Tire Gardens: Good for People and the Planet


March 07, 2022

By Steve Upson
Ardmore, Oklahoma, USA 

What if you could develop an efficient, cost-effective, user-friendly gardening technique, using a repurposed waste product, and in the process helping the environment? 

Such a technique would address two Mission Initiatives: Abolish Poverty, End Suffering and Pursue Peace on Earth. 

Welcome to tire gardening. For generations, gardeners around the world have used tires of all sizes to grow fruit and vegetables. 

What makes old tires attractive for gardening? Usually, the cost. Most tire shops have no problem giving away tires destined for recycling. Because tires don’t rot or rust, they provide years of service when used as rubber lumber, a growing container, or as a platform for bed construction. 

Scientists estimate that an intact tire can take several hundred years to break down. This durability makes the annual cost of maintaining a bed or container very low. 

Repurposing tires to support crop production is environmentally friendly. What can be more rewarding than transforming a waste product into growing systems that foster environmental sustainability, enhance quality of life, and generate wealth? From an Earth stewardship perspective, this is “using the things of this world in the manner designed of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 128:8c). 

Scientists estimate that an intact tire can take several hundred years to break down. This durability makes the annual cost of maintaining a bed or container very low. 

One person sold on using tires to grow food is Sherri Kirkpatrick, president of HealthEd Connect. She has worked closely with ECHO Farms in Fort Myers, Florida. That organization is dedicated to researching and teaching sustainable food-production techniques, targeting farmers in developing countries. After visiting with the ECHO staff, Sherri said the technique most likely to succeed in Zambia, where HealthEd Connect supports community schools, was scrap-tire gardening. 

The results have been impressive. At first health workers were skeptical. They later told Sherri they thought it was a joke. But they went along with the idea, acquired some old tires, and planted gardens. Simultaneously, they planted a garden in the soil next to the tires, believing a real garden would do better. 

To their amazement, the spinach and tomatoes they planted in the tire gardens grew faster and in greater abundance than the same items planted directly in the soil. In addition, they found the tire gardens required less water, prevented soil erosion, and were easier to tend because they were raised and did not require as much back bending. 

Sherri believes the success lies primarily in the fact that water is conserved, less fertilizer is needed (they used chicken manure), and the sun heats the black tires, warming the root zone more quickly. One school now has more than 40 tire gardens. They produce enough fresh greens to supplement the lunches of more than 400 children twice a week. When the schools closed temporarily because of COVID-19 in 2020, volunteers still came and planted the tire gardens so students could have fresh vegetables when they returned. 

Due to their relatively low cost of construction and raised profile, tire gardens offer a viable option for economically disadvantaged and physically challenged gardeners.

Like ECHO Farms, The Noble Research Institute in Ardmore, Oklahoma, has demonstrated new and novel ways scrap tires can be used to grow fruit and vegetables. The New Tire Gardener: Novel Raised Bed and Container Garden Options using Scrap Tires, is available to the public, plus other online materials. The publication highlights the best bed and container designs developed at NRI over the past 25 years. It provides detailed construction plans for each type of bed/container. All models have applications in the home or school garden, and some have commercial application. 

To download a copy, go to Graceland  University's website and scroll down. 

Questions about potential adverse health effects caused by toxins leaching from the rubber arise from time to time. When burned, tires create smoke that can release chemicals such as benzene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and styrene. But studies show that intact tires pose little danger from leaching because the ingredients are bound chemically into the rubber matrix during the cooking-and-curing process. 

If you are not comfortable with using tires, other materials are available for constructing raised-bed and container gardens. 

Due to their relatively low cost of construction and raised profile, tire gardens offer a viable option for economically disadvantaged and physically challenged gardeners. They also are a perfect fit for use on sloped terrain susceptible to erosion and areas with no or poor topsoil. 

Looking for a gardening technique that makes growing food less challenging, more enjoyable, and productive while saving the planet in the process? Try tire gardening; you’ll be glad you did! 

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