Belting Up

March by

My family and I have had great gardens and some pretty good ones over three decades on the Sunshine Coast of BC: Outside Gibsons, in Roberts Creek, on Nelson and N. Trail Islands and for the last eighteen years in Halfmoon Bay.  I’ve never created conditions superior to those of our first, a plot that is now a small wetland in Shirley Macey Park. It was on one of the first two homesteaded on the Sunshine Coast and was being cultivated when we inherited it. It seemed to draw nourishment from across the hard-pan one or two feet beneath a meadow that sloped gently down to it.  It never needed fertilizing or watering and gave meaning to the term bountiful.

Chamberlain Rd. 1972

We had pretty good gardens on Nelson Island and then Trail Islands….eventually to employing a good many raised beds over rocky terrain.

N. Trail Island circa 1990

I eschewed treated wood and soon found that cedar can rot and do so quite quickly, depending, I suppose, on where it was grown and the specific genetic signature of the tree from which it is milled. And sow bugs love to snuggle in between soil and moist, deteriorating wood, particularly with veggies close at hand. The extent of their depredations vary by the year but I have had them take a substantial and devastating liking to both bush and pole beans.

Sowbug used to be a more general problem in the greenhouse but giving my two chickens (and now one duck) access to it during late-winter layover months has thinned them down to the point of irrelevance and turning them into contributing elements of eggs.

I can’t recall where I saw my first pile of discarded conveyer belting. The imbedded value in terms of raw material and expended manufacturing energy and creativity would have been glaringly obvious, as it is in other discards of industry. It was crying out to be used. Immediately apparent was its potential as a replacement for wood siding in my raised beds.

An exoskeleton in the form of a short, open stud wall was all that was needed to provide shape. The belting was unlikely to degrade over time and could be attached with stainless screws through the rubber into the wooden top plate. This was more to position it than than to keep it in place. Outward pressure of 12”-16” of soil, though relatively minimal, does that. Capping the framing with a 2”x6” cedar plank made seats of the sides, for sitting to weed, taking the sun or laying tools out on so they didn’t go AWOL into the dirt or the grass. As an example:

 

Same bed mid-summer, gussied up with lattice and the odd flower

The black rubber sides of my raised beds retain water and draw heat. The hard use it was put to before being discarded, I think, would have probably allowed it to fully off-gas. And there is a lot of belting around. It’s a waste product hard to find a home for. It often gets buried.

I’ve been growing in raised beds made this way for two decades. In addition to rectangular beds (I like mine about 10′ x 30”), I have a couple of round beds and one in the form of an extended oval, each made of one length of belting with its ends secured together with short ss bolts through each end and through a narrow, vertical shim, also of belting. They require no framing, but also provide no seating. Practical but somewhat lacking aesthetically.

Bed in mid relocation....with reel-end top cover on standby

I’ve used it to informally retain soil and define flower beds, around my shop in lieu of concrete, made pathways of it and laid it out beneath quarter-logs to retard the intrusion of grass into vegetable and garden beds. It makes pretty good roofing in a pinch, and passable hinges can be cut from it. It’s heavy and a touch awkward to handle, but get past that and it has much to offer.

When we moved from North Trail Island to Halfmoon Bay in 1994 we brought our raised beds with us and (in five-gallon buckets by many a small barge-load) the soil from them too.You can see them below, freshly laid out and then flourishing during our first Halfmoon Bay summer, with a winterscape thrown in for good measure. Aint portability a grand thing.

Late spring '94 in Halfmoon Bay

Summer '94

Winter '94-'95

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