Urban Homesteading - Container Gardening

One of the most important aspects of homesteading is gardening to grow your own food. If you live in an urban or suburban environment, you might not have suitable land for a traditional garden.

Do not despair! You still can grow your own food, even if you don't have land. You can grow in containers.

Plants are adaptable and can thrive when grown in containers. The hardest part is deciding how to make it work when there are so many possibilities!

What Kinds of Crops?

If the container is large enough, any vegetable plant will grow as if it is in the ground. From a practical standpoint though, you probably don't have space for crazy large containers. Let's consider what you can grow in more "normal" sized containers. 

These are some great container garden crops: 

  • Tomatoes
  • Beans
  • Lettuce and spinach
  • Peppers
  • Radishes
  • Peas
  • Carrots 
  • Cucumbers
  • Most herbs including parsley, oregano, chives, basil, thyme, mint, and rosemary.

Just because a crop isn't listed here doesn't mean it won't grow in a container. You will probably have to do a little research grow those crops successfully in a container.

When deciding what to grow, look for smaller varieties of vegetables. They are usually named things like "dwarf," "miniature," or "baby." Look for the following:

  • Determinate tomatoes - the plants don't grow as tall and leggy - they stay more compact. 
  • Bush beans - the bean plant only grows about 24" tall.
  • Spacemaster cucumbers - their vines don't grow as long.

What Kinds of Containers? 

Since containers are limited in depth of soil, consider two things: diameter (or width) and depth of the pot. Naturally you should plan out which crops will be planted in which pots, to make sure your plants won't outgrow their containers. 

In general, the larger the plant, the larger the container needed. 

There are so many kinds of growing containers available these days, it's difficult to generalize! Here are a few ideas:

  1. Grow bags are popular these days. Modern grow bags are made of a felt type fabric or other pressed-fabric material, which allows air circulation around the growing medium. Plastic bags can work, too, as long as there are holes for drainage.
    • Grow bags come in many, many different sizes.
    • After the growing is complete, the soil can be removed and the grow bag can be collapsed and folded, for easy storage. 
  2. Traditional pots are made of many different materials: plastic, terracotta, ceramic, metal, fiberglass, and more!
  3. Raised gardens on legs are nice if you have difficulty stooping and reaching to tend your plants. They can be large enough to function like an in-ground garden plot, with all different crops grown in one container.
  4. Repurposed containers are wonderfully environmentally conscious: large kitty litter tubs, buckets (like orange Home Depot buckets), and more. Use your creativity!
    • Be mindful of water drainage - you may have to drill or poke holes in the bottoms or sides to allow adequate drainage.
    • Make sure the container's material won't leech bad chemicals into the growing medium when wet. 

Growing Considerations

Most important thing for your container garden is sunlight or full-spectrum light, and lots of it. Container gardens can be grown indoors or outside on a patio or balcony. The plants will need as much sunlight to thrive as an outdoor garden or farm! Six hours direct sunlight is a minimum for most crops. 

The second most important thing is the growing medium. Do not simply dig up topsoil from outside! Growing in containers requires a growing medium designed for containers. Unfortunately, you will need a lot of it, and it can get expensive. 

The third most important thing is water. Watering is a little more difficult in containers. Some containers dry out very quickly, especially terracotta. Yet, the containers must have drainage so that water doesn't accumulate and drown the plant roots. You will need to check your planters every day. 

Other Considerations

Obtaining supplies can be expensive, especially if you are just starting out. You can start out small with a few containers and just a few plants, see how it goes, and expand from there. 

You can grow in containers on top of the ground, outside in your yard. The containers don't have to sit on a patio or balcony, only. If your yard's soil is not suitable for gardening, you can create a garden on top of the soil, in containers.

Once the growing medium and plants are in the containers, and you have watered thoroughly, the pots become heavy! You may want to put the containers on wheeled stands to make it easier to move them around. 

Container gardens require work, too. You will still need to label your plantings, tend your plants, pull weeds, and generally keep your containers tidy. If you are growing outside, pests and four-legged furry thieves (squirrels or chipmunks) will probably find your crops. Be prepared, and observe your garden closely.

Final Notes

I thought I could cover this topic in one article - clearly there's a lot more to be said about container gardening than I've covered here! 

My specialty is community garden gardening, and I grow most of my produce in my community garden plot. But I have a small container garden at home, too, in which I grow fresh herbs. Herbs do well in pots, and it is so convenient to have them right by my kitchen to snip for a recipe.

You don't have to commit to one method of growing. Your Urban Homestead absolutely can utilize several methods to produce your food crops.

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