A Container Garden Made Easy
Do you want a fast and easy-to-create container garden? Here is one way to create a large container in just a few minutes! This is a great way to garden on your patio, or to enjoy gardening while standing or sitting down.
First, buy large, plastic concrete mixing trays. Get ones that are at least 8 inches deep, made of sturdy material. I selected one that is 2 foot wide, 3 foot long, and 8 inches deep at Home Depot. It holds 20 gallons (80 quarts) of potting soil.
I turned it over, and drilled numerous holes all across the bottom. It's important to provide good drainage.
Flip it back over. If you've drilled large 1/2″ holes, like I did, put a piece of weed barrier in the bottom, to keep soil from falling out. If you used smaller 1/4″ holes, you won't need the barrier.
Fill up the container with potting soil, leaving 1 inch space at the top, to keep soil from being washed out when you water the container. Be sure you place this container where you want it before filling it, as 20 gallons of moist potting soil can weigh 100 pounds! This isn't a container that you can easily move around. Give it sturdy support. We place ours at waist height, making them very easy to work in. You can even sit down in a chair to work in them!
I've successfully grown lettuce, carrots, spinach, Japanese turnips, miniature cabbages, green onions, kale, endive, and many other small vegetables in these containers. If you want to grow larger plants (tomatoes, watermelon, squash, etc), you should use deeper containers (10-12 inches).
Three of these size containers equals about one 4′ by 4′ square foot garden bed. My 3-year-old containers are still holding up fine, though if you bump into them hard, the outer edge might crack a little.
If you would like a container that would be smaller and easier to move around, use a storage container, like a 10 gallon Rubbermaid one that is 8 inches deep. It will weigh about 50 pounds when full of moist potting soil. Many people have successfully used 5-gallon buckets, too, though bigger vegetable plants may not grow very large with such limited soil.
Fabric pots, such as Smart Pots, are another great type of container. Their advantages include: 1) they drain very well, 2) the entire container “breathes”, 3) the container remains cooler in hot weather, and 4) the plant roots are naturally air-pruned, producing healthy, bushy root systems.
It's very important to use good quality potting soil in containers. The Mel's mix recipe works great – though I always add about 1 pint of organic fertilizer to each 20-gallon container. Every time you water, nutrients are leached out of the container, so I make sure there are extra nutrients to start with. I've also discovered that it's much better to use vermiculite than perlite in this kind of container, as vermiculite does a much better job of holding onto nutrients.
I'm very new to container gardening, having done it only since 2010. I discovered the hard way that my plants can develop serious nutrient deficiencies if they are not fed liquid fertilizer every 2 weeks, after they've been in the container with fresh soil for a few weeks. It can also be very challenging to keep these containers moist during hot weather.
I searched far and wide for more information about growing vegetables organically in containers, and finally found a book that offers fantastic information: The Vegetable Gardener's Container Bible: How to Grow a Bounty of Food in Pots, Tubs, and Other Containers. I highly recommend this book!
The author, Edward Smith, strongly recommends using self-watering containers for most vegetables. Using self-watering containers would solve 2 of my worst problems – keeping the containers moist, and keeping nutrients in the soil.
What vegetables have worked well in containers for you? What kinds of containers or potting soil have you used? Do any of you have experience with self-watering containers? Let us know in the comments below!