Garden Geekery

Quest for Non-Toxic Garden Paint: 3-year Update

Back in 2013, I built some raised beds for my blueberry bushes and decided to try an experiment with surface treatments to see if I could find a non-toxic option that would still protect the wood from the elements. (See original post here; 1-year 2014 update here) As a reminder, I used Eco Wood Treatment, milk paint, and a mixture of olive oil and beeswax, as well as a control with no treatment at all. Here’s the update after three years:

Left to right: natural (no treatment), Eco Wood Treatment, milk paint, oil & beeswax. And a chicken.

Left to right: natural (no treatment), Eco Wood Treatment, milk paint, oil & beeswax. And a chicken.

The color hasn’t changed from the 1-year update. All still the same gray. They all seem to be holding up about the same, as well, even the one that had no treatment applied to it. The one with the Eco Wood Treatment has a big crack through the face of one of the boards, but I don’t know that I can blame that on the product. It was likely just a weakness in the board. I should probably treat the crack with something to reduce the board’s exposure.

I did the water test again. All four seemed to have the same reaction: no beading; the water just soaked in, even on the beeswax one, which had beaded when the others didn’t before.


No treatment


Milk Paint

Eco Wood Treatment

Eco Wood Treatment


Oil & wax








I was initially disappointed that there was no difference. But then I noticed that the water that had splashed on the side of the board, as opposed to the top, did bead a bit–and only on the beeswax and oil boards. So it seems that that treatment might still be protecting a bit more than any of the others. Only time will tell.

20160313_other front

Eco Wood Treatment–the natural and milk paint looked the same

20160313_wax front

Oil & beeswax

14 thoughts on “Quest for Non-Toxic Garden Paint: 3-year Update

  1. Karin

    Thanks so much for the comparison. I keep reading about the ECO wood treatment, but I’m a little suspicious when they won’t tell me what’s in it other than ‘minerals.’ I am about to build 6-8 raised beds and would like to treat the wood with something. Based on this, I think I’ll give the beeswax and oil a try.

  2. Carin

    Thank you so much for your detailed analyses of the different treatments. I really appreciate the information.

    I had a very large raised bed garden with loads of beds – I opted for leaving them in their natural state and barked around them (you could use stone but far more expensive!) and grew edible (there are so many – you will be surprised!) and ornate flowers with the less interesting vegetables which pretties up the garden and encourages more bees to visit. WE sold our house and I was completely devastated at leaving my organic garden I lovingly spent so many hours building and tending! We now rent so I am growing in pots and Vegtrugs as these can be transported to a new location. Due to Vegtrugs being far more expensive than raised beds, I figured I better take care of them better!

    Come to think of it, I have natural wood chopping boards and a counter top in the kitchen. I use nothing but olive oil to keep them looking spiffy. The only thing is, you have to reapply often (not feasible if you have many items to do!). The plus side though, it is super easy and quick to do with a microfibre cloth. I will keep you posted!

    1. astevens16 Post author

      Oh my! I’m so sorry you had to leave your beds behind. That must have been heartbreaking. Sounds like you found a good alternative for your new place, though!

  3. PikesPeakGardener

    This article was extremely helpful. Thanks for sharing this.

    I was wondering if you had considered raw linseed oil? I’ve been seeing that suggestion pop up in numerous articles.

    1. astevens16 Post author

      I didn’t look into it too much, actually. It sounded like a mess, takes a while to dry, and I didn’t want to deal with the self-igniting properties. 🙂

  4. Kat Shykula

    Great experiment; thank you for your detailed notes!
    I am like everyone else here, looking for the most natural way to treat my garden beds. I do not want a silvery look and hope to retain something close to a natural cedar color. Have you ever looked into Gronomics Cedar Garden Bed Oil? The company claims it is food-safe, however has not listed product ingredients. I sent an email to them looking for a content list, but have not received on as of yet. My 24″ high cedar beds are starting to look a little aged. Thanks again for the great follow up!

    1. astevens16 Post author

      No, I hadn’t heard of that before! Let me know what you hear from the company and if you decide to go that route.

  5. Will

    Thanks taking the time to update this. I came across your website while searching for the same thing…natural treatment for raw wood in raised beds. Regarding the ECO wood “treatment”, from the research I’ve done it appears its nothing more than a tea/vinegar/mineral wool mixture that is commonly used to age new wood. I’ve used a similar homemade recipe for interior projects I wanted to appear rustic. It does not have any waterproofing or sealing qualities. As for my raised beds, I’m going to just go natural and replace if needed as they decay. Thanks again.

    1. astevens16 Post author

      Thanks for the info on the Eco Wood Treatment! That would explain why it didn’t do a darn thing except change the look of the wood.

  6. Rebecca

    So cool! Thank you for doing this experiment and for going the extra mile to post the updates! I have a beeswax and oil (homemade) lotion that I’m going to try on Douglas fir posts for a trellis. Maybe doing a second application annually or bi-annually will help too. Can’t wait to try!

    1. astevens16 Post author

      The “recipes” I found said to use food-grade mineral oil, but I just used olive oil. Four parts oil to one part beeswax.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.