While many of us love our local farmers market and understand how important our farmers are, there are many reasons to grow your own vegetables. To name just a few, they are fresher than what you find at your local grocery store, they taste better, you control what chemicals are applied, and they are always handy, saving you last-minute trips to the store. And after 2020, there are even more reasons to garden at home. From long lines of people waiting to get into stores and farmers market unable to open, to many items being out of stock due to shortages, now is the perfect time to start your own garden. I can hear some of you saying now, “But a garden is so much work!” Let us introduce you to “container gardening”. Perhaps one of the biggest advantages of raised container gardening is that it requires far less physical effort than traditional gardening.
Raised Container vs. Raised Bed
Raised container gardening differs from raised bed gardening in that, in most cases, the containers are not in contact with the ground. They have legs. Unlike containers, raised bed gardens generally are not enclosed on the bottom. Even if weed barriers are used, raised beds get weeds and require regular maintenance involving bending or kneeling.
Raised Containers Require Less Work to Maintain
Those with physical conditions and older individuals may think their gardening days are behind them, but raised containers could allow them to be active gardeners and enjoy the outdoors again. Raised containers at the correct height can completely eliminate the need for bending, kneeling, and reaching. Setting up two or more containers at different heights eliminates the need to reach up to pick vegetables from tall plants like tomatoes or to bend over to pull up those carrots. Individuals with physical limitations may need some help with the initial setup and hauling in of the dirt, but after that, they should be ready to go.
You can design and build your own irrigation system for one or multiple containers. Working with PVC pipe is easy. You can learn everything you need to know online. The pipe is plastic and easy to cut. The pipe, primer and glue, and all the elbows, hose bibs, and on-off valves you may need are available and very affordable at most hardware stores. You can use drip tape, soaker hose, or even a regular hose nozzle with your irrigation system to water your plants. You can even get an outdoor, battery-powered timer to turn your watering system on and off automatically for a certain amount of time every day. This would really come in handy if you were going to be away for a few days, as container gardens dry up faster than ground-contact beds.
Some add shelves and hooks for their gardening tools to their container stands. Others equip their containers with washing areas where they can wash their harvest and let it drain. There is always that temptation to eat a really red, ripe tomato when you pluck it off the vine, so having the ability to wash it right away is nice.
Speaking of tomatoes, they, along with other vegetables like cucumbers, require cages to hold them up or fences to climb. You can use those with containers just as you would with traditional gardens, although you will want to make sure your container is deep enough to secure a tomato cage. A foot or more of depth should suffice.
In cooler climates, you may want to build a frame and use clear plastic to create a temporary greenhouse, then remove it when the danger of frost has passed. Some container gardens are available with greenhouse kits.
A good quality soil formulated for potting and raised bed vegetable gardens is recommended, but you do not have to fill the entire container with that soil. Most plants’ roots do not extend more than six or eight inches down into the soil. If your container is a foot deep, you could use some less expensive topsoil for the bottom three or four inches, then finish filling it with the high-quality, more expensive variety. You may find that an organic blend with a high percentage of cow manure works best in this type of garden–and when it gets wet, the scent will make you feel like a real farmer!
Two containers measuring two feet wide by four feet long will, depending on what you plant and how efficiently you do it, produce more than enough for one person and there will probably be some leftovers to share. That should allow you to gauge how many containers you need for your backyard farm based on the number of people in the household. You can plant your crops close together in these containers if you use quality soil, thereby increasing your yield.
Get Planting Schedules for Your Area Online
If you buy seeds, you’ve probably noticed the packages have planting seasons for different regions listed on the back. If you want to know what to buy before you order or go to the store, planting schedules for your area are readily available online.
Some Recommendations on What NOT to Plant
A good rule of thumb is, if it’s cheap, readily available, and can be easily stored, there is no need to grow it. This is especially true for things like beans and peas that can be dried and sold in bulk. Planting vegetables like carrots and radishes in a container is fine, but you may want to avoid large root crops like potatoes, which will probably end up taking over your entire container and also fall into the category of being cheap and readily available. Rather than growing larger white or yellow onions, consider green onions. They take up less room and, if you want, you can cut the leaves off to add flavor to food without pulling up the plant. The leaves will quickly be replaced by new ones. Of course, the bulb is good, too. Plants like corn or okra that require a lot of space to produce a small amount of yield are probably a bad idea as well.
Where to Get Raised Containers and How Much They Cost
Raised containers are available to order online for home delivery if you would rather not pick them up at your local home store or farm and ranch supply. They can be made of wood, plastic or galvanized metal. If you want, you can make your own using galvanized tubs or pressure treated lumber. Remember to put drain holes in the bottom if you do it yourself. Prices vary, but you can buy individual raised containers from just under $100 to well over $300, depending on construction material and size.
Raised container gardening is a great way to stay active, enjoy the outdoors, and make sure the food you eat is fresh and chemical-free. The produce you buy in the store was most likely picked before it was ripe and ripened in a crate while on the way to market. If you have never tasted fresh-picked vegetables or tomatoes ripened on the vine, you are in for a treat. If you love to garden but thought those days were over or thought it would be too difficult, give raised containers a try.