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Container Gardening - Food in Small Spaces

Updated on February 9, 2017

Think you need to own a big yard to have a vegetable garden?

You don't need a big space to grow a great garden. Apartment dwellers and renters who can't build a garden due to space or rental agreements can still have fresh homegrown food in a small space. The secret is simple: containers. We see flowers grown in pots all the time but you can also grow herbs, fruits, and vegetables in containers. Turn your balcony, porch, walkway, or even just a windowsill or two into a small garden to feed yourself and your family.

My Container Garden Experiment

I live in an apartment and I love it. It's one of 4 units in a 180-year-old converted house with some very funky architecture. Unfortunately the only outdoor space I have is a shared porch and a small grassy area adjacent to a gravel parking lot for the art gallery my landlords also own. I grew up on a small farm and my parents still have livestock and a huge vegetable garden which I miss. Now there's no way I can have chickens or goats here but I had to at least try to have a garden.

My first summer here I just had a few herbs on my windowsill and a single tomato plant outside. This year I decided to be more ambitious. I'm growing tomatoes, salad greens, sugar snap peas, strawberries, blueberries, nasturtiums (an edible flower), and lots of herbs (rosemary, sage, basil, oregano, peppermint, cilantro, parsley, and thyme).

Since I've done so much research into growing my own garden I wanted to share it here on Squidoo.

Photo by lukasbenc

  • Containers See the list of containers below for more options.
  • Small Trowel. For digging, filling containers, etc.
  • Watering can, empty jug, or hose for watering. Doesn't need to be fancy but if you don't have a hose to water with your watering can or jug should hold at least a gallon of water preferably more.
  • Bamboo stakes, sticks, or trellis. For climbing plants such as peas.
  • Tomato cages. Necessary if you are growing tomatoes in a traditional pot, not needing for upside down tomato planters.
  • Seeds, seedlings, or full grown plants. Can't have a garden without the plants!
  • Potting soil. You can't use plain old topsoil from the yard, it will compact too much in containers, has unpredictable nutrients, and can harbor plant diseases. Get good quality potting soil or other soil from a garden center. If you choose a non-potting soil such as compost mixes or the like you'll also need to mix in sphagnum moss (for moisture retention) and either vermiculite or perlite to reduce soil compaction.

    You can get organic potting soil if you want to grow an organic garden but some I've come across don't contain perlite or vermiculite (which are completely natural materials, both are types of volcanic rock) and have a tendency to compact if you don't mix any in.

Photo by lizjones112

There are a lot of different containers you can use for your garden. What you use depends on what you are planting and how big your space is.

  • Traditional Plant Pots - You know the type, they come in lots of sizes and materials are round with a base smaller than the top.
  • Window Boxes - Originally designed to be put on window sills they are long rectangular boxes. Some newer models are designed to be set over porch or deck railings.
  • Strawberry Pots - These pots have smaller planting "pockets" that stick out from the sides of the pot plus a larger opening in the top. Designed for strawberries they are also great for herbs.
  • Upside Down Planters - The most common variety of these planters is for tomatoes. They are large so they require a sturdy support.
  • Hanging Baskets - Good for herbs, edible flowers, strawberries, leafy greens, and loose leaf lettuces. Think lightweight plants that thrive with shallow roots.
  • Buckets - Drill a few holes in the bottom of a standard plastic 5 gallon bucket and you have a nearly perfect container for tomatoes and other deep rooted plants. I even have a small blueberry bush in one.
  • Found Containers - Everything from wicker baskets to old tins to wooden crates can be used as a container as long as it either has holes in the bottom or can have some drilled in the bottom.

What is your favorite thing to grow?

See results

Most Americans Don't Get Enough Fresh Vegetables

3/4 Of Americans don't get the recommended 3 servings of vegetables a day and 2/3 don't eat the recommended 2 servings of fruit. A small container garden can provide not just enough veggies in the summer but excitement about eating them, especially for kids.

The Water Problem

The biggest problem with containers is that they dry out much faster than regular gardens. There are a few things you can do to help your plants from drying out as fast. Even with these measures would will still need to keep a close eye on your plants moisture levels and water every day (or nearly every day). The best time to water is either in early morning or evening when temperatures are cooler.

Water retaining potting soil There are potting soils especially designed to hold moisture in and not dry out as fast.

Water beads These water absorbing polymers can hold many times their own volume of water.

Irrigation systems You can purchase a drip irrigation system for plants or make one of your own using this instructable.

Self-watering Containers These plant pots have a reservoir of water in the bottom, you can buy them or make your own.

Container Gardening Videos

The Book I'm Using

McGee & Stuckey's Bountiful Container: Create Container Gardens of Vegetables, Herbs, Fruits, and Edible Flowers
McGee & Stuckey's Bountiful Container: Create Container Gardens of Vegetables, Herbs, Fruits, and Edible Flowers

Aside from internet research I picked up this great guide on container gardening. It covers soil types, containers, what plants work best, and a lot more.


The Potting Shed - Leave your questions and comments here.

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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      A small space is not a hindrance to plant and grow your own vegetable garden. Great lens.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Tender vegetables do well in container gardens, they benefit the most from the increase in soil temperature and can be protected more easily.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Container growing is not just for the city either. I love in the woods. Container growing helps me keep the critters out of my garden and move things around with the sun. Nice lens.

    • RaisedVegetableG profile image


      7 years ago

      Container growing is so fantastic for city living, but even more so for renters who may have to move, that way they can take their garden with them. I loved your video on vertical growing and I will definitely be adding something like that to my vegetable garden.

    • Sheryl Westleigh profile imageAUTHOR

      Sheryl Westleigh 

      7 years ago from Maine

      @quickcutterss: Herbs are very easy to grow, most are almost weed-like in their growth. Some herbs that are almost foolproof to grow are basil, dill, and mint (mint however takes forever to start from seed so you should buy a plant that's already been started or get a cutting).

    • quickcutterss profile image


      7 years ago from Midwest

      I have always wanted to grow a herb garden but really don't know the ends an outs of it. I know i can read about it but really how hard is it to start and grow herbs????

      I love your lens and plan on checking out some of the links you have.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Very well done lens. I've added it to the related lenses section of my Couch Potato Gardening lens.

    • jackieb99 profile image


      7 years ago

      I love growing my own herbs inside!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      A good lens which could inspire others to take up this pastime. It's infectious once you start. How about adding a section on popular herbs, e.g. thyme, basil, coriander etc.?


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