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Garden Journal Entry #1: Container Garden Plans

Updated on June 2, 2014

April 9, 2014

We bought a house!

Back in January we put a reasonable offer on a short sale house. If you know anything about short sales, then you know exactly how ironic the name is, for what could arguably be the slowest and stupidest process on Earth for purchasing a house.

Among the many upgrades this house and neighborhood will bring from our current residence, one of the most immediate is the size of the yard. Even on my first walk-through, my mind went immediately to planning a garden. Not knowing if or when we might move, I decided that I would plant a garden that I could take with me.

Thus began the plans for my container garden.

The Sunny Side

A picture of the space before: what you cannot see is the wild rosemary bush and out of control sweet (bleck) oregano growing toward the back.
A picture of the space before: what you cannot see is the wild rosemary bush and out of control sweet (bleck) oregano growing toward the back.
A close up of the out-of-control rosemary bush. Likely this thing will continue to grow in the ditch we chucked it in behind the swing set.
A close up of the out-of-control rosemary bush. Likely this thing will continue to grow in the ditch we chucked it in behind the swing set.

Ideas

During a week when John was working late nights at the office, I spent hours in front of Google images looking at different ideas for how container gardens work. From Better Homes and Gardens to the many random hippies growing veggies on their fire escapes, it seemed the possibilities were endless.

Knowing I only wanted to plant food that we would actually eat, I narrowed my ideas to a few vegetables and a few herbs that seemed most practical and also easy. I had read somewhere that vegetables and herbs that taste good together also grow well together. Could be an urban-gardening legend, but I decided to go with that idea and came up with the following plans.

*Note: squash has been left off the list so far because I'm not ready to attempt mamoth squash vines living in a five-gallon plastic bucket. My plan is to figure out a space in my new yard to vertically grow zucchini and a few Fall squash varieties.

What to Plant

Container
Vegetable
Herb
Large Round (X2)
Patio Tomato
Basil
Medium Round
Green Peppers
Oregano
Small Rectangle (X2)
Strawberries
None
Hanging Basket (X2)
Cherry Tomato
None
Small Round
Spinach
Oregano
Small Round
None
Chives, Basil
Extra Large Round
Big Boy Tomato
Basil

Budget

Item
Price
Total
Containers
Free - $10/ea
$30
Potting Soil
$2/bag
$14
Peat Moss
$4/bag
$12
Vegetables
$1.25/4
$5
Strawberries
$0.75/ea
$3.75
Herbs
$0.25-$1/ea
$15
 
TOTAL
$79.75

What I Need

My biggest obstacle was going to be convincing my snobby husband that container gardening doesn't have to look "trashy." (More on that failure below.) Obstacle number two was (and is) keeping this entire endeavor within a reasonable budget. I mean, it is one thing to invest in a hobby that I already know will be successful. But given my track record of killing squash and tomatoes, two plants that should otherwise grow about as easily as weeds, I don't really want to put a ton of money into this first attempt.

Had I thought about it sooner, last August or September certainly would have been the time to buy containers, at the end of season clearance sales. Missing that window meant getting a little more creative. I actually found a bunch of discarded pots on the side of the road during the week of trash pickup (when the city picks up any and all oversized trash items from the curb and hauls it to the dump for you for free). This is a notorious time for scavengers to make their way around town with a trailer engaged in an activity known as scrappin'. It seems I have joined the ranks of these would-be entrepreneurs.

We also have one large pot currently housing a dead orange tree, so I will repurpose that. And my mom said she'd bring over anything she has in the basement. I posted a few ads on Craigslist and Freecycle, to no avail, so I finally did break down and buy two 5-gallon "self watering" containers from Home Depot and two hanging baskets from the greenhouse.

I went ahead and just purchased soil from Home Depot as well, as they were having their Spring Black Friday Sale and bags were pretty cheap. At this point, it is easier than borrowing a truck and picking up a load from the local dirt man.

