Container gardens are still a big trend in sustainable living. Renee Wilkinson, author of the blog Hip Chicks Dig and the book Modern Homesteading: Grow, Raise, Create, gives expert tips for creating your own 4-season container garden.
Choosing a Container
The first thing you'll need is containers. But you don't have to rush out to buy fancy matching pots. Be creative, or thrifty, at least.
Wilkinson has used vintage blenders from thrift stores and utilized old shoes and metal tubs for ice at parties. “I just really like old junk, so in general I go to thrift stores or estate sales for used wine boxes, canning jars, whiskey boxes,” she says.
Other ideas for DIY gardening containers include old kiddie pools, vintage vases
or tins, galvanized trash cans and even bicycle helmets.
There are only two rules when it comes to choosing a container. First, make sure you can poke a hole in the bottom for water drainage. “You don't want your plants getting water-logged [or else the plant] will rot or encourage disease or fungus,” says Wilkinson.
The other rule is choosing the right-size container, depending on what will grow in it. “If you are growing a tomato plant,” says Wilkinson, “you want a big container, one that you can wrap your arms around a couple of times.”
Why? Tomatoes and other plants with big root systems need a lot of room. Otherwise, it becomes rootbound — meaning that the roots will become tangled and matted — which stresses the plant. The plant then produces less, and you, in turn, get to eat less.
Growing plants leech both nutrients and toxins from their environments. When growing edibles, it's also advisable to use containers that you know haven't been used to store or transport hazardous goods, and are otherwise non-toxic.
Soil and Water Drainage
Make sure the plants get enough sun. "If you are growing vegetables, they need about 6-8 hours of sun,” Wilkinson says. Other plants like lettuce and some herbs can thrive on 3-5 hours.
With your containers positioned, now it's time to get dirty. According to Wilkinson, good soil means that there is a good ratio of clay, silt and soil. There are soil mixes specifically for containers, but she recommends using lighter soil and those that have a high content of organic matter or compost.
Knowing when and how to water is the last essential element. Wilkinson suggests checking on the container garden every day, watering deeply and well, and making sure the water drains completely.
Getting Through the Winter
If you see the words cold variety
on a seed packet or marker, then you know you've got yourself a fighter. These vegetables love the cold and often need a hard frost to develop flavor. Think Thanksgiving side dishes
like beets, carrots, brussels sprouts and cabbage.
Other vegetables, if established in the summer and have time to develop strong roots, can survive through a winter (also known as overwintering). These include onions, winter spinach, radishes, broccoli, kale, garlic, thyme, rosemary, sage and spearmint.
It's also possible to move containers indoors as long as you have a south-facing window that gets 5-8 hours of sunlight. Spinach, sprouts, lettuce, beets, carrots, peppers and even tomatoes can thrive in this environment, as well as certain dwarf varieties of lemon plants and other citrus.
Maintaining Your Garden
Wilkinson's advice for those new to gardening is to “Just start somewhere. [Say to yourself,] 'At least this weekend, I'll start with lettuce and herbs. Then, a couple of weeks later get to the tomatoes.'" Small goals are the secret to starting your own garden
for the first time.
And if you fail? If some of the plants die, it's not the end of the world. According to Wilkinson, a true gardener gives themselves enough grace to fail and just plants differently next season.