A tyre-some problem

Reading a post by Mischa Hewitt on the Brighton Permaculture Trust website this morning, got me thinking about using old tyres*  in the garden (and elsewhere).

Tractor tyres… not in my garden!

When I was an enthusiastic young gardener, I heard that you could use stacks of old tyres to grow potatoes in…. simply place a tyre on the ground, fill it with compost, put your chitted seed potatoes in and when they sprout, place another tyre on top and fill with more compost. It seemed like a good idea to me and we duly acquired some old car tyres and gave it a go. All went well to begin with, although lots of compost was used and filling the enclosed part of each tyre was a little tricky (I’ve since learned that many people stuff them with straw). The potatoes grew, as did the stacks of tyres… they didn’t look very attractive, but that wasn’t the point. Then came the time to harvest…

Mr Snail-of-happiness was not home when I wanted to harvest the first lot, so it was up to me. Do you know how heavy a tyre is? No? Well, let me tell you that rubber is not light and that they have steel inside too. Now imagine this already heavy object filled full of soil and compost. I tried to lift the first one off the stack… I couldn’t. Not only was it heavy, it was also quite high up (a pile of four or five tyres is not an insubstantial structure). So, I decided to push the top tyre off and empty it once it was on the ground. Then I discovered that tyres are designed to be grippy. OK, I knew this, but I had never really experienced it before. A good shove is certainly not enough to slide one tyre off another. In the end I used a lever and the top tyre thudded to the ground, distributing soil and compost but no potatoes. I eventually located a few tubers  and about a gazillion slugs… which seem to love living in the rims of compost-filled tyres, particularly those that have nice air spaces in them because the person who filled them up didn’t pack the compost into every available space. Turns out that slugs also like something to snack on whilst they are living in the tyres and potatoes make an idea meal. SIGH.

We did try using them again the next year, but never had the great success that was promised and the whole harvesting business just put me off using them. Since then, I’ve never planted anything in a tyre. I’m not saying that some people don’t grow brilliant crops in tyres, it’s just that they are not for me. Now I grow my potatoes either in soil in the garden or in bags (light and easy to empty). I have some bought bags, but have been collecting suitable ‘waste’ ones for future years, so I will be doing my bit for re-purposing even without the tyres.

Tyre slices used in a construction project – these will be covered in earth eventually

Of course, there are other reasons we might not want to use tyres… either in the garden or elsewhere. They do have lots of toxic chemicals in them… after all they now seem to be classified as hazardous waste and cannot be placed in landfill (either whole or shredded) in Europe. But they are increasingly being used in engineering projects… whole in the construction of ‘earthships’ and shredded or otherwise processed in other construction projects. What proportion of the toxic chemicals leach out or are emitted as gases seems to be unquantified as yet. It would be good to see more research on this, so that we can feel confident that, whatever is being done with worn-out tyres is appropriate and safe.


* or tires… which are rubber things in the US but means ‘grows weary of’ in the UK!

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1 Comment

  1. yambean

     /  August 25, 2012

    Thank you for a good laugh. Sorry but as you know our potatoes were completely consumed by the slugs. I am so glad you tried the tyres. I think it is back to good old traditional dirt planting for us.



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