Earth and Greenhouse

  • Put one or two pallet frames on top of the pallet. I used it upside down so that I secures the greenhouse. With the spacer, it sits secure on the pallet, but one might secure it better in place
  • I filled the “feet” with expanded clay and also a single layer on the pallet, but that is optional
  • Fill the frame with compost (I used a mixture of 1 year old woodchips and 1 winter aged cow dung and a little healthy garden earth which converts into sphagnum-like structure with time)
  • Put the greenhouse on top

Step 6: Finally:

Plant plants, which are craving much water, on top of the feet and in between plants that are more tolerant to draught. Water a few times thoroughly (better 1 time much and let the earth dry from the top then many times just a little water) in the beginning until the plants have established deep roots.

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    19 Discussions

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    cowboyathome

    7 hours ago

    Have you had any issues with mosquitoes?

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    MusaH10

    Question 5 days ago

    why you don't give me the permission of downloading in Instructables?

    1 answer
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    PaulD279

    5 days ago

    I'm totally unsure what the pond liner is. Can you please put up some more pics showing how it is made, and perhaps a link to a sale site?

    1 reply
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    shalnachywyt

    6 days ago

    Be careful that those pallets or any other type of wood you use is not treated. Regardless of the so-called "safe" treated wood, it is not safe. Otherwise, great idea.

    Question: could you put a link to where you got the "greenhouse" frame and glass?

    4 replies
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    beaskywalkshalnachywyt

    Reply 6 days ago

    The pallet frames are sold here in Denmark in Garden centers to be used as raised beds for food production the other wood that I use does not have contact with the soil or water. If you google "mistbænk pallet" it might be among the hits, but there are also DIY versions.

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    shalnachywytbeaskywalk

    Reply 6 days ago

    Thank you for your reply. Pallets that are used in the US are not usually sold in Garden Centers. Most of the time they're made of untreated wood and you can get them for free from various companies that don't recycle them but have them on the side of the road for trash pickup. I've used pallets as fences but found they rot very easily. Instead I've used composite lumber (made of sawdust and plastic) which doesn't rot, doesn't leach into the soil etc. I really like the aluminum and glass (? acrylic plastic?) coldframes. Wish they weren't so expensive here in the us.

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    beaskywalkshalnachywyt

    Reply 5 days ago

    Earlier I was not sure if you really meant the pallets or pallet frames. The pallets that I used are completely in plastic and you can get them in food grade (though the black ones that I used are probably not, the food grade ones are normally white or blue). It is perfect, the do not rot at all and that is the part that has most water contact. You really need this type with the hollow feet to make the concept work.
    The frames are sold in garden centers. The coldframe itself is with glass, I am not sure if I am happy about it. I bought it a long time ago, today I would build it myself.

    20190411_200314.jpg
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    shalnachywytbeaskywalk

    Reply 5 days ago

    Thank you for the clarification. I haven't seen anything like that being sold at our local garden center here in Tennessee. Maybe this is just a European thing? I might be able to concoct a substitute however. Thanks for the instructable. Lots to think about! Happy gardening!

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    gismo1

    5 days ago

    This is a great idea and you have been inspirational in providing me with a possible solution for my garden.

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    beaskywalkDavidS19

    Answer 6 days ago

    I have bought mine, so no. But I think there are some ideas here on instructables which might even be better. I would like to have one that allows access from the sides, not only the top.

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    george57beaskywalk

    Reply 6 days ago

    The only small mini greenhouses I can find are the floppy plastic ones over thin metal pole frames (that rust in 10 minutes flat). Cannot find any source for buying rigid pallet-collar-sized greenhouses as shown in your pictures. Any clues? (Brand name?)
    I've a few pallet collars around and have been just using to make raised beds. But purpose-designed greenhouses made to size would help me a lot.

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    beaskywalkgeorge57

    Reply 6 days ago

    Might be a Danish phenomenon. If you google "coldframe pallet" you should find some examples. The feature of mine that is special, is the option to slide the roof windows to the side. Otherwise I would really recommand to build one yourself.

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    george57beaskywalk

    Reply 6 days ago

    Thanks. It must be a Danish thing/local product. Google in UK just gives results about how to build a cold frame using pallets! Tried google.dk and much the same. Hey-ho - thanks for trying. Good luck with the growing. ;-)

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    beaskywalkgeorge57

    Reply 6 days ago

    "mistbænk palle". works with my search-bubble

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    seamster

    12 days ago

    This is a simple and clever solution, and nicely explained. Well done! : )

    1 reply
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    beaskywalkseamster

    Reply 12 days ago

    Good to hear that you appreciate it. It's my first instructable and my first bigger DIY project.