So You Think You Can't Garden?

May 15, 2024 • Tiffany Todd

I don’t have enough space.

I don’t know how to keep a garden.

It’s too hard / expensive / time consuming.

I hear you, believe me, I used to think I couldn’t raise my own vegetables, too. When I had attempted gardening in the past, what followed was a blur of hand-weeding, sweat, blisters, backaches and bug bites, but not a lot of produce.

However, like many folks, I was at home during the springtime COVID quarantine of 2020, becoming increasingly concerned about what we would do if the virus shut down the nation’s food supply. We were encouraged to do what we could to be more self-sufficient and grow any food that we could, but my husband and I had just gone to great lengths and expense to put in a high-maintenance lawn complete with a sprinkler system. We were not going to tear up part of it to create a vegetable garden. And honestly, we wouldn’t last long if we had to survive on what I could grow.

 

What could we do to move towards reaping the rewards of a vegetable garden without undoing all our hard work on the lawn?

 

But it was COVID, I had the desire, the time, and the internet, so I researched my options and made big plans. I watched videos of how to grow vegetables in container gardens. I hit the Dollar Store and purchased eight 18-gallon storage totes with lids.

And a garden was born.

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How to Make a Self-Wicking Container Garden from a Storage Tub

Consider the many advantages of setting up a container garden.

Space Efficiency

Container gardening is perfect for those with limited space. It allows gardening in small areas such as balconies, patios, or even indoors, making it accessible to those living in an apartment.

Flexibility

Containers are portable, so you are not locked into any location. You can set up as many or as few as you desire.

More Control, Less Mess

Containers offer better control over soil quality, drainage, and exposure to pests and diseases.

Easier to Maintain

Weeding and soil preparation are minimal compared to traditional gardening. Containers can also reduce the risk of some pests and diseases.

More Accessible

Container gardening is ideal for people with physical limitations or those who find it difficult to bend down for traditional gardening.

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Considerations

Cost

Though relatively inexpensive, setting up a container garden can incur initial costs for containers, soil, and other materials. I found that the costs were lower than renting a rototiller, and the supplies have been reusable year after year.

Limited Root Space

Plants in containers have less root space compared to those grown in the ground, so choose plants that are better suited to containers, like tomatoes, squash, peppers and cantaloupe rather than corn, okra and beans.

Watering Needs

Containers can dry out quickly, especially in hot weather. I addressed this need by creating wicking containers and using a drip watering system.

Nutrient Depletion

Container soil can become depleted of nutrients over time, so I use a lot of compost to set up the containers.

Key Takeaway

Overall, while container gardening offers numerous benefits, it also requires careful attention to watering, soil fertility, and plant selection to maximize success.

We can grow enough tomatoes to share and still put more than 20 quarts in the freezer to last us until next year.

Composting for Neatniks

Setting up a container garden prompted me to start composting. Though I love the idea of composting, I did not want an open pit of garbage in our backyard. The previous owners set up an area for composting, but it was an overgrown eyesore and was one of the first things to go when we put in the lawn. My friend’s compost tumbler looked neat and manageable, so I thought I’d give it a whirl.

 

Did you know? 28% of waste sent to landfills can be composted.

I keep a small, lidded step bin under my kitchen sink. It has a removable bucket. I add fruit and veggie scraps, coffee grinds, dirty napkins and leftover pasta, rice and even soda pop until it’s mostly full. It holds about a gallon of “stuff.” At least once a week, I carry it out and dump into my compost tumbler, and give it a couple of hand cranks to rotate it. When I get back inside with the liner bucket, I usually rinse it out before putting it back under the sink. Happily, it does not stink or attract bugs.

Composting 101

There’s a wealth of information online about how to balance compost with “brown” and “green” ingredients. Some suggest a 50/50 ratio, while others recommend using 2 to 3 times as much brown material as green. Personally, I opt for loads of brown matter, like bags of leaves left over from fall, which I add right after cleaning out the composter. Then, I simply keep dumping my kitchen scraps in for about a month or so.

 

Pro Tip: If the mix in the compost tumbler gets stinky, add more brown material.

Good Compost Materials

  • Fall leaves — Brown
  • Cut up cardboard, used paper, shredded paper — Brown
  • Dirt from vacuuming — Brown
  • Fruit and veggie scraps — Green
  • Leftover soda pop, beer or juices — sugar accelerates compost-making
  • Coffee Grinds — Green
  • Leftover rice or pasta — Green
  • Old bread, crackers, popcorn or chips — Green

Don't Use These

  • Egg shells — they just don’t break down
  • Meat or dairy
  • Citrus fruits or peels
  • Sticks
  • Pet waste

Don’t panic if you come across a horde of creepy-crawlies in your compost tumbler when adding new scraps. These bugs are nature’s little helpers, efficiently breaking down leaves and scraps into nutrient-rich soil. By the time your compost is ready, they’ve usually moved on to greener pastures, leaving behind a treasure trove of compost goodness.

I’ve found that I rarely need to add water to my compost because as the green materials decompose, they release plenty of moisture. In our hot summers, compost can mature in as little as a month. When it’s ready, I simply transfer it from the tumbler to a garden wagon and distribute it around the yard, in my container garden, or in the flower beds out front. Sometimes I even stumble upon earthworms in the compost, which I happily leave in as they help enrich the soil further.

 

There you have it, with a bit of research and effort, you can have both a weed-free garden and a neat and tidy compost area and all without sacrificing your lawn.

Happy gardening!