It only takes a small patch to start container gardening. Even a tiny yard, patio, or balcony provide room for several potted plants. That may not sound like much, but you’d be surprised how much food you can grow in such a small area, if you pick the right plants for the amount of sunlight they’ll be getting.
Container gardening is a way to save money. It also helps you know exactly what you’re eating and take pride in your ability to provide for yourself and your household. I’ve been looking into this for myself. This article started out as a collection of notes I made for getting started on container garden, and it grew from there.
Tips for container gardening
Choosing your plants and tools
- Most plants need a minimum of five hours sunlight per day. If your growing area doesn’t get that much sunlight, choose leafy vegetables like cabbage and lettuces that grow well in shade. You can actually grow sunlight-craving plants indoors using fluorescent bulbs as their light source. (There are also more expensive bulbs that simulate full-spectrum daylight, but many people get good results with plain, cheap fluorescents, so give those a shot first. The more expensive bulbs will still pay for themselves, compared to buying the produce from a grocery store.)
- The best pots are glazed ceramic. Cedar and redwood are rot-resistant and therefore good choices if you want wooden containers, as long as you make sure they’re not treated with anything that could hurt the plants. Plastic is to be avoided, as some of it could leech stuff into your soil.
- You can compost to make quality soil for your garden. But remember: to make your compost organic, you can’t put chemically treated crap into it. There’s a general consensus that if you carefully wash the skin of a vegetable that wasn’t grown organically, it’ll be okay for compost. But if you want to be absolutely safe, just buy some organic soil for your garden at first. Then begin composting strictly from the garden, and any organic produce you buy. Those of you with yards can include your yard waste if you know there’s nothing nasty being sprayed on it. In short: to keep your compost organic, don’t put non-organic produce or non-organic yard waste in it.
Researching for your area
- Research each plant you’re interested in growing. You need to know what soil mix it needs, how much water, what fertilizer to add to the water, and what sort of container it needs. Check this very general list of plants and their particular needs. Scroll down on this page for a nice chart listing information about a long list of plants you can grow in containers in or around your home.
- Go to your favorite search engine and query “container gardening [your city/state/country/region]”. This will bring up online articles from local newspapers and other region-specific tips. It may also direct you to offline resources, such as gardening groups you can join. Don’t expect the best results to be on the first page. You may need to dig a bit (no pun intended).
- Of course, check the library/bookstore for research, too. Libraries and used bookstores often have more variety than bookstores.
- Some plants may attract insects, so you need to learn what you can spray on them or plant next to them to repel insects . You also need to learn which insects are not your enemy. Many bugs can benefit your garden in some way, and while you don’t want them eating your whole harvest, a few bug-nibbled leaves here may not be worth going to war against bugs.
- Log everything you do, and the results you got from it. This will help you refine and improve your methods as time goes by. Chances are you won’t remember from one spring to the next exactly what you did.
Saving on water
After you get a container garden initially set up, your biggest expense is likely to be water. Fortunately, there are so many ways to be frugal about that. First of all, with a few caveats, you can use “gray water”. That’s all non-toilet water produced from tubs, showers, sinks, washing machines, and dishwashers. But this water can contain residue from soap, conditioner, grease, etc. Traces of soap will be consumed safely by organisms in the soil, but larger amounts can change the condition of the soil for the worse.
- When you shower, catch that first stream of water you run until the water’s hot enough. This is completely fresh, clean tap water.
- You can water plants with used bathwater, as long as it’s relatively clean. That is: no bubble bath, bath oils, bath salts, and no major grease or substances from working on cars or something like that.
- If your shower has enough room, keep a bucket in there to capture some of your shower water. Use this to water plants.
- Dishwater generally has too much soap to be good for watering a garden.
You can also collect rain water in a “rain barrel.” Set up a sizable plastic or metal container to capture rain. You can buy a specially made one that even has a hookup for your hose. Even apartment gardeners can sometimes capture rain from a balcony or patio.
Got more tips? Add them in the comments.