Having a garden is not just for those who have large plots of land that they can till up and plant seeds in. Even someone with no more space than a deck can have a bountiful container garden that can produce just as much and in some cases more than a garden planted in plain old dirt. This is possible because you can tailor the soil medium for maximum growth and place the pots where they can get the perfect amount of heat and sunlight.
There are a few things to consider when establishing a container garden.
There are two basic categories of containers you can use for planting a garden on a deck.
I seperate them out because pots come premade in many different styles, materials, sizes and can be moved once full. While planter boxes are typically built on site and are too large to easily move once they are full of soil.
You can get pots these days in many sizes and materials. They can range in price from cheap plastic to more expensive terracotta and ceramic. In my deck garden I mostly use terracotta pots for the following reasons,
Plastic pots can have some benefits as well as being cheaper than terracotta in most cases and are better at holding moisture for people who water infrequently.
When it comes to container gardening for most plants bigger is always better. This is because the more soil or other growing medium you provide the better the plant will grow. I dont grow anything in a pot smaller than 12 inches now and most of my pots are actually bigger than that.
Smaller pots can be quite successful for herbs but keep in mind that if you vary your pot size too much it can play hell with a watering timetable. Small pots on hot days in the sun can need water multiple times a day while larger pots suffice with one watering a day.
If you are starting from scratch I would try to pick a once size pot to use so that you can better predict what you watering needs will be. If you want to vary from that once size go bigger since that will in most cases need less watering than the smaller one.
If you have the space and a good sunny location for them planter boxes are the way to go in my opinion. They will cost a bit of money and time to build and install but the benefits are worth it if you are serious about having a deck garden. Planter boxes are much better at holding water and providing larger spaces for plants to root into. This will result in stronger plants that need less frequent watering to establish and maintain good production.
There are many shapes, styles and materials to build planter boxes out of treated/untreated lumber. Plastic panels, metal watering troughs, old fridges (seen it) pretty much anything you can think of using. I made mine from untreated lumber coated in many coats of raw linseed oil.
What to plant
You can plant anything you want in container gardens but there are things that will do better in a traditional garden. In my experience the following garden plants are good for pots,
If you have large planting boxes than maybe you can spread out into other crops like,
You can go two ways with watering your container garden.
You can water by hand every day or you can set up a timed irrigation system.
Both systems have their pro’s and con’s. If you hand water it will most likely happen everyday even if it rains since rain typically can’t get enough water into the pots. It puts you out in your garden everyday which is great for monitoring plant growth and when it comes to harvesting but it does take time everyday.
A timer controlled irrigation system is great for those of you with busy lives. It will water your plants automatically once it is set up and all you need to do is check it once a week to make sure it is still working right. This way has a lot more upfront cost and setup time but it is nice to be able to relegate watering duties to a timer.
So now that you have my take on what you need to know to start a container garden it is time for you to give it a try yourself. The options and ways to do it are endless so you need to figure out what works best for your situation. If you have any questions about this, send me an email and I will help you out as quickly as I can.
For more information on how to start a container garden check out some of my other articles here on the Green Living Library.
To kick off my series about growing your own food I am going to start with the way I am most familiar.
Growing a garden in an average urban back/front yard.
Growing your own food on an urban lot comes with its challenges as well as benefits. You obviously lack space that you would get on a larger piece of land but what you gain is easy access to water and immediate proximity to your garden. This walkout your back door kind of access makes it really convenient to do everything. From planting and maintaining to harvesting your produce, having your garden just 10 steps from your door makes it really easy to garden.
You are probably thinking about it more than ever these days. With the pandemic sweeping across the globe we have all seen the impact it has had on the food system. From restaurants shutting down to empty grocery store shelves this pandemic has shaken the food system to its core. We have been given a glimpse into the inner workings of a system that usually delivers what we want when we want it without any hiccups.
But just because it appears to be this indestructible behemoth of a system that is simply not true. The food system as we understand it is built of two separate supply chains. One chain that feeds into the grocery store system which caters to the home cooking crowd and one chain that feeds into the commercial food space. Commercial food for the purpose of this article includes restaurants, schools, prisons, event centers, and other large venues where lots of food is made.
What the pandemic has done is thrown a wrench into the finely tuned food production and delivery system that is modern food. We have what is called a just in time delivery system. In most stores across the country there is roughly a three day supply of food on hand in the stores. This three day supply is based on the average food purchases that occur at that store.
