Monday, May 12, 2014

Easy Container Gardening

Container gardening doesn’t have to be a big deal. You don’t have to buy expensive EarthBoxes(TM) (though they work nicely), sink a lot of money into a VertiGro system (though those also work well) or buy expensive pots from your local big box store.
Pineapples don’t like the frost so I grow them in pots.
Chances are, you can start container gardening with things you already have laying around your house.
So… why bother with container gardening? There are multiple reasons you might want to go down this path.
In some places, soil pests are outrageous or the native soil is poor. Personally, I’d change the species I grow and fight to use the dirt I have – but I’ve met many gardeners who prefer to bring in good soil and containers and simply skip fighting with the lousy stuff on their property.
I once saw this done to great effect at a little blueberry you-pick a few hours south of me in a hot, white-sand area of Florida. The owner had filled large containers with pine bark for his blueberries and they were thriving in a place where you’d normally have to do some serious soil amendment to make them happy. Beneath the rows of 30-gallon pots he’d put down commercial weed-block sheeting. No dealing with pH issues, no dealing with weeds and no dealing with soil pests like nematodes.
Additionally, if you’re growing tender plants, if they’re potted you can bring them in and outdoors as needed. I use this method to grow pineapples, starfruit, jabuticaba and other plants that get murdered by our frequent winter frosts.
Another reason to garden in containers is if you’re in a temporary living situation. For the wanderer, it’s easy to bring your containerized salad garden and some edible shrubs with you if you move. Containers are especially useful if you’re living in an apartment.
Here’s another example. My (amazing and beautiful) sister called me last year. She lives in an apartment and was interested in adding some fresh produce to her family’s diet. Earlier in the day she had gone to a plant talk and giveaway at her complex, coming home with a few tomato plants and other vegetables… so she asked me how I’d go about planting them.
My answer? 5-gallon buckets.
Drill holes in a bucket about 2″ up from the bottom. Throw some gravel or rough mulch in the bottom of the bucket and you have a water reservoir. Fill the bucket the rest of the way up with some loose potting soil mix and you’re ready to plant.
She followed my advice and it worked wonderfully – here’s some photographic proof:
Patio Bucket Garden
Not bad for a tiny balcony!
Sources for free buckets include pizza and sub shops, house painters and bakeries. If you have to buy them, they usually run about $4-6 each. Not bad, really, but not as good as free.
If you get free buckets from a house painter, just make sure they were used for regular old latex house paint. It’s pretty non-toxic stuff and most of it is easy to wash out of a bucket. I’d avoid any buckets used for oil-based solvents or paints, obviously. (The proper term for gardening in containers that previously held toxins is “yuck,” but I’m not going to write “yuck” since it sounds juvenile.)
Bakeries often have 3-gallon buckets for icing. Snag those if you can. Often they have recycling programs, so you might have to talk them into letting YOU be the recycler on a particular batch of buckets.
Beyond buckets, you can also press various common items into service as container gardens. 55-gallon plastic drums can be cut in half and used, either lengthwise or around their waists. They tend to warp, so as soon as you cut them and put in your drainage holes, fill them with soil so they maintain their shape instead of getting weird and curly around the edges.
Another thought, if you’re not afraid of neighbors calling code enforcement – you can garden in old gutted refrigerators, chest freezers and dishwashers.
I know. Tacky as heck. But still… there’s a lot of growing space there... (Keep Reading over at The Prepper Project)


At May 12, 2014 at 10:07 PM , Anonymous Andi said...

I would add one more- For Pretty. I love having plants inside the house, as well as a few really beautiful tender plants that I have just because I think they're pretty. They mostly live in the house or in protected spots.

At May 12, 2014 at 10:12 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

Alright, for pretty. That's okay, I guess. I have a red mangrove tree seedling in the master bath... next to some ivy. Also have a coffee plant that's wandered inside now and again during harsh winters.

At May 12, 2014 at 11:05 PM , Blogger rycamor said...

Excellent idea. I like the part about the reservoir at the bottom. That's something you don't get with regular gardening pots.

One good point about getting 5-gallon buckets from eateries: they are made with food-grade plastic which (I would theorize) is far less likely to leech into your soil.

At May 13, 2014 at 3:27 AM , Blogger Practical Parsimony said...

I would love to know the name of places that give away buckets. The three bakeries here, all the big stores with delis, and restaurants reuse them or sell them. In my part of the country, there is no such things as a free bucket.

At May 13, 2014 at 10:11 AM , Blogger rycamor said...

Yes, I've found that you have to buy them from food places, but some can be pretty cheap. We got some top-qualit buckets with lids from Firehouse Subs for $4 apiece.

At May 13, 2014 at 1:55 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

We had luck in TN, but I've had to buy them in Florida... or they're already accounted for thanks to recycling programs.

At May 13, 2014 at 2:00 PM , Anonymous Coffee to Compost said...

Have you gotten many pineapples? I have heard that they are amazing fresh.

At May 13, 2014 at 2:23 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

Yes! They're very easy to grow and need almost no care. You just plant them, water occasionally and wait... wait... wait...

The flavor is totally worth it. Superb.

At May 14, 2014 at 9:30 AM , Anonymous Rebecca said...

My new favorite "recycled container" is the plastic bag my dog's food comes in -- it has a zip lock seal across the top. I first saved these for storing compost in, but they can also be set into an object and used as the soil liner. Their pliability doesn't allow them to be used on their own; however, the pliability is what allows them to be inserted into anything. And, if you have a green thumb mishap (I have my share), just zip it shut and you have a bag of dirt again.

At May 14, 2014 at 10:03 AM , Blogger David The Good said...

Great idea.

At May 16, 2014 at 1:26 AM , Anonymous Patti said...

I got my buckets from my local Winn Dixie floral lady. They are not 5 gallons, but they were free. They get the fresh flowers in them and just throw them away. I have tomato plants in them. Check around. and don't be afraid to use your imagination.


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