Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Redneck Container Garden ver. 2.0

I don't know about where you are, but the prolonged cool, wet weather in Northern California has definitely slowed the pace in my yard. I've had some upgrades going on though to keep things interesting. If you've followed my previous posts (here, here, here, here, here, & here), then you know all about my miniature urban farm, grown mostly in five-gallon buckets as my postage stamp lot just doesn't have any other suitable space. Well, let me introduce you to The Redneck Garden ver. 2.0.

This was the final image from my April post, giving a hint of things to come. The 5-gallon buckets now have some tougher, stronger more handsome big brothers.

Most of the buckets received a basic drainage modification courtesy of my cordless drill.

Thanks to a couple of my favorite tools, this...

and this,

Have turned into these...

and these.

I learned a lot from conversations with other gardeners and reading articles like this one from Love Apple Farm's Cynthia Sanberg, with very good instructions for growing tomatoes in containers. I learned that tomatoes need a minimum 15-gallon pot and they prefer to root deeply. The metal tubs met the 15-gallon minimum, but seemed a bit shallow. The Redneck Garden still has a very tight budget, so I searched for the best possible option for my dollar. Having no luck at yard sales & thrift shops, I settled on the metal tubs for $15.00 each and the plastic buckets are still just $2.34 each. Even the cheapest plastic containers approaching this volume were nearly three times this combined cost. Clearly, a better scrounge, with a little time & energy could round up these items for free or cheap, but I had procrastinated myself into a corner and needed something quickly.

This pot-within-a-pot design gave me the necessary depth to give the tomatoes the full Master Gardener treatment. The holes were dug, I dropped a couple aspirin into the hole, placed some calcium sulfate (basically high-grade gypsum, but egg shells are good too) and some organic tomato & vegetable fertilizer and tossed in the lower leaf stems that I removed from the plant. Unlike most plants, tomatoes will actually grow more roots from where the stems were removed when you plant them deeply like this.

 Here you see a plant that was nearly 2 feet tall in it's 4" pot, now only rises about ten inches above the soil. Fill them in loosely, resist the urge to pack the soil as this forces much needed oxygen out of the root zone. I finish all my containers off with a layer of compost as a mulch. This will help retain moisture and provide more nutrients to the soil as the compost decomposes.

As many of you know, my day-job involves large-scale soil blending for commercial landscapers, nurseries, golf courses and more. I've been using The Redneck Garden as a bit of a proving ground. Okay, so I couldn't stand to grow plants in sub-standard soil, meaning that there isn't any sort of true comparison. However, I offer the next two pics to show what kind of root growth takes place in good soil.

This is one of the buckets that had a Romanesco Cauliflower in it until recently. With the plant and main root stem removed, you can see that the fine root hairs permeate the entire container.

This is a bunch of the "Brite Lites" chard I pulled out of the little window boxes. The soil couldn't have been more than 4 inches deep, but when I lifted up on this plant, it picked up all the soil in the whole container. The roots of the neighboring plants had all intertwined and were now just one big root mass.

Here are some of the other new residents of The Redneck Garden:
Lemon Cucumbers

Ambassador Squash

Black Chu-Chu Eggplant

And Blue Lake Bunch Beans. Oh, and that lettuce, we've been cutting off of that plant since last November and it is still going strong!

The window boxes are now home to Marjoram, Cilantro & Chives.
There are a few hold-overs too. I saved my pepper plants from last year, some of which are doing well, others not so much. Three of my four Poblanos made it through winter, but they have been very reluctant to leaf out & flower. If they don't come around soon, they will lose their space to the new Habanero and Hinklehatz Red I picked up at the Palo Alto Master Gardener's plant sale.

My Yellow Bell has several clusters of new fruit already.

This Green Bell is doing better than it looks in this pic. It has lots of blooms and new fruit already.

The Jalepeno has been bloomin' it's fool head off.

Now, my wife enjoys the fruits of my garden too, but she was craving flowers, so I surrendered my only two in-ground planting areas to appease her...

The back-fence planter is a heavily shaded work in progress.

And the narrow front walkway strip now has lots of color. Hopefully it will attract some beneficials.

The current view from the curb.

And my front porch farm.

I hope you've enjoyed the updated Redneck Garden ver. 2.0. There are a few other new happenings too, but I have to save something for the next post. I encourage you to share this post with new or potential gardeners who may not feel they have the ability or the space to grow their own food. It has been a fantastic experience for me and I've been amazed at the amount and variety of produce we've been able to harvest. It's great to get in touch with your food supply. I know exactly what goes into those plants  (100% organic) and the fresh, honest taste is at least ten times better than store-bought.

Stay Happy & Healthy,


  1. Great info and very inspiring. Thanks!

  2. Update: I have updated the article to include the two aspirin in each tomato planting hole. Also note that when drilling or cutting the plastic buckets, you generate a fair amount of plastic "sawdust", which is bad stuff to let loose on the environment. Please be sure to clean up and dispose of the crumbs responsibly.

    Retro: Glad you enjoyed the post & thanks for the comment.

  3. Nice pics. Glad to see I'm not the only one gardening out of buckets - but your pics have given me some great ideas for expanding my small patch of backyard farming.

    I've also noticed that bucket farming saves water ... I seem to get water more in the buckets than on the ground. Good things!

  4. excellent pics, tennessee here doing first container garden...containers are 5gal buckets,that were all free, $1 buckets from dollar tree and good sized dishpans for squash that were also $1, had a good stash of pots from previous plants that died and collect from friends their containers that they dont use. have patty pan squash, yellow squash, green beans, peas, cucumbers, okra, tomatoes, bell peppers,many herbs..have waited on complaints from neighbors, but instead have inspired a few to maybe start their own!!

  5. Matt, Love the pics and thanks for the tip that tomatoes will root along their stem. I didn't know that, so I'll be trying that myself as my tomato last year kept getting dug up by my chickens and flung across the garden with it's 4" rootball all exposed to the elements. Maybe if I bury it deeper the ladies won't be able to fling it about... LOL.

  6. Tennessee: Good work on the scrounging, I waited too long and forced myself to spend a few bucks. Glad your neighbors are receptive, mine have all been great too. Thanks for leaving your comments and be sure to check back periodically for updates.

    Genevieve: Glad you enjoyed it. You might also put cages around your tomatoes as soon as you plant them. This is much easier than waiting until the plants are bigger and will give them a bit more protection from your chickies. I'm still cracking up with that mental image....