A friend of mine told me that she wished she could grow her own vegetables, but living in a subdivision, she doesn’t have space for a garden. With three kids in tow, saying that she’s short on time too is an understatement. She wondered how I can have a full-sized garden and still work and take care of my own three kids. I told her that not everyone likes gardening like I do, and you kind of have to enjoy it to use up the amount of time a typical garden requires. Then I told her of a shortcut I know for growing a vegetable garden when you’re short on time and space.
I know that she has a large patio on the back of her house. Even if she didn’t, there are plenty of ways to grow your own vegetables without spending hours tilling and weeding a garden. I’ll let you in on the secret. It’s all about container gardening.
Vegetables aren’t that hard to grow. Granted some are easier than others, but most of the most popular ones are easy enough. And even better, they don’t have to take up that much space. I read a book on backyard homesteading that a friend of mine gave me for my birthday several years ago. No, I’m not a homesteader, but I did find one article particularly interesting. They recommended double digging for small gardens.
Basically, the way you double dig a garden is by digging up the top layer of dirt after you’ve tilled it. You do this in a line, forming a small trench about 10 inches deep. Then you take a garden fork and break up the layer underneath. Once you’ve sufficiently broken up the ground, you replace the top layer of dirt.
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The reason for doing this is so you can plant your vegetables closer together because the roots can grow deeper instead of spreading out. That article got me thinking. First, I cringed thinking about how much work digging a bunch of trenches would be. Once I’d had a good scoff, I got to thinking about an easier way to save space while planting veggies. Then it hit me. Couldn’t you do the same thing in a deep container? The plants should be able to grow deeper as long as the container is at least 20 inches tall. So I gave it a go and let me tell you, it works really well.
Of course, large planters can be expensive. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m cheap frugal so paying a small fortune for planters wasn’t going to work. That’s why I grow a lot of my deep-rooting veggies in 5-gallon buckets. If you fill a bucket with soil to the top, you’re giving your vegetables almost two feet for the roots. Because of this, you can grow your vegetables closer together.
The one important thing you have to remember when using buckets, or really any container that is big enough, is drainage. You have to put holes in the bottom of the bucket. An easy way to do this is by drilling them. I usually drill 5-10 holes using a ⅛ inch drill bit.
If you don’t have access to a drill, another option is to screw a screw into the bucket and then unscrew it. It’ll leave a small hole behind. If using this method, I’d recommend a couple dozen holes because they’re more likely to get clogged.
Another way to make the holes is to hammer a nail in the bucket, but be careful because the plastic could crack, leaving the bottom of your buck vulnerable under the weight of the soil that will be in it.
Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. You don’t want a bunch of Lowes or Home Depot buckets sitting on your porch. You don’t have to leave them that dark blue or bright orange; unless you like those colors. All of the containers and buckets in the pic below were spray painted. Yes, I love me some vibrant colors, especially outside. The fact is that I love stepping out onto my back deck and seeing a bunch of plants growing close by. That those plants are in cute pots only adds to the appeal.
I use the buckets for deep-rooting vegetables like carrots, radishes, and potatoes. For shallow-rooting vegetables, like lettuce and broccoli, an average-size planter will work. And for herbs, I use small planters that I keep on a plant stand to save space.
Also, because your plants aren’t in the ground, there isn’t much opportunity for them to be overrun by weeds. If a stray grass seed does make it into a pot, it doesn’t take much to pluck it. Otherwise, the only maintenance required is remembering to water them if it hasn’t rained.
(Pay no attention to the barren pots. Some of the seeds haven’t sprouted yet.)
Another benefit of having your plants in a container is that they are easily moved. If you’re growing lettuce or another fair-weather crop and it’s the middle of summer, you can have it in the sun in the morning while it’s cool and then move it to the shade during the afternoon when the day is the hottest. Doing this allows you to have your salad all summer long.
The best part about container gardening is that you can reuse the containers once the plants have stopped producing. Simply remove the old plant, work in some more fertilizer and plant new ones. It doesn’t get any simpler than that. It would help to read up on which nutrients each vegetable uses and there are even vegetables that will help make your soil better for other vegetables. For example, green beans (I’d use the bush variety for containers.) add nitrogen to the soil once they die, making them perfect for planting tomatoes or another nitrogen needy plant in their container afterward.
Do you have a container garden? If so, I’d love to hear about it.