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Are Tires Safe for Gardening?

As spring and garden planting nears I have been getting more questions on the possible toxicity of gardening in tires.

Are tires safe for gardening?  Let me set your mind at ease –

Tires are SAFE!

As my mentor Paul Farber wrote in his article in Countryside & Small Stock Journal:

“I can only find one toxic substance in the rubber tire: zinc. Toxics A to Z says ‘Zinc is a naturally occurring trace element required for human health, although there are more reports of adverse effects from zinc deficiency than from zinc overload. Compounds of zinc will cause stomach distress if too much is ingested… Because the body rids itself efficiently of zinc, there is little risk of build-up.’ “

Shredded, Chopped, or Ground Tires in Growing Medium
USDA researcher and compost expert Rufus L. Chaney, Ph. D., reports, “Tires normally have 0.5% Zn (zinc). In many situations, when {chopped or ground rubber was} used in plant growth media, or burned tire residues were on soils, Zn killed plants. There is an interaction between soil or medium pH and Zn toxicity. At a reasonable rate of application, rubber would be a high grade Zn fertilizer over time because the Zn in rubber is purified, with very low Cd (cadmium) concentrations.”

Dr. Chaney has an extensive background in research using chopped and ground tires as growing medium in his research studies. Of anyone in America he is the foremost expert.

Gardening in Tire Retainers and Containers
From a nursing and organic background I find tires just as safe as plastic pots from the garden center at your local department store, only they last much longer and you can make them any color you want, when you want, and save the planet at the same time! Dr. Chaney has said that whole tires start to decay within a few decades (20 years or more), and removing the sidewalls or turning them inside out would probably not accelerate this process, thus confirming my belief in the safety of whole or moderately altered tires in the garden.

I spoke to Paul and years ago he was told of a study where submerged tires with exposed metal belts leached trace amounts of heavy metals into the water, and might do the same in your garden. He nor I have found the source of this report, but common sense would confirm truth to this. As a whole tire you can see the resilience of submerged tires off the coast of Florida at Osborne Reef. There, in the 1970’s, between one and two million tires were chucked into the ocean to create an artificial reef which ended up being a disaster, because they weren’t stable enough for the fish and ocean critters to make their homes. Clean-up has been a nightmare and has and will take years.Osborne Reef


So, for obvious hazardous and general safety reasons, we at Tirecrafting recommend that tires with exposed wires should be avoided not only due to the chance of injury, but also the possible exposure to heavy metals.

To avoid zinc and cadmium contamination, Paul and I recommend that at least once every ten years, either replace or clean and coat all your garden retainers and containers, inside and out, with a toxic-free sealant. We use exterior acrylic latex paint. We also rotate the soil in our vegetable retainers every year and retire it to our flower gardens after five years.

I hope this helps ease your minds in using tires to garden.

Go forth Tirecrafters of the world and create!

The Tire Lady

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Gardening in Tires with Paul Farber – 2006

Hello Everyone,

I wanted to share previous information about gardening in tires from our wonderful founder Paul, so that we can have a little archive of previously published articles.  So here is the first…

Deseret News – Retire Old Tires to the Garden Use them to create decorative, hardy outdoor planters

By Larry A. Sagers, For the Deseret News, Friday, June 9 2006

Hand pump fountainROY — For a gardener, new innovations and ideas are always welcome. And when these ideas use materials that would normally be discarded, it’s even better.  Enter Paul Farber, a gardener and a self-described inventor.  Long before recycling became a buzzword, he and his wife, Joan, preached that old tires should have some other use.  During the 1970s energy crisis, Farber wanted to become more self-sufficient, so he started looking into a way to grow more food in his back yard. He turned to the Mittlieder gardening method that, at the time, promoted raised beds.

He learned a lot about gardening but was not impressed with the materials that everyone used to make their beds.  “I did not like them because I did not think they were permanent enough. I could see the steel, the aluminum, the wood and the other products were not going to last well. I decided I needed something that would last,” he said. 

He wanted a readily available, inexpensive and permanent way to improve his gardening. Since used tires — which don’t break down— were free and available in an almost inexhaustible supply, he started creating ways to utilize them.

His inspiration came as he drove through Idaho and saw some people trying to grow plants in old tires — but there were problems.  “These people were using their houses as reflectors and windbreaks,” he said. “They were losing more than half their growing space because the sidewalls on the tires were so big.”  In addition, “underneath the tire was a nursery for critters. Earwigs, slugs, snails and pill bugs hid under the tires and then came out to destroy their garden. The top got so hot that it burned the plants, and it was hard to fill the tires with soil,” he said.

Farber began tinkering with the idea of cutting the sidewall out of the tire. But he needed to be able to do it easily, inexpensively and safely. He also tinkered with the idea of turning the tire inside out.  Although those ideas did not seem complicated, they took time and work.  He eventually figured out ways to do both processes inexpensively and easily. Once that problem was solved, he could concentrate on making as many different garden items as possible from the discarded tires. As the “inventions” were rolled out of his workshop, he tried each one in his own garden to make certain it worked.  “Tire containers filled with homemade compost/growing medium are the only method of gardening that offers affordable, available, quality gardening to everyone,” Farber said. “Rocky hillsides, ocean beaches, alkali flats, porches, patios, mobile home spaces, houseboats, rooftops are examples of why everyone can’t have gardens. “No matter how limited their funds, how poor their existing soil, how limited or irregular the existing space, everyone can now have a garden. Everyone can now experience the joys of gardening,” he said, adding that “tire containers are safe, sturdy and flexible.”

Pauls pondFarber’s Mexican pottery tire containers look like terra-cotta pottery but are more durable, as they won’t freeze and break. They can be filled with your favorite flowers or vegetables for an easy-care container garden. But Farber’s inventions go beyond containers for gardening.  He has also constructed fountains, waterfalls and pools out of discarded tires, which never rot or turn brittle.

Tires can also be used to build your own solar raised-bed planters. These tire planters also serve as solar collectors, accelerating plant growth and extending the growing season. For more information on tire-crafting, including books and videos, contact RE-TIRING at P.O. Box 505 WE, Roy, UT 84067.  

(Current 2015 Tirecrafting address The Tire Lady P.O. Box 104, Spring City, UT 84662. www.Tirecrafting.com)

Larry Sagers is the horticulture specialist at Utah State University Extension Thanksgiving Point.

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company

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