Raised beds are a great way to get a garden going in poor soil by just building up good soil and going from there. However they are not the only way and not the only way we’re growing stuff here at Gnome Knoll. Containers can work well to do the same thing and there are some advantages to containers as well.
Containers can be moved. Perhaps to a sunnier spot. Or into a greenhouse or even the main house when it gets cold out. That can be helpful to extend the seasons somewhat. Perhaps the containers just need to be moved out of the way when the something big needs to roll through, or spread further apart when the plants really leaf out.
We have a hodge-podge of containers collected over the years here at Gnome Knoll. In a suburban environment, the neighbors who haven’t learned reduce, reuse and only then recycle, will be putting lots of good containers at the curb for pickup. There is everything from perfectly good plastic pots that came from the store with something in it, to all sorts of big plastic containers for bird seed, laundry detergent, etc.
My favorite are the Tidy Cat kitty litter buckets because they have ribbed bottoms that can retain some water. That is, after you drill holes in the high part of the rib so that they drain. You’d think that we have lots of cats based on the number of buckets we have collected over the past two years, but no, we use a recycled newspaper kitty litter that comes in paper bags.
If you’re going to drill plastic containers for drainage, make sure to do so over newspaper or somewhere where it is easy to pick up all the little bits of plastic made by the drill. We don’t want those escaping into the environment if we can help it. Best do it inside, too. A mat knife may be necessary to clean up the edges of the hole as I always seem to end up with some bits still attached.
We successfully grew lots of things in the buckets last year and will have even more for this year. We had things you might expect in a container like basil, lettuce, spinach and kale, but also grew carrots. We had peppers growing in a different container made from an old milk crate lined with weed block. I’ll show how to make that in a future post.
We had several buckets that were brought into the breezeway when it got cold in the fall. After they had mostly been picked over they were just ignored. Well one of the mustard greens survived all winter out there, buried under other stuff and is now bolting.
One drawback to buckets is that they will get washed away in a flood easier than the raised beds. Some of our original Tidy Cat buckets are probably somewhere in the Connecticut river thanks to Irene. I didn’t mind losing the buckets so much as losing the soil, as I had put a lot of work into preparing it, but that is a story for another day.