Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Container Gardening Cheap and Simple
A huge heriloom tomoato from one of my plants grown in a 5-gallon bucket!
I dream of having the perfect garden.Stone paths, ponds and raised beds all overgrown with medicinal herbs, edible perennials and tasty annuals. My future garden will look like it's been there for years, arguably forever, in a cyclical state of decay and renewal. I'll know it like the back of my hand, probably because my hands will be forever buried in dirt and mulch until my garden is just what I want it to be.
But I'm not there yet. I've spent the past two years working hard and saving to buy my first house (and garden space). I love gardening so much, I couldn't let the limitations imposed by city living and landlords stop me from having fresh tomatoes and herbs. The house I was renting had a small enclosed deck, perfect for a mish-mash of veggies and flowers. Here I gardened for two Summers. Here's how I did it cheap and simple:
My first-year container garden (Dog shown for scale).
The first hurdle in container gardeningis finding affordable containers. Ceramic planters are expensive, heavy and breakable, a less-than-ideal combination. Wood is a great choice if you'll be in one spot for a while, but plastic is easiest and most affordable. There's no need to pay for overpriced plastic planters if you aren't worried about looks. Five gallon buckets are perfect for tomatoes and peppers of all kinds. I got mine brand new for $3 each. Plus they have a built-in handle! For drainage, I heated up a butter knife over a candle and cut little squares along the bottom and lower sides. If you have a drill handy, you can also drill a bunch of drainage holes. Drainage is a must for container plants, so make sure there are plenty of holes on the bottom of your pots. For bigger plants like squash and mini herb gardens I picked up some round 20-gallon tubs for $6 each. These have nice rope handles on either side for dragging your plants around. Another option is plastic storage bins. You can often find these for a couple dollars at thrift stores (especially when they're missing the lids!).
Drainage holes cut with a hot butter knife.
Next, you need to find a good spot to keep your plants. Most veggies need full sun, at least 6 hours a day. Depending on your bioregion, you may need to protect your plants from the cold or heat to extend your season (which is easier when you can move your veggies around). If you have a shady patio, choose plants that prefer less sun. If you want to start plants indoors, choose a sunny south-facing window. The nice thing about container gardeningis it doesn't require a whole lot of time or planning, so feel free to experiment. Even if you don't get many veggies you'll at least have another house or patio plant.
This is what I moved from my old house. Mostly herbs and Green Onions!
Here's a quick list of easy-to-grow container veggies:
Summer Squash and Zucchini
It's super important to fertilize your potted plants regularly since their roots only have access to the dirt they're sitting in. My preferred method is making "compost tea" in an empty milk jug. Simply put a couple handfuls of fertilizer/manure in your jug, add water and set it in the sun for one day. Use this just like any liquid fertilizer.
And don't stop at veggies! Herbs are a wonderfully low-stress way to learn about gardening. Most are prolific and don't need to fruit before using them. Many herbs can be grown in small containers near a sunny kitchen window. I even took on growing Echinacea (which takes two years to mature before harvest) in a container last year. I brought it with when I moved and am anxiously awaiting its purple blooms.
Second-year baby Echinacea!
If you are low on space, time, experience or ambition, container gardening is a perfect outlet for your need to get your hands in the dirt.
Also posted on www.cookingmycsa.com