Posts Tagged ‘raised bed 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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Suddenly, everyone’s an expert on Aquaponic Gardening.  My Twitter account was loaded this morning with ‘expert’ tweets about how to properly grow fish and vegetables together.  Most of them were pointing to e-books, so were likely affiliates promoting a new info product.

I have nothing against info products. I dabble in them myself. It’s also quite normal to see a rising phenomenon like Aquaponic Gardening result in a proliferation of products aimed at the burgeoning market.  That’s free enterprise at it’ finest. The challenge for consumers is to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff.  How will beginners know the good from the bad?

First, do some research on the author or creator of the material.  At least Google the author and see what information about him/her is out there. What experience does she/he have?  Can you see their operation?  Is the material consistent with other information on the market? What are others saying about the material?

If you are in doubt, email, FB or contact me on Twitter and ask.  I am making it a personal mission to become familiar with all the material out there on the subject of Aquaponic Gardening.  I firmly believe that Aquaponics is the future of backyard gardening.  I believe it will eclipse things like Square Foot Gardening, self watering container gardening  and hydroponic gardening in both popularity and production.

Aquaponic Gardening has many benefits including its adaptability to large and small spaces and even has real indoor possibilities.  Recent improvements in LED and CFL lighting have brought indoor gardening to a wider audience.

There are still some lingering drawbacks to Aquaponic Gardening, though, that require some attention.  The first is that the dependence on electricity keeps Aquaponics from being truly sustainable.  Solar technology has not developed to an everyman level, so for the near future at least, access to mains power will be required to run pumps, aerators, filters and in many cases, heaters.

The second drawback is affordability.  Right now, it’s fairly expensive to get started in Aquaponics.  Retail ‘out of the box’ systems are cost prohibitive for millions of people who might otherwise get involved.  Even homemade systems made from scrapped materials have built in costs for fittings, pumps, filters and the like.  While goldfish are inexpensive, edible fish like Tilapia can be quite pricey for the beginner. It is still much cheaper for most people to dig up a spot in the back yard, or build a raised bed, than it is to set up an Aquaponics system.  Until the start up cost gap is narrowed, we will find it difficult to move from pioneers and early adopters to the masses.  Making Aquaponics affordable to the general population is one of my goals.

Sometime this summer I’m going to add a resource page to the blog that will be a repository for links to websites, books, systems and people who can help us all be better Aquaponics gardeners and help keep us from being ripped off by charlatans.


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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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