I will give you one guess about what happens when say a novel disease makes its world debut and people start to freak out.
Suddenly that average consumption rate is useless, and stuff begins to fly off the shelves faster than it can be replenished. The emptiness then triggers more panic buying because omg there might not be enough food. Well that is both right and wrong. We are not going to run out of food in the short term there is plenty to go around. The immediate problem is that it isn’t going around as fast or as efficiently as before. That combined with the surge in demand has led to the current crunch in food supplies in some locations. The potential problem that worries me is the impact that this will have on future food supplies. Right now, we are living off the good times of years past but sooner than we think we will need to replenish that supply.
In the normal course of things, spring is the time of year when crops are being planted, livestock is being born and we are laying the groundwork for next year's food. But this pandemic is wreaking havoc on certain parts that system, most notably the vegetable and fruit farms/orchards. These farming systems are still heavily reliant on manual human labor to plant and harvest the food. You can’t pick an apple or harvest lettuce with a machine. This pool of human labor is jeopardy because in many parts of the world these farmworkers are among the most vulnerable to getting this illness. They live and work in close conditions, in many cases have poor sanitation and they must travel to follow the various harvest seasons. You combine this with border closures that stop these workers from even getting to their worksites and you have a long term problem in the making.
This problem is simple without the workers ever arriving, things do not get planted. If they do get planted but enough workers get too sick to work or even die, then the produce won’t be harvested in time or at all. This means the real impact on the food system is potentially sometime in the future when there really will be a food shortage of at least certain types of food.
So what does this mean for the everyday person like you….
Well it means you should seriously consider trying to grow some food of your own. Every little bit helps and whatever you can do to stabilize your own food supply puts less strain on a system that will continue to be under a lot of strain for a while yet.
Stay tuned for a series of posts going over several options for how to maximize your available growing space and what to grow in those spaces that will give you the most bang for your dollar.
By now you have all seen it in your local grocery stores. The shortages of canned, frozen, and bulk food stuff just flying off the shelves because people are afraid that they won't have enough.
Well I got good news and I got bad news….
The good news is we are not going to run out of food at least not in the way you might be thinking.
The bad news is we might run short of the food that makes life so much more flavorful and nutritious.
To really explain this I am going to have to do a somewhat deep dive into how food is grown in modern agriculture and how food is harvested, shipped, stored and sold. To do this I am going to focus on 3 different common foods that all of us eat and that we have available to us pretty much year round in the developed world.
So I don't know about the rest of you but I have been one busy little person this spring and that is why the first post in weeks will be a short one. The weather finally got nice enough for me to get the rest of my garden in and as of today I get to enjoy the first "fruits" of my labor.
Well not technically fruit I guess since its spinach that I will be eating but who cares about semantics right. This spinach will hopefully be the first harvest of a abundant year that got off to a really rough start.
So for your viewing pleasure a picture of my spinach.
So I have to apologize for that whole viewing pleasure comment above in retrospect it sounded a bit dirty but I just have to leave it in its to much fun.
Until next time
Green Living Library.
The data is in organic food can feed the world assuming the following,
· Everyone become vegetarian or vegan
· We reduce food waste by 50%
· 100% reduction in land used to grow animals.
Wheeew that seems to be a bit of a problem since the consumption of meat is going up as more countries reach a higher standard of living. What we need to do and what we’re doing are two lines on a graph getting farther apart as more time passes. But all is not lost so do not fear It is my position that organic farming can feed the world when combined with technology, development of new crop varieties and a frank assessment of how food is grown around the world.
Depending on who you ask there is no way that organic farming can feed the 10 billion+ people that are predicted to be alive by 2050. (Looking at you Big AG) But the really stupid thing about that statement is we aren’t feeding the 7,701,039,711 people that are alive right now and it has nothing to do with how much food we grow. We grow enough food to give everyone on this planet enough to eat right now but as of 2016 around 11% of the world doesn’t get enough food to meet basic calorie needs. They don’t get fed because of the following,
· They can’t afford it (all hail the almighty dollar)
· They lack the knowledge, ability or money to grow it themselves
· We waste 1/3 of all food grown
· Regional conflicts cut off supplies of food
The same people that will say that organic cannot feed the world will also trot out the studies that show that on average organic farming is 20% less production than conventional farming. While I do not dispute the accuracy of that research I fail to understand why it matters. I say this because the reasons people go hungry has nothing to do with how much food is grown.
