Posts Tagged ‘container gardening’

One of our first attempts at container gardening

One of our first attempts at container gardening

Walking through the garden the other day, examining my raised beds and my containers I realized for like the one millionth time, how much I prefer containers to either the raised beds or to a traditional tilled garden spot.

I use a variety of containers: buckets, flower pots, Earthboxes, and Rubber Maid Stock Tanks, plastic barrels and IBC totes. Some of my older buckets and pots are pretty traditional, but my newer ones and all the other containers are set up as either wicking containers, DWC hydroponics or Aquaponics systems.

I use different methods for the simple reason that if something isn’t working, another style probably is. For example, my raised bed zucchini did not do well this year, but in wicking buckets it thrived like never before. On the other hand, my pole beans did so well in a raised bed I didn’t bother with any other ways. My hydroponics kale has outperformed that grown in either raised beds or buckets. Gardening is full of surprises, so variety really is the spice of life.

Please don’t get defensive if you’re a raised bed or tilled bed gardener. I don’t disapprove of them, I’ve just gotten better results (mostly) from other methods. Your experience may be totally different.

There are three primary reasons I like containers: Mobility, simplicity, and Spontaneity.  Let’s dive about two inches into that and let me explain.

  1. Mobility – We live in NW Georgia right on the edge of Zone 7 a/b. and we have a medium sized greenhouse (40’ x 24’). Our great weather allows us multiple growing seasons already, but by combining the benefits of containers and the unheated greenhouse I can get a very big head start in the spring and extend the season in the fall dramatically.
Earthbox wicking containers

Earthbox wicking containers

I plant many of my varieties in January, and by mid-April they are already quite large when I move them outside. I’m usually harvesting snap peas, cabbage, Jalapeno peppers, kale, bok choi and lettuce long before most of my neighbors. By growing Parthenocarpic zucchini and cucumbers, my wife and I were enjoying them in March.

Similarly, when night temps begin to drop, I can move containers from the garden back to the greenhouse and continue to enjoy fresh peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, etc. until very nearly Christmas. Greens will keep growing all winter.

Even before we had our greenhouse, I would take my hot pepper buckets and set them up against the south side of the house to keep them producing even after the garden was getting regular frost.

I could never do that with my raised beds. For example, I have some very healthy roasting pepper plants in a raised bed that I’m going to have to make a cover for because I can’t get the bed into the greenhouse.

Even the hydroponics and aquaponics systems can be emptied and moved relatively easily. Because I use compact systems that don’t have a great deal of complex plumbing, it’s mostly a matter of emptying the beds and tanks, then reassembling them inside or outside as need requires.

  1. Simplicity – Containers are uncomplicated. There is very little preparation or space required. It’s a matter of filling with your favorite planting mix, inserting your chosen seed(s) or seedling(s) and you’re gardening. There are no special tools or groundwork required. The most important decision is the size of the container. You wouldn’t want to put an indeterminate tomato in a window box, but that container might be just fine for cilantro.

Weeding is a snap, as is mulching. Watering is generally required more frequently that with raised beds or tilled gardens, but wicking containers can mitigate the work load, as can automated watering systems.

  1. Spontaneity – If I get impulsive (which happens to me a lot) and want to try a new variety or increase number of plants after my garden is already planted, containers allow me to simply grab a new bucket and try it. Similarly, if a plant is not thriving, I can pull it up and begin again without the risk of damaging the plants around it. When plants are getting ready to flower, I can decide at the last minute to isolate one or two for seed saving by moving the container a little and using row covers for protection. This is especially useful for peppers and tomatoes.

Container gardening is an outstanding option for beginners and gardeners with small spaces. And it doesn’t have to be expensive. You can repurpose buckets and flower pots you already have around, or you can buy very inexpensive ones from your local Big Box Store or online.  Let’s face it; you can buy a lot of containers for the cost of buying and maintaining a rototiller.

