Thanks to Vermont Natural Coatings for partnering with me on this post. All thoughts and opinions belong to yours truly.
When it comes to staining my raised beds, it’s gotta be clean. If you go to any home improvement center looking for exterior wood stain, you’ll find shelf after shelf of options that will do the job. Very few however, offer the reassurance I require of anything I use in and around my home. The thought of chemicals invading the soil in my organic garden and infiltrating the fruits and veg I grow for my family creeps me out. I’ve always been conscious of the foods we eat, especially so following the diagnosis of my daughter’s digestive disorder in 2017. I became an even bigger food snob. Quality of life comes down to lifestyle and clean food is a huge part of that equation for our family.
But before I get into the stain I used for Part 2 of my veggie garden glow up, let me explain why most widely available wood stains don’t meet this mom’s seal of approval. First off, oil-based stains. They’ve been around for ages, last forever and leave a professional finish. They also smell bad courtesy of harmful chemical- and petroleum-based solvents which emit volatile organic compounds or VOCs as they evaporate. Since this was an outdoor project, I had plenty of good air circulation, so that wasn’t much of an issue. The fact that VOCs are one of the most common ground-water contaminants, according to the EPA, is the bigger concern.
When I referred to the safety data sheets of several of the most commonly used oil-based wood stains, scary words like…
- Mutagenic (can cause cell mutation)
- Skin Irritant
…made me certain that these were not things I wanted anywhere near my food garden. Water-based wood stains are a better option and contain few if any dangerous chemicals. That said, I wouldn’t take a swig.
While the big box water-based stains would have done the trick, it comes down to a bigger issue. Responsible production. I like knowing that what I use is produced in an environmentally conscious way. Finding a company that checks both those boxes was proving difficult until I came across Vermont Natural Coatings and their PolyWhey Exterior Wood Stain. According to the company, it’s safe for decks, raised beds, fencing, siding and outdoor furniture. They don’t recommend it for use on of IPE, mahogany or other exotic wood surfaces. But here’s the unique thing about this stain, the whey ingredient is a byproduct of the cheese making process.
Here’s what they have to say about it…
“Developed through collaboration with scientists at the University of Vermont and local woodworkers, PolyWhey replaces toxic ingredients traditionally found in high performance wood finishes. Water-based and containing up to 45% renewable ingredients, our coatings are formulated to meet the highest quality specifications while meeting the safest standards in the industry. The durability of a wood finish is determined by the strength of its cross linkers. Polymerized whey proteins provide much stronger cross linking than other wood finishes. PolyWhey® uses these proteins instead of toxic ingredients found in traditional wood finish. The result is a lasting, beautiful finish that is safe for people, pets and the environment.”
I had to call the company to learn more.
Following an extensive Q&A with two company representatives who shared their safety data sheet, I was convinced this was right for my food garden. Vermont Natural Coatings sent me two gallons of their Charcoal Grey stain (there are many colors in the line but this was my favorite) to try and I love the result, not to mention how easy it was to apply. I’m not the cleanest painter/stainer either and I’m happy to note that clean-up was a cinch! Soap, water and absolutely no scrubbing was needed to get my hands back to normal. The most unfortunate thing about this company, if there can be an unfortunate thing really, is that it isn’t more widely available. To that end, I suggest we encourage our local home improvement centers to bring this to their wood stain section.
Before I could stain, the wood had to be prepped which involved a good pressure washing followed by a few days to dry out. It rained two days after the wash so I gave it another 48 hours before staining. I also made sure there was no rain in the forecast for two days following the staining to make sure the stain had ample time to cure on the wood. A paint brush came in handy for brushing off the soil that splashed on the lowest boards from the rain. They recommend two coats for the best coverage and my plan was to apply the first coat to both beds then the second. But the stain seemed to dry fast and the second coat needed to go on before the first coat dried so I changed plans and did one bed at a time.
Staining raised beds is much easier if you remove any plants growing inside. I didn’t have the heart since my Sun Sugar tomatoes, jalapenos and nasturtium were still producing. It made getting the inside lip of the bed a bit difficult but it all worked out in the end and I’m still harvesting all of it in late September.
I barely used a gallon on two 8’x4′ raised beds which means I have plenty of stain leftover for future wood projects. When the southern sun hits the wood now, it has a silvery shine and all those knots pop. Sounds weird, but I never really appreciated wood knots until now! And I love the black stain and the way plants glow against the color.
Now that staining is complete, I’m excited to move on to the next stage of this veggie garden glow up but in case you missed part 1 you can catch that on the blog and on YouTube. I won’t be planting any cool season crops but will be dropping a cover crop in a few days as well as some beautiful edging to contain the surface I install in a few weeks. That will be parts 3 and 4 so stay tuned.
And that’s that. Funny how a little zhushing makes you want to linger a little longer and that’s how I feel even though I have a few more things to do in the veg garden before I can say I’m done. But then, I’m never really done so who am I kidding?
Want more? I have a video up on my channel about Vermont Natural Coating’s PolyWhey Exterior Wood Stain and how it looks on my raised beds. Click here!