Recycle, Reuse, and go Grow!!
Zero Waste container gardening is a very simple way for you to minimize your impact on the environment and control the care and growth of your food. Container gardening is easy, productive and efficient even if you live in a 2502 ft. apt in the middle of Queens. If you have access to a fire escape, patio, roof, or just a sunny window, you can grow your own veggies, herbs, or maybe just a few flowers.
The most important thing to consider first even before your container is where you live. Your “zone” will determine what you can grow and when. The frost zones are the ones to pay attention. Don’t worry if you live in sub-arctic Aleutian Islands zone 1 or like me in tropical zone 10 you can usually grow just about whatever you want but you have to time it right.
What you grow will depend where you live, where you live will dictate your growing season and start dates. Most zones above 8 will require some seed starting indoors each spring because it will be too cold to plant. For container gardening it is easiest to purchase started plants.
How to choose your plants
Easiest foods to container garden are tomatoes, greens, herbs, and beans, depending on your space string beans and peas, potatoes, squash, peppers, melons, strawberries, cauliflower, and broccoli and a few folks grow a couple stalks of Corn!
You must also determine how much sun you will have the plants exposed. Even if you just have an herb garden at your window. Food plants need a lot of sun not constant but at least 4-6 hours of direct sun a day. Some items require less sun like Greens and Lettuce and herbs.
If you only have shade or partial shade (2- 3 hours of sun) you may need to keep containers on roof or if you want to invest (substantially) in a lighting system. These use a lot of POWER which kind of defeats purpose of sustainable living.
Just remember containers are above ground, they have no insulation. Plants in the ground are very well insulated by the heat of the ground from the sun shining on it all day even in the early winter or shade). If it gets to 32 or > at night your soil will freeze, you may need to bring in plants at night in the beginning or cover containers.
Containers that you use are up to you and your own creativity. Things have been grown very successfully in everything from old tubs to old boots, buckets to old bowls. First, your container must have appropriate drainage. Not too fast, we want damp soil but not “Wet” but most plants do not like “wet feet” the roots will drown and mold. It will be in your best interest to invest in a water meter.
Many find recycled buckets from bakery’s or donut shop are cheap and easy to find. Puncture, melt, or drill 1-2 holes on the SIDE of bucket approx. 2-inches from bottom be sure to account for bucket ridge on outer bottom. Place bricks or large stones for aeration.
You can use old storage containers that have cracked, Cat litter containers, plastic food containers anything just remember to allow drainage. I love old plastic files boxes. Many have found success with old pallets and burlap or moss cots to prevent soil wash.
The hanging baskets with moss cots work fabulously for herbs and strawberries.
There are also specific planters for strawberries.
To add to the previous rule use the appropriate soil. Use caution in “moisture retaining soil” those with vermiculite or perlite. It is great for dry areas, if you do decide to use I again recommend a water moisture meter. I find a 25/25/50 mix of compost/ moisture soil/topsoil is great for container gardening.
Remember you are trying to mimic the ground so potting soil alone should not be used. If you opt for potting soil, mix with topsoil as well (25/75) but you can skip the compost for now. If you’re planning to grow flowers or herbs plain potting soil can be used (again check moisture requirements before using absorbent mixes).
In addition, you must consider depth required for growth. Tomatoes put down a deep taproot to support main the large main stalk, however width require is minimal 10-20”. Most tomato’s and other fruits require a relatively deep pot because most are tree like. Except berries and creepers like melons with shallow roots. Most berry plants will grow very well in containers, although you may not get as large a yield as plants grown in the ground and some take a year to fruit. Veggies tend to be more shallow roots like lettuces, herbs, broccoli, cauliflower, collards, chards etc. Lettuces are very popular because the plant will continue to grow and you cut off what you need leaving the inner leaves to continue the plant.
The sky is the limit. Just remember rules.
1) Zone 2) sun exposure 3) soil depth 4) drainage/moisture 5) Patience.
You can experiment starting your own seeds from your food in old cardboard, egg cartons, paper cups in a windowsill. See how you like your little garden, a little at a time.