Monday, October 4, 2010


This year I experimented with growing vegetables in containers, mainly five gallon buckets.  The results were fine as I got two different crops of beans, both bush and pole varieties, heirloom lettuces, mesclun, swiss chard and tomatoes.  Still going are more tomatoes, eggplant, peas, soy beans and lettuce.  One crop that didn't turn out so well was my spinach as it got hot early in the summer and then cooled off after the spinach had already been destroyed.  Such is the life of a gardener.

Growing produce in containers is a relatively simple five step process.  First, you need to locate your container.  If you are aesthetically inclined you can spend a few bucks and get something nice like this red glaze pot at your local garden center.  If you are cheap like me you can get some used five gallon plastic buckets at your local supermarket or restaurant.  Or you can save your old plastic kitty litter buckets.  The main thing is to find something sturdy and waterproof.  You should also be careful to avoid buckets that have been used for paint or oil or other toxic chemical substances.

The next step is to make sure that your containers have adequate drainage.  I took my plastic buckets and a 5/8" drill bit and drilled four holes on the sides of the bucket about a half inch or so up from the bottom.  Be aware that if you use this method, depending on the soil you use in your containers you make get a dark colored drainage out of the bottom of your containers that could stain your patio or balcony or wherever else you decide to establish your container garden.

The third step is to fill your containers with an appropriate soil mix.  I put partially composted materials in the bottom half of my containers and then topped them off with a Kellogg's potting soil mix that I picked up at Home Depot.  Usually I like to mix my own potting soil one-third peat moss, one-third vermiculite and one-third compost, but that is a time consuming and back breaking process so this time I just bought a pre-mix.  The picture on the right shows you what my bucket looked like with the soil in it.  You might notice that this particular mix is a little rough with some recognizable wood slivers still visible in the soil.  Finer mixes are available but tend to cost more for equivalent volumes.

The fourth step is to plant your seeds.  I plant seeds like carrots and radish on 2" centers, beans and peas on 4" centers, egg plant and tomatoes one plant to a five gallon container.  Lettuces I just scatter and allow to grow freely, thinning while young and eating the thinned plants as sprouts or micro-greens.  I tried to plant pumpkins in a container but apparently there was insufficient soil and nutrients to support such a large plant.  Once you get the seeds in the soil just add a bit of water, about a pint to a quart or so, each day until the plants come up good and strong and are well supported.  After that you can really soak the containers good until the water starts to run out the bottom (if you have the proper drainage set-up on your patio or balcony).  On the left you can see some container peas that were planted about three weeks prior to this photo being taken.

The final step is to harvest and enjoy your homegrown vegetables when they ripe and ready.  Beans take about 8-10 weeks from planting.  Carrots take three months or longer.  Tomatoes need around 100 days and some even more.  Most leaf lettuces are ready to trim within a month to six weeks.  The sooner you start, the sooner you'll be enjoying your own fresh home grown produce.  Best of all you can even do it at your apartment.

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