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.
The thought of needing to rebuild urban soils probably strikes most of you reading this a funny at best and a waste of time at worst. What possible reason could you have for rebuilding urban soils, you are not a farmer or rancher why should you care about the quality of the soil underneath your feet.
Well the simple reason for this is that soil is quite literally what everything is built upon and I know that is a bit tongue and cheek but it is still true. I don't just mean the literal built upon like a building on a foundation but also the web of life that supports life as we know it is also built upon the soil at our feet. Now in the grand scheme of things I will concede that the soil quality out on farms and ranches might be more important than the one in your front yard but that doesnt mean the soil there isn't important.
While I do try to stick to the useful articles on this website offering insights on how to do things to improve your lifestyle in a green way every now and then I do veer off into the philosophical. What I want to talk about a bit in this one is Green Living and how it impacts your health and of course the health of the planet. To do this in a somewhat organized way I will try to break out just a couple of topics to take a closer look at or we could be here all day.
Unless you have been asleep for the last decade or maybe you're just really out of touch you are bound to heard of the No Till movement that is sweeping the nation in both the farming and gardening sectors of agriculture. Like the term implies no till is a method of growing crops on both large and small scales without tilling the soil. To those of you that have been raised in what became industrial farming/gardening this idea of not tilling the soil will seem just backwards and potentially a waste of your time.
Sheet mulching defined in its simplest terms is the layering different types of organic materials on top of the ground in order to establish a garden plot without tilling the soil. This technique can be applied to existing lawns, areas with poor soil or even over concrete or solid rock to create “soil” for growing things in.
Fresh Food From Small Spaces- The Square Inch Gardeners Guide to Year-Round Growing, Fermenting, and Sprouting
By R.J. Ruppenthal
A generalized look at the techniques and methods used to make the most of small spaces and urban locations for growing your own food. This book is good for beginners and people who are not familiar with some of the basics of gardening and other techniques for composting, mulching and growing your own seedlings in the spring. The part that jumped out to me the most were the sections on sprout growing and their nutritional qualities and some basic info mushroom production.
A truly successful gardener will not only know how to make compost and grow plants but they will also be very familiar with the properties of their soils as well. The knowledge of soil pH, salinity and other factors are very important in determining what can grow where in your garden. To that end you should know how to test soil salinity in your garden soils. Testing salinity is easy enough to do if you have the right tools like a soil meter capable of measuring electrical conductivity. They are easy enough to find can be found on Amazon for around 20 dollars.
Cultivation has been a tried and true practice for agriculture since its beginnings. But in recent years we have begun to understand what the long term negative effects it can have on your soil. The negatives are not little ones either and repairing them will take long term changes in how we conduct agriculture. While there are many different consequences to much tillage I am just going to quickly gloss over three of the most common ones.
When it comes to your soil you can usually never do enough to improve your soils ability to provide you with beautiful, nutritious, sustainably grown food. I say usually because it is possible to overdo everything if you really put your mind to it. But with a well thought out plan you can easily and consistently improve and maintain your soil at its peak performance. I find the best way to lay out a soil improvement plan is to do it by the season.
For thousands of years soil fertility was maintained using a natural fertilizer widely available around the world.
This fertilizer is known as poop.
That's right I said poop. I know that to the modern sensibilities the idea of using poop to grow food is probably a little uncomfortable. But when you compare it to the the other option we have been using it really doesn't seem that bad.
Soil under modern agriculture has been reduced to a being a sponge that is there is absorb artificial fertilizers and pesticides instead of a living breathing structure. While chemicals can produce a amazing crop with great yields it has been shown that they suffer in flavor and nutrition.
The growing trend of organic farming has brought about a new interest in maintaining soil fertility without the use of chemicals. This can be done with two different but very complimentary techniques.
