Why plant a small container garden?
If you live in a rental property or have little to no tillable ground then a small container garden may be perfect for your situation. Small container gardens are also a good choice for individuals wishing to try their hand at growing some of their own food without a large investment of time and resources that can come with tilling up an average garden plot.
What is a “small container garden” anyway?
Small container gardens can be planted in just about any container that you can imagine. Even a relatively large raised bed can be considered a container garden. Essentially any container that is at least as large in diameter and can hold at least 4-inch deep garden soil could be used. If it can sit outside where water can safely drain out of the bottom the container should be equipped with drain holes. Otherwise, you’ll want to place a couple of inches of gravel in the bottom and monitor the moisture level of the soil closely.
There are also a variety of small hydroponic setups as well.
What can I plant in a small container garden?
Probably the best candidates for small container gardening are tomatoes, peppers. It’s also possible to grow squash, zucchini and green beans in a sturdy container if you get a bush variety. The key to remember is that the bigger the plant the more it will need to be stabilized. It is completely within reason to expect enough produce from a few 5-gallon bucket containers to make a few batches of fresh salsa at the very least.
Ok, I’m intrigued. Where do I start?
If this is your first time trying any type of gardening. Or if you’ve tried and failed before, I’d suggest starting out with some buckets. Or if you’re handy with saws and screw guns and have some space in your yard build a 4×8 feet rectangular frame with cedar 1×6-inch lumber. If you go the cedar route you’ll want some weed barrier covering the ground under the frame before adding garden soil.
Back to the buckets.
The simplest place to start is with a 5-gallon bucket. So get some comfy shoes on and take this list with you to your nearest home improvement store or use the links to order online and pick up at your local Tractor Supply (shameless affiliate plug.)
Tomato Cage for support
If you’re starting early use this kit to start tomato seeds. If you start later you can buy started plants from a nursery.
One thing not on my list is gravel or some small stones to line the bottom of your bucket a couple of inches deep. This will allow water to drain into the bottom of the bucket without constantly saturating the soil. If you can snag them for free from a small stream bed that’s ideal. Just don’t get them from the side of the road to prevent introducing pollutants into your system.
Assemble your small container garden.
The first thing you should do is drill some small 1/8 inch diameter holes (or poke holes with a nail or screw) into the side of your bucket about 2-inches from the bottom. This will allow your bucket to hold some water but not too much that the plants will drown. Next, you should wash your bucket with mild detergent and rinse well. Then add the gravel or stones up to or past the holes. Now its time to fill the bucket with the potting mix to within 3 inches of the top. Do not pack it in but drop the bucket onto a solid surface a few times. Only drop it a couple of inches, the goal here is to use the weight of the soil to compact itself. Use the package directions to mix in your earthworm castings or fertilizer of your choice.
There are a wide variety of fertilizers that are suitable. Do not use fresh chicken manure! It will harm your plants due to an overdose of nitrogen. Now that your bucket is ready, set it on a level surface where it can get at least 3 hours of direct sunlight.
Now it’s time to plant your tomato plant!
Whether you’ve started plants from seeds or bought started plants from a nursery, planting them is pretty simple but there are some tricks. First, pull off the bottom set of leaves (Ouch! I know). Then gently coax the root ball out of the container by squeezing and shaking upside down. Try to avoid pulling on the stem. If the roots look like a dense mat of tiny spaghetti loosen them by gently squeezing and pulling no more than a few of the roots away from the mat. The goal is a loose collection instead of a solid mass.
Now estimate your hole depth. You’ll want to bury the plant up to where you pulled those leaves off. Dig a hole in your fresh soil with whatever you have available, even a large spoon works. Place the plant in the hole and GENTLY press the dirt in place to hold the plant. Remember, you are cradling one of Mother Nature’s miracles not setting a fence post! Now apply water until either it comes out the holes in your bucket OR it puddles on top. You’ll want to water daily for the first week or so. After that, you can skip a day unless it’s in a hot, dry environment.
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