Take food waste for example globally with we waste 1/3 aka 33% percent of the all the food grown. Now some of this waste is unavoidable, bad weather ruins a crop or it is destroyed by fire or infested with rodents etc. But a lot of it is wasted especially in the western world because it is not pretty enough and it’s thrown out before it even gets to the person who will eat it. Food waste is a problem we can tackle with better application of technology we already have like better weather forecasting, harvest, storage and transportation equipment and education to individuals and groups on how to grow transport and process food.
The unfair comparison of conventional to organic yields
I want to talk a little bit more about the often cited 20% shortfall of yield when comparing organic to conventional agriculture. Comparing the two systems I believe is inherently unfair to the organic system of growing food. While both systems grow food for the consumption of humans/livestock that is where the similarities typically end and the differences begin to emerge.
Laid out in the table above you can see some of the widely accepted goals of the two systems. When you look at the broad sweep of goals espoused by organic agriculture it’s no surprise that the yield is less than conventional Ag. When the only thing you worry about is yield then of course you are going to have a higher yield.
This difference is made even starker when you look at the recent history of conventional agriculture. Most of the effort to improve agriculture has been geared towards supporting and improving a system that has the singular goal of improving yield. Crops were developed that produced higher and higher yields but only with the addition of chemical fertilizers to boost growth and other chemicals to control insects and diseases.
Where is the industry that supports the development of crops that can naturally deter insects and resist disease without chemical inputs? Well it doesn’t exist because the same companies that develop the wonder seeds are the same ones that sell the chemicals. There is not much profit in selling hardy seeds when you can sell not so hardy seeds and chemicals to make them better.
Organic Yields are not as low as they seem.
So while opponents of organic farming love to trot out the 20% smaller yield number it’s really not always that low when compared to conventional farming. For example many studies have shown that soybean, field peas and other legumes show equal yields to conventional farming. For other types of crops the yield gap can be reduced to 10% by using cover crops and rotating what you grow in the field. This means that for a measly 10% loss in yield on some crops we could grow our food in a way that enhances soil, sequesters carbon, empowers local family farms and provides us with chemical free all natural food.
The other claim that everyone would have to go vegetarian is not without some merit. It takes a lot of land, water and other resources to raise the amount of meat that is currently consumed in the world. As much as I love a good burger I know that as an American I eat way too much meat and that I really need to eat more veggies fruits and other plant based foods. Not only is my meat heavy diet bad for the planet it is also been well documented that it is bad for my personal health as well.
10 Billion People
The big scare at the center of this whole debate of course is the number of people that are expected to be here in 30 more years. The ironic thing about this is that the rate of population growth is actually shrinking rather dramatically. It is down from 2.09% per year in 1968 to around 1% right now. That being said there are certain areas of the world that are still have a rapid growth rate and of course these same areas are already some of the hardest hit with food issues. But if things keep improving with education, technology and maybe even social justice worldwide we could get to place where we don’t even reach 10 billion and the population naturally falls over time to a number we can easily feed. That is playing the long game and is most likely not something that you or I will see but it is a possibility.
Feeding the World Organically
Feeding the world in an organic way is not only possible but most likely needed if we are to continue to grow enough food to feed everyone. We cannot continue to degrade the soil and damage the biosphere that supports us if we expect to continue to survive as a species.
So spring is finally upon us again and you are starting to think about what needs to get the garden planted this spring. There are several things you can do right now to get the process going long before the weather is warm enough outside for the early spring crops.
When most people are planting a garden they think they have only one shot at in the spring. Well thankfully for unlucky gardeners like me that is simply not the case. When you are growing a garden in most parts of the United States you can get 2 sometimes 3 crops from the same plot of land depending on how far south you live. In the midwest where I live if I plan it right I can get two crops of produce from the same plot of land.
This time of year is a great time to be purchasing food directly from producers at your local farmers market.
The link above will take you directly to the USDA searchable data base of farmers markets.
Enjoy the tasty food.
Hello my name is Josh Larson and I am the creator of the Green Living Library. Here on the blog you will find updates to content found in the Green Living Library as well as stories from those living the sustainable life already.