Soil organic matter is added to the soil through the addition of decaying plants and animals. But to increase soil organic matter can be a tricky proposition when you are using the soil for gardening or farming. The very tools used to plant, weed and harvest a crop will work against you if your goal is to add organic matter. Organic matter present in the soil is a combination of carbon and nutrients like nitrogen, potassium, magnesium and what ever else might be floating around in living things. The nutrients/minerals are used by all living things as building block for various structures that are contained within them. If you look at silica for example, it is used by plants to,
Organic matter is a essential part of soil that gets overlooked in many conversations about soil. While most people will be talking about soil pH balance, its composition or how well it grows crops they will leave out organic matter.
This is a mistake.
If you wish to build a sustainable homestead then it is critical that you know how to control soil erosion in all its forms. Just a quick recap if you didn't read my last post soil erosion is caused by wind and water moving the soil from one place to another. It will depend on your location and management practices which type of erosion is more devastating to your land.
Soil erosion is the enemy of anyone who works with soil. It is a constant battle against the elements in a effort to save and improve the precious resource that is soil. The primary erosive forces that occur in nature are wind and water and they effect soil in different and subtle ways.
So in my last few posts I have been covering various topics in soils. From the basic structure of soils to soil pH there is much you need to know about soils in order to successfully manage them in a sustainable fashion. Without soil humans could not exist on this planet at all, it forms the base on which we grow our food, build our homes, and live out our lives. But soil is not something that forms overnight. It takes anywhere from thousands to millions of years to build even one inch of soil so it is not a resource that should be wasted or mismanaged.
There are 5 factors that contribute soil formation that take place in the natural world,
There are many methods and tools out there for figuring out what your soil it made of. They can range from very cheap to omg expensive and unless you have a big bankroll you will want to stay away from a lot of them.
One of the most common things you will want to know about your soil is what is it made of. All soil is made of a combination of sands, silts and clay's in various percentages. What those percentages are is critical for determining a lot of what you do on your land.
There are a few ways you can test to figure out what soil components your soil has. There is the soil texture triangle like I talked about in my last post or you can also use progressively smaller screens to separate the soil into its component parts.
The method I want to talk about today is the jar method. To do this you need a large jar like one of those gallon size pickle jars, a decent sample of your soil and water.
Take your glass jar and fill it about 1/3 full of soil. Make sure the soil you use is a representative sample of the area you are testing. The add enough water to fill the jar about 2/3 full. Shake the jar until all the soil is completely mixed and suspended into the water.
Then leave the jar to sit for at least 24 hours or longer if needed to get clear water at the top of the jar.
Once all the particles of soil have settled to the bottom of the jar you should see clear bands of different soil materials. At the bottom will be the sands then the silts and the clay's will be on top of that. By measuring how thick the bands of soil are then comparing that to the total thickness of the soil you can get a rough percentage of the soil composition.
This test can be more accurate for a novice to perform than the texture triangle as you can use simple measurements and little math to get a accurate reading.
When building a new sustainable lifestyle you will need to become well versed in topics you have never given a thought about before. One of those topics you will never know everything about even if you study it for years is soil. Soil when you dig into it (pardon the pun) is one of the most fascinating and challenging aspects of building a sustainable, environmentally friendly life. It effects the most basic parts of living, your food, water and shelter needs are directly tied to and influenced by soil.
Soil determines what food you can grow and how much of it you can grow. It will be a large factor in determining where groundwater is and how tasty that water is. It also tells you where you should and should not build a house or other structures.
So to sum up what could be a long rant, you need to know about soil in general and about the soil where you want to build a new life.
Soil pH is a critical aspect of soil that must be understood and managed correctly if you want to be able to create and manage a successful sustainable life. What pH your soil is determines a lot about what you can grow and where you can grow it as soil pH can very from plot to plot.
To kick off my new series the Science of Sustainability I have decided to start with a topic that is near and dear to me.
Soil is not dirt, I just want to make that clear right from the the start. Dirt is what happens when soil is no longer doing what it is suppose to do. Soil can be defined as a mixture of minerals, organic matter, water and air that together form a matrix that supports life. Without a decent soil, building a truly sustainable life for yourself is impossible. If you can't grow food, support livestock and otherwise sustainable use the soil you will have nothing that can provide you the basics of what you need. To truly understand soil you have to understand its components and how they work together to create this life giving substance
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.