Myer's Greenhouse on Stratford Rd. is currently reigning as my favorite place to buy plants. They are local, super helpful, and actually really cheap. I like to imagine their plants are therefore superior to anything I could buy at a big box store.

Materials
Materials
Rocks in the bottom of the buckets came from another area of the yard that is John's "project #2."
Rocks in the bottom of the buckets came from another area of the yard that is John's "project #2."
Leveling with PVC pipe and sand.
Leveling with PVC pipe and sand.
Sweeping and tamping sand into the cracks (note my daughters in short sun skirts and winter coats).
Sweeping and tamping sand into the cracks (note my daughters in short sun skirts and winter coats).

Discussion with John: Failure

It has only been eight years, but I'm slowly learning the the less I include my husband on my plans for "small projects" the better, probably. What might have otherwise been me and some dirt for a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon ultimately turned into a month-long miniature landscaping project.

Of course we cannot simply plant some vegetables in some containers and put them in a sunny spot in the yard. What was I thinking? Nobody wants to look at that eye-sore. Nevermind that nobody ever even looks at the sunniest side of the house, ever. (A primary reason it took two years for me to discover the thriving herb garden planted there by previous home owners.) Nevermind that at the time of our discussion we did not even know if we'd be spending another summer in this house.

Obviously we need a container garden patio.

When the graph paper came, I knew there was no hope.

Six weeks. That is exactly how long this little husband-weekend-project dragged out. He spent the first warm and sunny weekend of the Spring digging out the old herb garden along with a small border around the side of the house. A mound of orange clay arose nearby along with a wheelbarrow and some shovels.

And then, a cold snap. And some rain. A lot of rain, actually. And a week-long trip to Michigan there in the middle which was bordered on each side by a week of working double-days to catch up at the office. I couldn't bring myself to snap any pictures of the beauty that was the side of my house in that time. The only satisfaction I receive from the entire ordeal is the thought that perhaps my neighbors (the ones whose car alarm has gone off once or twice a day since Thanksgiving) were more annoyed than I was.

But alas. The man did finish what he started, and I have to admit, it looks good. I think, secretly, a big part of this was more of a practice run before he does something similar but a little bigger at the new place. Whatever it is, between the borrowed truck and tampers, bags of gravel, pavers sand, and some free PVC pipe, the work is complete and I have exactly six weeks to enjoy it.

Success!

The (mostly) finished project.
The (mostly) finished project.

Final Notes

In no particular order:

  1. From everything I read, it seems the biggest risk with vegetables in containers is the potential for the soil to either dry out or lose nutrients quickly. This means frequent watering and frequent feedings. I lined the bottoms of the larger pots with rocks to fill them a little and prevent the soil from washing out the drainage holes. Then I filled the rest of the pot with about 60% Miracle Grow potting soil, 30% peat moss, and 10% sand.
  2. If there's anything to be said for Murphy's Law, it seems that John's patio project likely secured our offer acceptance on the new house, and for that, I forgive him for the six week mess in the yard.
  3. Talking garden-talk with Eliott in the car, my seven-year-old wondered aloud, "Plants eat food? What kind of food?" This lead to a brief discussion of the circle of life, complete with lessons straight from The Lion King. Her final conclusion that day went a little something like this:

    So, everything that's alive can eventually become food for plants?

    Yes.

    What about rocks?

    Not alive.

    What about lava?

    Melted rocks. Not alive.

    Wood?

    Yep.

    How can wood be a food if a rock can't be food?

    Wood comes from trees.

    Oh yeah. So that means people can be plant food too. We should like, get some dead baby fingers and put those in the garden and see what happens.

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    • ewlarson546 profile image

      Eric W Larson 3 years ago from 1647 CR 175, Jeromesville, Ohio

      My parents are 84 and 83 and still garden. They still garden. Check out our Facebook pages MiKris COOP and MiKris Garden Cascade Cooperative. We have a Web Page you can find on it and our containers are very portable. Looking forward to talk to you.

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