The Ugly Side of Urban Homesteading: Screening Storage Areas with Pallets

Perhaps your garden, like mine, has a dumping ground area. Some place where random bits of lumber, useful but not in-use buckets and lengths of rebar mingle with weeds, neglected tools and a compost bin that’s seen better days. That’s the Ugly Side of Urban Homesteading – it’s when a focus on reuse and the productive possibility of stuff isn’t managed or organized particularly well.

Here’s a before photo of the garden’s worst dumping zone just before I decided our “productive homestead” look had slumped into a “embarrassing junk-pile” look.

This is a side-yard area between our house and the fence, about 8′ wide. Half of that width is a concrete path that was, at the time this photo was taken, impassable with junk. The other half was dead and dying grass, put in as sod by a landscaper who wasn’t thinking about what “full shade” really means for the long-term health of grass. If you’re thinking it looks like stuff is literally just thrown atop other stuff, you’re right.

The worst part of this space was that it was completely visible from the street. This side-yard wraps to the front of our home, and anyone walking by would only need to turn their head to see the wreck this area had become.

And that is not how we do front yard gardening, people! I firmly believe that front yard gardening is about showing off how wonderful edible gardening can be, both aesthetically and productively. It’s about not giving the “Our Town Hates Veggies!” idiots any ammunition to suggest that growing vegetables isn’t appropriate except behind tall fences in the way-back. Like it or not, if you garden in the front, you gotta keep that shit up for all the other front-yard gardeners out there, and those that are trying to convince local powers-that-be that they should be allowed to grow some chard in full view of the tender eyes of the public.

In other words, Trash Heap Chic will not fly.

Clearly, something had to be done.

We started by piling everything we could onto the concrete path side of the sideyard. Once the “grass” side of the area was uncovered, we tore up whatever remaining sod and weed-mess we could and smoothed out the soil with a grading rake.

Down went a layer of landscape fabric we had on hand. I hate, hate, hate this stuff as a mulch substrate in areas where plants are being asked to grow (roots entangle and it’s bad news for the long-term health of trees, shrubs, etc. – ask me how I learned that lesson…), but I do think it does a good job of slowing weed growth in path areas like this.

We put down a thick layer of bark chips and began to put the garden-storage zone area back together in an organized and more maintainable manner.

Old plastic buckets were used to contain random bits of wood or pvc pipe.

Everything looked a lot more tidy, but I still wanted to screen off the view into this storage area from the street. Solution? A pallet in decent shape that I found by the side of the road and a few heavy-duty metal T-Posts I had. They were propped up in one of my backyard junk piles, just waiting for a moment like this to shine.

I set the pallet up and propped it level and more-or-less plumb with bricks and odd rocks. Then I drove the T-Post’s in at either end of the pallet, between the front and rear slats of the pallet.

The pallet was now securely held-up, but still had a lot of side-to-side movement. I wired both sides of the pallet to the T-Posts to provide a bit more stability.

At about 7 pm, racing to get done before full dark (this was all happening in March), I painted the pallet hastily with the same exterior grey paint we used for Coop 1.0 and Coop 2.0. The result was a very effective and totally free screen that disguises the side-yard storage area quite well.

Now, if people glance past the front beds and down to the side-yard, the view they are confronted with is Reuse Chic, not Trash Heap Chic. I can live with that.


  1. says

    Very nice. Our junk/reuse pile is behind the garage, so we don’t have this problem. The problem we DO have is letting said pile get WAY too big. It’s about time we went through it and decided what’s really worth keeping.

  2. says

    As you well know, I’m a big fan of outting the ugly side of gardening. Ugly gardens are out there! There’s no shame in it! But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try!

    However, I love the use of the painted pallet as cover. I may have to “borrow” that.

  3. Arrianne says

    WOW! That’s 100% better. Clever solution that looks very modern. I keep my garden junk pile in the same fenced area we keep our trash cans/recycling, so it’s really easy for me to do a quick survey every trash day.

  4. Paula Morhardt says

    I had the same problem this spring, but we are out in the country, where junk piles abound. We had torn down an old barn last year, put up a new shed, but barn was my storage area, shed is now hubbys, so I needed space for my rolls of wire, pieces of plank, bits of brick, etc that needed to be stored!
    Used the great big blocks as a platform for the kids Fairy area, so now it is up off the ground and I can get to my big (16 x 16 x8) cement blocks if I need to. Used the smaller blocks (16 x8 x 8) as seats for the kids. Used all my bricks I have been saving and made raised flower beds on my lower deck, and then used three old pallets I had saved (!) to make a three sided ‘pen’ for my ‘stuff’! Put it at the entrance to the ‘Jungle’ (the kids love it, it’s my little timber, about 30 foot long, 15 foot wide, with fairy area and berry bushes and tons of dogwoods), so it looks like part of the woods, lol. Old Pallets Rule!!

  5. Tiff says

    Love your brain, it spits out the coolest ideas! Like Paula above, I live in the country and there is something very strange that can happen out yonder. The piles breed, and breed! I swear they can be more prolific than rabbits. I have come to the conclusion that the combo of more space and Barn sales are the problem. I mean really, how many of you could NOT bring something home from a 100 year old barn full of ‘stuff’? Hence why there is a airplane windshield leaning against the chicken coop just waiting to be moved into the garden to be made into a free standing cold frame. :) So I have 2 piles going. The first I will call ” behind the wood pile stuff” really this is needing to go to the dump because I haven’t used any of it! The second I call my ” treasure pile” This is the one that can get a bit out of control. It’s the stuff waiting to be turned into something and gets put on the back burner because farm stuff always comes first. One of my tricks is to put the larger things in the garage, right in the way. That way, as I am passing through to feed the goats I will see it and not be able to forget. The one thing I do wish someone could come up with is a way to store all the random black pots that doesn’t require $ and is containable for all the sizes we seem to use.

  6. bren says

    If you add S-hooks, (or nails) you can then hang usefull stuff from the pallet – like the hose, buckets etc, etc – there’s always something in the garden to hang up. On the inside, of course, as you don’t want to upset the garden police. And, to go even further, you could aways plant sweet peas, or hollyhocks (sustitute high growing flower of choice), in front of the pallet beautifying things even further…
    Cheers, Bren

  7. says

    We had/have the same problem. We decided that simply calling it “white trash eclecticism” didn’t fix it. We used an old fence panel to section off a corner of the yard and are gradually moving in and organizing it,

  8. says

    Now if you could just keep the commercial farmers in the family from dumping their junk over there, I’d be happy. After I used their leftover wood flooring to build a raised bed, the accumulation slowed a bit. LOL

  9. Tanaya Ropp says

    Very cool. I think I’ll do something similar to my lean to shed. I have most of my scrap wood and pipes between the rafters I can’t believe how much stuff I was able to put up there. I even have the stilts my dad made for my children.

  10. says

    What a fab idea! Pallets are so helpful in the garden. I’m always shocked when non-gardeners look at me like I’m a freak when I talk about all the uses for them. But hey, we have an awesome compost bin made out of pallets and it was totally free! Thanks for sharing the idea.

  11. says

    Same here on “stuff.” My contractor said re costs of building- 15% is material, 85% is labor. Old wood is difficult to nail, etc. I’m struggling with this and decluttering; but, inevitably, the minute I do, I find….. I Needed That Board!! I have some 1940s painted beadboard, shiplap, etc… Gotta be a happy medium.


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