Gardening Small: Building Containers

There are many approaches to container gardening—from small spaces on balconies to larger containers in yards or sunny spaces, and from kits, to built to measure, to salvaged containers.  My previous post on gardening small showed some of the results from my friend Paul’s 112 square foot garden in his driveway.

The alternative to a driveway...

Paul decided on container kits made of cedar.  The supplier offered two grades of wood and Paul decided to go with the lower grade that had some knots showing and wasn’t as perfect cosmetically.  Once he had the kit materials, he built them in the driveway and positioned them where he had decided the garden would be.

Paul placed the frames directly on the driveway.

Since his containers were designed without bottoms, he placed a layer of landscape fabric inside the container on the asphalt of the driveway and stapled it to the wood.

First the landscape fabric went down...

He was concerned about moderating the temperature of the container since it would be sitting on the asphalt, so he added a layer of river rocks to the bottom.

Another layer of landscape fabric went down over the rocks.  The containers at this point were ready for soil.

Rocks, then another layer of landscape fabric...

In his book on square foot gardening, Mel Bartholomew recommends that the containers be filled with a blend of 1/3 compost, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 vermiculite.  This was the most expensive part of Paul’s venture, since he didn’t have a ready compost pile to draw from.  He built his compost mixture from:

  • Worm castings (4.5 lbs., Soil Builder)
  • Soil Conditioner (1.5 cu. ft., Leaf Gro)
  • Organic fertilizer (20 lbs., Cockadoodle DOO)
  • Soil builder (2 cu. ft., Bumper Crop)
  • Composted manure (40 lb., Shenandoah)

    There was room for soil to a depth of slightly more than a foot.

I give quantities and brands, but these may, of course vary.  To this compost mixture, Paul added 3 cubic feet of peat moss and 16 pounds of vermiculite and mixed it by pulling first one corner and then another on a large tarp.

The mixer was a blue tarp.

This mixture filled about one 4’ x 4’ container.  Yes, this is the point at which, I assume, Paul reminded himself that he would not have to be buying any vegetables for years and that everything he got would be extremely fresh and organic.  And of course, there is the undeniable pleasure of gardening and the excitement of starting new seeds and plants each year.

The boxes filled: now for frames, plants and irrigation....

An internet search can yield quite a lot of good information on how to build—or salvage—containers for gardening in small spaces and on a smaller scale than Paul has.  For a straightforward introduction to square foot gardening, see the get rich slowly blog.  Aching debts shows that almost anything you can punch holes in can be used as a container and Frugal Dad builds a small container with a bottom that can fit on a table top.  WVU’s site on container gardening also has a list of plants—much larger than I had thought—that lend themselves to this type of gardening.

One day's pickings--all pictures courtesy Paul.

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