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Raised Bed Gardening in Galvanized Horse Troughs

I am creating a large indoor garden in a space with concrete floors. I would like to use galvanized horse/livestock water troughs for raised beds. I will need to drill holes in the bottom for drainage, but I'm stumped on what to put underneath to catch water as it drains out through the soil.

I will probably elevate the tanks on bricks or concrete blocks, but don't want to do permanent damage to the concrete floor if the tanks drain on them over a period of years.

What I need is a huge "tray" of some type to catch water that drains out. Does anyone have a clue where I could look for something like that?

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  1. Horse trough... BRILLIANT idea! How deep & long will they be? And how many years do you think they'll last before mother nature takes out the bottom? I'd probably do a little math to get an estimate of what a full one will WEIGH before deciding how many bricks/blocks to set them on... thinking 4 and it'll start caving in before it's full??

    First thing I could think of is that rippled fiber-glass stuff that makes a roof for a carport??

    1. Love the use of troughs here! I would look for a local sheet metal shop to see if they could make something for you. I did that once when I wanted a tray beneath the washer (one leak was enough!). Was inexpensive and made to my specs.
      Good luck!

      1. Coincidentally, I was just reading an e-mail I get from my favorite garden supplier, Gardener's Supply in Burlington VT. I have been ordering from this company for more than 25 years and have visited their store when we're in VT many, many times. In other words I trust them completely. Here's something they sell, similar to what you're thinking of. I don't know if there are drainage holes or not, but you phone and talk to someone who can advise you.

        I will tell you this, though: I have planted large half whiskey barrels and did not drill holes. I filled the barrels about 1/3 capacity with large stones then filled with organic potting soil and compost. Granted the wood is porous and the galvanized troughs are not, but if you are careful about not over-watering I think it could work without drilling holes.



        1. If you keep the drain holes within 4 inches of the bottom center you could buy standard rain gutter at home depot.
          Mounting it with a slope to one end, add the downspout end piece and place a bucket to catch the drips.
          Then you just reuse that water, and fertilizer that comes with the water, next time the watering cycle comes around.

          2 Replies
          1. re: genoO

            I was thinking a hose but that rain gutter idea sounds pretty good.
            Talk to a paint guy. I think the galv will last longer with a food safe coating on the inside. I would say a roof coating or tar but that might leach chemicals. Maybe just a plastic sheet liner?

            1. re: divadmas

              Galvanized steel is coated with zinc, which provides the rust protection. Once you drill a hole in galvanized steel, there is no rust protection on the sides of the hole.

              Painting galvanized steel is tricky because most primers and paints will not stick to it. Special primers are needed.

          2. I saw this technique at a gorgeous veg garden in Santa Fe a few years ago. The owner has acres and acres of beautiful beds (photo attached).

            The one I'm looking at is 3' wide x 8' long x 2' high so if I put it on concrete blocks that will raise it another 6". I can fill the bottom 4" or so with some kind of lightweight porous material for drainage before adding the composted soil. They're going to be quite heavy but they are on a slab that sits right on the ground, so I think that will be ok, and as kselverd says, I can always support it with additional blocks if it looks too heavy. They are made to hold water for livestock so they should be pretty tough.

            Don't know about their shelf life, but maybe I'll look into some kind of rust-preventative sealant I could apply to the inside bottom before adding the soil.

            Sheet metal shop is a good idea, NicolletteT as is the rain gutter, GenoO. I especially like the idea of re-using the water in our drought here in NM.

            I get Gardener's Supply catalog too, Gio, and have seen their large variety of raised beds which are great for those of us with back problems. The link you posted has a soil calculator for this type of container and based on 3'x8'x2' I will need 48 cubic feet per container, which is fine.

            Great ideas, guys, thanks!

            4 Replies
            1. re: sandiasingh

              I would look at the farm and ranch catalogs. It has been awhile for me but I think they are leaning towards plastic over metal.
              Light weight, rust and corrosion proof and would last forever. Set up would be nearly the same. Costs should be lower for numerous reasons.
              If they can stand up to cows and ranchers are liking the quality I am sure you will do well.

              1. re: genoO

                We live in horse country and have both a local Feed store and a Tractor Supply store within about 8 miles. I have only breezed through their water trough inventory but now I will take a closer look. I'm sure the plastic/rubber must be cheaper than the galvanized, but I do love the look of the bright shiny objects :-)

                1. re: sandiasingh

                  I would ask to look at their catalog, especially Tractor Supply. They can order you products not shown or stocked in the store.
                  It sounds like you have a good place for growing, a great idea and you will have fun growing. There are books to be had to help with some of the problems that arise with indoor gardening in this scale. I remember that air circulation is a must so a couple fans might be a good idea.

                  1. re: genoO

                    Good to know, genoO. I will ask Tractor Supply about that if they don't have the size I want in stock.

                    Yes, it's going to be quite an undertaking and I think it will be great fun. Gardening always comes with its frustrations, but at least they will be new frustrations--maybe? :-)))))))

            2. Let me be clear here. These are not troughs for galvanized horses. They are galvanized troughs for horses :-)))))

              1 Reply
              1. re: sandiasingh

                Great turnaround, Sandia. I've seen "galvanized troughs for horses" but not "troughs for galvanized horses".