We haven’t had a tilled garden since 2001, when we lived in Iowa. With our busy schedule and my ADD that option just wouldn’t fly. We have a few raised beds, most of which are being converted to growing berries.  We have many dozens of containers. If you consider aquaponic and hydroponic systems as containers (which I do) then our garden is 90% containers. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Are you a container gardener? Why or why not? I’d love to hear your experiences. Please share. I value your opinions. Besides, we’re all in this together.


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tomatoesI was reading some ‘tomato growing tips’ online this morning and realized yet again how many myths and how much inaccurate information is out there.  I know that much of it is well intentioned material that’s been handed down by good people over the years, but I still feel compelled to bust these myths and free you up to grow the best tomatoes ever, and to grow the varieties you want, even if you’re limited to tiny spaces.

Myth 1. If you’re growing in buckets, you are limited to determinate varieties.   I’m not sure where that came from, but it simply isn’t true.  I’ve grown my tomatoes in buckets and other containers for years,  and I grow lots of indeterminate tomatoes in 5 gallon buckets.  In fact, I grow the smaller determinate varieties like Tumbler and Tiny Tim in 3 gallon buckets.  In the commercial hydroponic world, many growers use 3 gallon ‘bato buckets’ for indeterminate varieties.

The secrets to successful container tomatoes are: a. loose soil/growing media for root development, b. plenty of moisture and good drainage, c. consistent nutrient supply, d. good support for the plant and fruit.

My soil mix is a blend of rabbit manure worm compost (with lots of straw) from my worm bins, coco peat, sphagnum peat and perlite.  I do sometimes supplement with potting mix purchased from a local garden center. The key is to keep it nice and fluffy so the roots can spread and grab moisture/nutrients.

My containers are simple 3 and 5 gallon buckets sourced from local grocery store bakeries, big box stores and leftover buckets from my wife’s soap business.  I also use Earthboxes purchased off the internet or from the Earthbox Center in Florida (it’s right down the road from my in-laws).

Myth 2. You need to drill lots of holes in the bottom of your buckets for drainage.  This timeless myth has cost us all many gallons of water and many pounds of nutrients as it drains away into the earth beneath the buckets.  (Full disclosure: I used to do this and a few of my old buckets that are still in use have bottom holes.)

I’ve found that self watering/wicking containers  are more water and nutrient efficient. I will make a video of this very soon, but all you need to do, is drill two quarter inch holes about 3 inches up from the bottom of the bucket.  Fill the bucket up to the holes with lava rock, river rock, or whatever you have access to. I find lava rock to be inexpensive and light weight. This layer becomes a reservoir for holding water. If the water level gets too high, the water drains out through the holes, but doesn’t all run out through the bottom.

Cover the rock layer with some landscape fabric, burlap or even an old tee shirt. This forms a barrier between the grow mix and the reservoir.

Put about a one or two inch layer of coco peat or sphagnum peat for wicking, then fill the rest of the bucket with your favorite grow mix.  You will save gallons of water this way and your plants will love you.

In a future update, I’ll explain how and what to feed your tomatoes to maximize your harvest.  For now,  because I know most of the country is getting their tomatoes out, I  wanted to dispel a couple myths that keep container gardeners from enjoying their favorite indeterminate varieties.

I love to hear from you, so please use the comments section send your questions and favorite tomato tips to me. We’re in the together.

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I thought it was about time to post a few photos from the fall garden.  As I’ve said before, we’re getting mixed results.  Germination was not great and it seems like we didn’t get enough compost in the mix and we have a few nutrient deficiencies.  Nothing that can’t be fixed.  On the positive front, we will soon be snipping off some turnip greens and I noticed a couple zucchini and squash forming.  We have several blossoms, so as long as we have some bee or butterfly activity, we should be ok.  And, just for the heck of it I included one random Chick Pic.


Beans and Corn



More Squash


Chick Pic

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