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Container Gardens Bring Fresh Vegetables and Herbs to Your Table
With snow on the ground, it's time to be thinking about spring gardens. So, as promised, here's how I made my container garden. You've seen it before, this photo showing a part of my 6'x24' raised container garden that has given me so many delicious vegetables and herbs over the past three years. It's waist high and makes planting and harvesting very easy, indeed. Using the postage stamp method of broadcasting seeds, closer plant placement, and trellising, the produce yield is closer to 720 square feet than a linear 144 square feet for standard gardening. There's more than enough for both meals and preserving, although not quite enough to feed your family and also let others pick what they want. This is a family garden and there is a limit to its bounty. You can always help friends build their own!
Also visible is my fairly large yard, balancing the size of this garden. The concrete block sides are 3 horizontal blocks high with a 2" capper. If you want a similar garden but plan on stopping at two blocks, bear in mind
that this choice means years of serious bending over at a most uncomfortable body angle. Take the time to add another row and save yourself the heartache -- or, backache. It will take a little longer to finish, but makes all the difference in the world. If you're really clever,you'll make your garden fit commercial bag sizes (i.e. a 5'x20' garden equals 100 cu.ft.) for easier decisions when buying soils, fertilizers, etc.
When you're done, you'll have a garden that's a match for any 20-year old garden bed and you'll be surprised how often you'll enjoy late harvests like this in November and December. You see, the garden is raised and the soil is protected, so the soil stays warmer, longer.
The Small Yard and Patio Gives the Cook Fresh Vegetables and Herbs in Plastic Tubs
For those of you who have small yards or only a patio available, containers are the way to go. That's what I did during some of my townhouse living. Two computers ago, I had pictures of the patio plastic tub gardens that served me very well with fresh vegetables all year round! Though the pictures are no longer available, (I know! I know! I should have saved them; but, I didn't save them. It is what it is.) that doesn't mean I can't share what I did to get such bounty.
First of all, you're going to find any number of fancy garden containers and ideas to tempt you at local stores and online. Before you spend a lot of money, find out if this is something you really want to do before purchasing the $15-$50 planters. Plastic rectangular tubs will do the job just fine. You can use almost anything, really, that will hold at least 6" of material; but, vegetables need a lot of water and, the smaller the container, the more attention it's going to require. Should the unthinkable happen and you decide you don't want to continue gardening, you will, at least, have another container for supplies. Besides, these inexpensive tubs come with covers, an ideal way of protecting your garden over harsh winters.
So, find a tub that looks like this:
Choose the 30- or 40-gallon size tub, either will be fine but the larger one will offer more protection and give you plenty of room to have drainage, soil, plant room, and higher sides to protect your plants during cold winds and hard rains. While a blue opaque tub is fine, a dark green or black is ideal. You can build your own patio gardens as large or small as you like, depending on how many containers you convert and the size of your plants. If you're really smart (as I know you are), think about giving your containers a special number or mark so that rotating crops is a breeze! Just make notes of what is planted in which container for the year and see to it that you don't repeat crops for at least three years. (And look for my hint at the very bottom of this article for getting rid of soil pests.)
Patio Container Gardens Strategically Placed Can Also Define a Space
Decide on how many container gardens you're going to make and have enough supplies on hand to complete the job. Once you get started, you'll find that you can make 6-8 containers in just a few hours. Then, you'll have time to study their positions and what plants will work best where. It's important that you decide placement, as soon as possible, because these become very heavy to move around after they're filled with your garden material. I was living in a new development with very young landscaping and used my containers to 'close in' my concrete patio and have a little privacy. In addition to the listing of what you'll need, some tape/string and a large spoon or garden shovel would be very handy.
Read through directions before starting:
1. 30- or 40-gallon plastic tub(s).
2. Fold enough newspapers in half to reach 1-1/2" thickness for each black plastic bag. You'll need four. Place each bundle in its own plastic bag and wrap excess bag around itself, securing end with tape or string. Arrange four bags around the inside of plastic tub with taped side facing against inside wall of tub. This will make year-round insulation.
3. Cover bottom with at least 4" - 6" of aggregate (large driveway rocks or -- even more fun! -- broken pottery from old pots or plates, anything that won't settle closed) for drainage. You won't need to make holes in the bottom, so there's no mess on patios or balconies.
4. Create three (3) layers of the following, in order: 2" soil, 1/16" bone meal, 1/16" blood meal, 1/8" green sand, 1/4" Vermiculite, sprinkling of timed-release vegetable fertilizer. End with a final 2" layer of top soil. This should leave you a 3"-4" border above last layer of soil. If it's higher than that, don't worry; it will settle.
5. If there's any trellising to be done, plan on doing it after the first layer has been added. It will be easier to insert the stakes and keep them straight, if you do it before you completely filled the tub.
6. Now, check out your local nurseries and ask if they won't let you collect some worms from under their potted plants. These are God's professional soil aerators and they would love to work for you! Most nurseries will let you take them, as long as you bring your own container. Just tip the pots over and you'll see at least two or worms clinging to the bottom, especially, if it's just rained. If not, locate a local fishing worm supplier and buy about three containers. Or . . . way down the procurement ladder . . . dig your own!
7. Before you add the worms to the planter(s), make sure you've watered the soil and it's moistened from top to bottom so that it's inviting to your new employees. Divide the worms among your planters and that's all there is to it. (If you don't moisten the soil, they'll try to get away and your little gardens will look like road maps as they try to find a good place to go under. Be kind. Moisten.)
8. For easy watering, make a small puncture hole (small puncture hole) with a needle in the bottom of empty water bottles. Insert two vertically per container into the top 5" of soil, cap side up. Fill each with water and recap. Water will slowly feed into soil. Refill when necessary.
9. Plant your garden(s).
TIPS: Use thin branches to check for too much moisture. Stick the branch all the way down to the rock layer and pull it out. If there's soil attached in lumps when you pull it out, give your planter another day before watering. Between crop rotations, purify the soil by laying black plastic directly on top of the soil and hold in place with rocks. If you don't have it directly on the soil, it will collect moisture and mold/mildew will grow. You're trying to commit murder here, so, leave the plastic on, under the hot sun, for at least ten days to kill the bad stuff. Remove plastic and let garden air for a day or two. Work timed-release fertilizer in top 2" of soil. Plant next crop. Oh, and just one (1) extra plastic tub is a great place to keep your garden tools and supplies close at hand but out of sight.