              2. After the water drains through and collects in the pan. Are you planning to have it evaporate or drain the water out of the room ? Moisture evaporating in a closed or semi enclosed environment will reek havoc on your walls and ceiling. Not quite sure what you mean by indoor.

                3 Replies
                1. re: emglow101

                  This indoor space is about 2,000 sq. ft open space and two stories high with viga ceilings. One end is all windows but they face north. Concrete floors, lots of ventilation. Here is a photo from a couple of years ago. It is a former artist's studio but we use it for storage.

                  I want to put the galvanized troughs near the windows and add some grow light fixtures to hang above them because being on the north side it does not get direct sun.

                  Your point is well taken but I believe in our climate with temps in the mid 90's and humidity levels at 3-9% most of the summer, it might help to have some moisture in a drainage pan.

                  1. re: sandiasingh

                    You should be Ok with that large of space. A easy way to make a pan. Purchase some 2x4. Enough to surround your raised beds as a perimeter. Lay them flat and screw the corners together. You can probably find what's called pond liner at Home Depot or Lowes. Lay that flat on the concrete and up and over the 2x4. Cut and simply staple onto top of the wood. Creating a pan.

                    1. re: emglow101

                      Brilliant! My DH will love the simplicity of that. Thank you!

                2. I'm intrigued, sandlasingh, with your interesting project. Depending on how many individual troughs you plan to use and what you are going to grow, you may want to get some professional greenhouse-quality lights. You probably already know this--that most veggies need a LOT of light to grow and ripen, and also some need pollination.

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: Goblin

                    We are going to an indoor gardening store for specialized lights. They can be expensive, so that may determine how many tanks I am able to get. I'm starting with two 8 footers but would like to have four by next year. The pollination issue is another key, but tomatoes will be fine if I can get the light they need. I'll grow lots of fall and winter crops and herbs, herbs, herbs.

                    It's going to be fun to see what works and what doesn't and I'll keep you posted. It's a learning experience to be shared. Thanks for the interest :-)

                    1. re: sandiasingh

                      Growing up in the middle of the corn fields, some farmers would plant seed corn, the corn sold the following year as seed.
                      The seed corn companies would sometimes hire helicopters to fly over the fields to pollinate the corn.
                      With a couple fans, cranked up on high and may be moved to different locations occasionally, would work the same. Plus moving air is a good deterrent for some diseases the plants can develop..

                      1. re: genoO

                        Fans also increase the strength of the stalks, so you don't get spindly, weak, plants.

                      2. re: sandiasingh

                        sandiasingh, this thread has increased my knowledge about the pollination of tomatoes and I thank you! I've been growing tomatoes outdoors for some years but I never really thought about it. The following link talks more about tomatoes and how they self-pollinate--also a hint about how to increase the set of fruit if they are not out in the daily breezes.

                        You could also do some great lettuces all year round. In fact, you can grow practically anything all year round with the correct light, warmth, and moisture! Lucky you!


                        1. re: Goblin

                          That is an interesting article, Goblin. If you saw the picture of the space, you can see there are many windows and there is also a door to the outside I will leave open when the weather allows. That will create plenty of air circulation. If need be in the winter, I can turn on some fans, as genoO recommends.

                          I did not know that beans, eggplant and peppers also self pollinate (as noted in your article). That is super news since we love to grow our own New Mexico chile as well as capsicums.

                          I am learning as I go but am quite enthused about getting this set up :-))

                        2. re: sandiasingh

                          Another place to check for grow lights is, uh, hydro catalogs and stores. Not everyone who shops at these is looking to grow weed, and they tend to have a good variety of choices/setups. :)

                          1. re: DuchessNukem

                            OT but still.... We used to live in a very "weed" as a crop area in So. Oregon. We were in the irrigation store one day and the guy regaled with the story of the guy who came in looking camo irrigation pipes!

                            1. re: c oliver

                              Hahaha! We are lucky to be next door to Colorado, so we have some state-of-the-art indoor gardening stores here. All their suppliers are in Colorado.

                      3. Though I already posted this. What if you used sprayon truck bed liner inside the trough. That way you'd have the shineyness of galvanized but the waterproof of the bed liner. drill your drainage holes before applying the bed liner to ensure no rust.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Barbara76137

                          I have seen some specialized non-toxic paint to use on the inside, Barbara, and I will definitely look into that. I've also seen some photos on google where people paint them bright colors on the outside, but I like the galvanized look :-)

                          1. re: sandiasingh

                            What is the name/brand of the non-toxic coating that you found?

                        2. I wouldn't drill holes in the bottom. The tanks have a drain plug that you could put a spigot on, to release extra water. You would still have an inch or so of water in the bottom, but I don't think that would hurt anything.

                          You might still want to set it on blocks, just so you would have room to put a container under the spigot.

