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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Container Gardening: Basics and Ideas

Container Gardening: Basics and Ideas

The basic needs for a container garden are quite simple.
  • A container that is large enough to maintain moisture for 24 hours
  • Soil that is designed to hold moisture (it is easy to find or make)
  • Liquid fertilizer of your choice
  • 6 hours of sunlight or more

The tricky part is understanding what size container your vegetable plants will need to grow. I pulled out some of my old blogs that show you a basic 5 gallon container. Though not attractive, they are practical and inexpensive. They run about $4-$6 at your local Home Depot. While you are their you can buy moisture control garden soil or potting soil. It will say moisture control on the bag. Most of these bag products come with fertilizer already in the mix. You can find plants and seeds there too. And your liquid fertilizer. Sunlight, you have to pick the best spot around your house. You really need 6 hours or more of full sun. There are some plants that need less.

I plant to update my blog with container planting ideas and pictures as I create them but figured I would start the season with the 5 gallon containers and what the can hold. You don't need to make the self watering container. That is just an extra project. If you buy a 5 gallon bucket make sure you drill about 10 holes in the bottom. You don't want your plants sitting in water.

What you can plant in a 5 gallon bucket or similar size and have great success:
  • 1 tomato plant
  • 1 or 2 pepper plants
  • 1 or 2 egg plants
  • 2 cucumber plants
  • 1 zucchini plant
  • 1 squash plant
  • 1 vining fruit plant (though they need lots of running room)
  • 1 or 2 kale plants
  • 5 or 10 lettuce plants (depending on how you pick them)
  • 5 or 10 types of herbs (depending on their height)
  • 3-5 pea plants (and they can go in right now, yes March)

The key is to make sure you maintain moisture and fertilize about 1or 2 times a month.


Picture of a Tomato in 5 a Gallon Bucket

You can see other containers in the picture too.

Here is the semi self watering container I built. The construction blog is a few blogs back. The container is two buckets. There is pebble reservoir in the system.
The tomatoes are Florida Basket tomatoes. I have three planted in there. Yep, three. The container held its own for 4 days last week when I was away. Sunny and 90+ degrees. The deck gets 8 hours of sun. The plant was slightly stressed. I will be giving it some Miracle Grow and keeping it moist. You can see all the tomatoes on it. I will be growing a lot of these next year. I highly recommend the Florida Basket variety for deck containers.




There is never never enough room in a garden. If you are like me, you can't turn a tomato plant down. You can't say no to tucking a plant in the garden. Your wife is threatening you- "if you dig up one more inch of lawn." You know, in your head, how big the plant will get but you still plant it because it is small enough to fit.

Container gardening is a great way to grow tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and many other plants. The trick is watering them. If they dry out once, the plant is pretty much spent. After many experiments this is what I came up with as a way to grow tomatoes on my deck. Total cost, with plants and soil, is about $20. It's not 100% self watering but it is an extended watering container.



How to Make a 5 Gallon Self Watering Container

Purchase 2 - 5 gallon buckets at Home Depot or Lowes. They are about $5 each. You will need a small bag of pebbles, some moisture control soil and a plant. Drill holes as shown below. I suggest using that pattern. Your tomato plant's roots will grow through them and reach the reservoir.


The bucket with holes in the bottom is to the left. That is where the plant and soil will go. In the 2nd bucket, fill the bottom to about 4 inches with the pebbles. 4 inches is about the gap left when you place one bucket inside another. You want the soil bucket to rest on the pebbles. If you look closely you will see holes just above the pebbles in the 2nd bucket. Those holes are your overflow holes. You don't want the bottom of your soil bucket to be soggy and sit in water. Drill about 4 or 5 holes around the pebble bucket. The holes should be just above the pebble line.


Place the soil into the soil bucket. It is the bucket without pebbles and has the holes in the bottom.


Plant the tomato in the soil. I am filling the pebble bucket with water and Miracle Grow. Fill it to the top of the pebbles, just below the run-off holes.


Drop the soil and plant bucket into the pebble bucket and water it.


On a hot day a single 5 gallon bucket will dry out in a day or a day and half depending on how large the plant has grown or is growing.

Using this method you really can get 3 - 4 days between watering (depends on plant size). Each time you water, soak the bucket. You want to make sure you see water come out of  the run-off holes. The key is to keep the pebble reservoir filled.

This year I have one bucket of this design. In the bucket are 3 yes 3 Florida Basket Tomatoes. They are compact determinate tomatoes. The are producing a ton of fruit. I'll get a picture up next week some time.

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