Styrofoam guards garden loam


POSTED: Friday, January 09, 2009

This is a politically incorrect thing to say, but I have fallen in love with Styrofoam.

Specifically, I have fallen for old coolers and, best of all, fish boxes.

And it's not just me. My herbs love them. too.

I don't know when I first noticed people using Styrofoam containers in their gardens. But my only reaction for a long time was to admire the frugality it represented.

It took Moriso Teraoka's garden at Kapiolani Community College to push me into trying it myself. Teraoka grows herbs in a bunch of Styrofoam boxes originally used for shipping fish. Teachers in the culinary program use the garden to instruct their students.

Teraoka had a different motivation from mine. He originally built rock-walled beds for his herbs. But he noticed the trees surrounding his garden were sending roots into the beds and sucking up all the water and nutrients. So he asked a friend in the fish-distribution business if he could spare some boxes, and a new approach was born.

I kept noticing how well everything did there, and when the top to an old foam six-pack cooler went missing, I pounced.

Six holes drilled in the bottom and some soil later, a thyme seedling had a new home.

The difference was amazing.

I live in the front, drier part of Palolo Valley, and every thyme plant I've ever had goes pretty much instantly woody and devolves into tiny brittle leaves. It's like growing dried herbs.

If I watered every day, this would not be a problem. But I don't. My garden is an exercise in the survival of the fittest. But my plants have a new ally in the superior water retention of the Styrofoam boxes.

Months later, my thyme plant is thriving and I'm hooked.

A friend in the restaurant business has since become my source for the coveted fish boxes, which would otherwise be thrown out. It's painful to contemplate. All those herb and vegetable homes, wasted.

So stop the waste. If you love to grow herbs and veggies but have been disappointed by plastic pots, invaded by tree roots or pained by weeding the ground, canvas your local groceries or restaurants for a supplier.

I've got my collection on a hip-high shelf in the back yard to minimize bending an aging back and knees, and to try to keep my dog from eating the lemongrass.

Teraoka at KCC paints his boxes with exterior house paint, the cheapest stuff he can find. They not only look better, but the paint also cuts down on solar damage to the Styrofoam.

He also uses the tops. Every four box tops makes a new box (with one split in two for the short ends). Gorilla Glue is all it takes to keep them together.

And if you need more space, say for a squash plant, you can cut one long side off two boxes and join them for a bigger box, again with Teraoka's friend Gorilla Glue.

The possibilities are nearly endless.

So embrace the “;reuse”; element of the environmental mantra and make your garden happy at the same time.

And if you want a lesson in herb gardening (or succulents, his other specialty), stop by KCC and catch Teraoka at work. He is generous with his time and knowledge.

He'll be the slender silver-haired man with soil on his hands.