I’m going to jump right in here and talk about creosote and the dangers of railroad ties immediately because I know that’s going to be the center of the conversation because just about everyone has heard that railroad ties are toxic. But how toxic? And at what extent is what we’re hearing fear mongering and panic? And why, on earth, if there is any question at all, did I choose to use them around my vegetable garden? You all know me and know that I ere on the side of caution when it comes to our health. (Milk could actually be bad for us? I’m never bringing it in our home again. Possible toxic substances in dryer sheets? Never using them again.) The list for me goes on and on and on. Our health ALWAYS holds priority for me. So, why did I choose to use possibly toxic railroad ties around our vegetable garden?
Upon extensive research this is what I know about creosote: The warnings and horrors when you read about it when you do a search in google is entirely based on HANDLING it, using wood that was JUST treated with it and being a worker in a plant that is TREATING lumber with it right now. There is little said about wood that was treated a long time ago with creosote. Most people just think “Well, it could be toxic, why take the risk?” And that would normally be me too. However, the alternative to railroad ties for us right now was not at all affordable (cedar etc) and I absolutely believe that green treated lumber is an even MORE toxic choice.
So, I found out how old the railroad ties we would be purchasing were (over a decade sitting outside in all the weather northern MN has to offer) and if you read through the panic and fear mongering out there the general consensus is thus: “When they’re that old they pose such a negligible risk that it is basically eating a non organic apple before washing it.” Here is a Houzz forum that really helped me make the decision. Near the bottom of the forum someone posted this with links supporting their statement:
” … in 2008 the Environmental Protection Agency completed a reassessment … Testing determined that:
1. plant-based creosote has increasingly been used for this purpose since the early 1980’s.
2. that its primary source of potential health risk is to the workers in the wood-treatment plants working with fresh mix but that even that risk is minimized by safe handling,
3. that creosote can be harmful to plants if it comes into direct contact with them … but plants will not absorb the substance into their root tissue.
4. … and creosote will generally not migrate far enough through the soil to reach plants that are a short distance away
5. and … you’re unlikely to have more than short-term direct contact with creosote, and because plants don’t absorb creosote through their roots, you won’t be exposed to it by eating vegetables grown near treated timbers.”
(Note: The poster mentioned “plant-based creosote” because it had been mentioned earlier and argued over in that forum. The newer plant-based creosotes that they are using on the majority of railroad ties now are far LESS toxic then the creosote that USED to be used on railroad ties that has caused the majority of the belief of their toxicity.)
In the end my determination was this: The fact that we chose to use green treated timber on our deck and EVER walk barefoot on it I believe posed a much greater health risk to us then using VERY old railroad ties for our vegetable garden. On top of that I know people who are totally healthy who have used railroad ties in their yards and for their gardens for not just years but for literally DECADES. This was my PERSONAL decision and I hope all that I’ve stated up to this point makes it very clear why I made this decision, you MUST do your own research and make your own choices for your family’s health.
Ok, so one Friday night very early this spring my lovely husband drove into the yard with the railroad ties we had planned to go get together the next day. He wanted to buy them and bring them as a gift to me 🙂 That man does know how to make this country girl very happy! He drove as close to our concrete slab as he could. (The slab was used for cleaning off equipment years ago and then just looked odd sitting there by itself in front of the barn – turned in to a perfect spot for our garden.) We stacked the railroad ties two tall and filled it halfway up with something we always have a lot of: HORSE POOP.
After that we purchased 40 bags of organic top soil at our local fleet store ($1.79 a bag) to complete filling the whole garden. We then drove in 5″ torque screws to lash the railroad ties together as best we could. These things were so heavy we really weren’t exactly worried about them moving but thought we should provide at least something to help them stay in place. At nearly $3 a piece we only purchased and used 12 of those torque screws and used my Dewalt Impact driver to get them in.
After that I headed for the barn and found four rough sawn 2x6s and one rough sawn 2×4 (thanks Grandpa!) to create my fence. Initially I had pouted quite a bit about putting a fence around the whole thing but after I got going on it my little garden began to look more and more like my Grandma’s garden and, of course, I loved that. With the posts in place (attached with six 4″ deck screws each) I started wrapping my fence around it and tacking it down with fence nails and a hammer. This is pretty much as straight forward as it gets and is not at all difficult to do. I will say to “wrap” the fence around your posts so it curls around the garden the same way it was rolled up (that helps a lot in wrangling it around) and keep it as tight as you can as you go. I let it overlap down across the top railroad tie about two inches and tacked it down all along that edge to help keep rabbits out too. (I would have appreciated another set of hands but this one woman project only took me a couple of hours and was not at all hard to do.)
With both fence rows up all I needed to do then was build a little gate. I did this by cutting two 2x4s at four feet and two 2x4s the width of the gate opening (27 inches) and then stretching my fence over them. To help keep the fence in place on the gate I sandwhiched it between the top/bottom and side 2x4s and then also tacked it down with a couple of fence nails on either side before trimming the fence to fit the gate. With that done I used hinges to put it up and, BOOM, all done!
This little vegetable garden of ours is not going to be winning any beauty contests but it certainly wasn’t intended to. Our wild life would have eaten my garden down to nothing (the fact that we feed deer close by probably doesn’t help lol!) so the fence will protect our hard work for years to come!
As always, thanks for coming by guys! I’ll be posting about planting our seedlings here in a few weeks and how I plan to mulch them with hay, shredded paper and newspaper to (hopefully) cut down on my weeding this summer!