                          I have one of those tanks as a 'redneck water feature' in the yard. It is probably 30 years old and still going strong. I just bought a new one for the back yard, and it is much lighter than the old one, but you will have no strength issues if you fill it with soil.

                          To save on soil, you could fill the bottom foot or so with empty plastic bottles.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: sparrowgrass

                            I was at Tractor Supply yesterday to look them over closely and they do have a drain plug on the side that's about 1-2" from the bottom, so that might work just fine. I could attach a hose that drains into a bucket and re-use the water, as diva and genoO suggested.

                            I will set them on blocks and fill the bottom few inches with empty bottles or some kind of lightweight filler. They are 2 ft. deep so that should not be a problem even with tomatoes or other large plants and will insure good drainage.

                            I agree with you, they are pretty heavy duty so I don't think weight will be an issue, especially on a concrete slab.

                            Thanks, sparrow.

                            1. re: sandiasingh

                              While you are out buying supplies, get a couple big oscillating fans. Air circulation will help prevent disease, and it makes your plants stronger as they sway in the breeze.

                          2. There's a lot of great info here! I'm just thinking that a two foot deep trough is kinda overkill root system wise, isn't it? I can see it if you were planting trees in them, but that much for vegetables? Is this just for aesthetics? Just curious. PS: I had horses for a few years and those troughs are pretty indestructible but they're not going to stay shiny without some effort.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: c oliver

                              Two feet deep is overkill for what I will be growing, but OTOH, I don't have to bend over too far!

                              And funny you should mention trees. My DH has a client in Santa Fe who is growing lemon & lime trees indoors. Wouldn't those look great in my tanks?

                              I've seen lots of these tanks painted in bright colors and patterns, but I'll stick with the galvanized look. If they lose their luster after a while, that's ok.

                              1. re: sandiasingh

                                I remember reading that current (and future) weather patterns have forced you into this but it sounds like you're going to succeed and have fun. Best, C

                            2. Update on this project: the galvanized tanks have arrived and are ready to set up. We will install three drainage holes in each, fill the bottom 2" with perlite and then begin filling with composted soil from our garden.

                              We are still researching the appropriate lighting and will install it in the fall as the days grow shorter. The folks at All Seasons Gardening Supply have been awesome to work with.

                              More to come . . . . .

                              8 Replies
                              1. re: sandiasingh

                                Fantastic! I thought of you the other day when I saw some smaller round ones that had plants in them. I've used those styrofoam peanuts in the bottom of container when I didn't need them to be filled with soil. Also made them MUCH lighter. I'd put them in, then cover with water permiable cloth, then the soil.

                                1. re: c oliver

                                  Thank you, c, for reminding me about the water permeable cloth. I could have washed away all that great soil I've worked on for two years!

                                  As a side note, the nice guy who loaded these onto my truck said that 80% of these are sold for gardening--not for horses--so if you are an investor or have an investment banker, you might look into Countyline Galvanized Horse Troughs :-)

                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    Just make sure you use real styrofoam peanuts, not the new bio-degradable cornstarch ones. Otherwise there will be some major starch run off or clogging and the soil will collapse.

                                  2. re: sandiasingh

                                    You might want to put something porous over the holes so the perlite doesn't wash out. Mesh of water permeable cloth or something that won't deteriorate over time.

                                    Edit: I should read all the posts before I reply...

                                    1. re: JMF

                                      I've put broken shards of pottery over the holes.

                                      Never knew about the other kind of peanuts. Thanks.

                                      1. re: JMF

                                        I was just thinking this very thing, JMF. I think I need to put something over the drains to keep them from getting plugged up with perlite. I had a choice of large perlite (like peanuts) and small perlite and I chose the small because I'm familiar with it. However, it could get clogged in there, so the larger ones may have been better, but too late now. We do have landscaping cloth that will allow for drainage. I took it with me to the indoor gardening store and they said it should be fine to keep the soil from washing through.

                                      2. re: sandiasingh

                                        From my past years of gardening I think the one thing to remember is that the roots need oxygen also. Compost is great but can have a tendency to pack down, preventing proper drainage and restricting the oxygen.
                                        I'm sure you ran across this in your investigations and books. Coarse sand, pea gravel or the peanuts, mixed in the proper proportion to the compost will give you a loose soil that allows roots to grow and water to drain properly.
                                        Looks like you are really going to have fun and probably some really giant crops! Keep posting.

                                        1. re: genoO

                                          You are right, geno, pure compost will not work on its own. I will have to mix it with one of the suggestions mentioned here. I'll let you know as I figure it out.

                                          Our little farm/ranch is called "Canyon Light," but we often refer to it as "Canyon Light Labs" because we are constantly experimenting. Two of the nation's largest labs are near us--Los Alamos and Sandia.

                                          This is a very fun project and I'll keep y'all posted. Thanks for your input.

                                      3. I have a question about the galvanized horse troughs being used as planters.I planted one this summer and did well. I live in Ontario in Niagara area. Do I need to cover the planter in the winter? I am wondering when the soil freezes,if it will put pressure on the trough and damage it. Any ideas. All the articles I have read online are in more temperate zones.