The Bounty of an Abundant Container Garden
The Back Story of Eventual Success
As with nearly all of my gardening success, I usually start with failure. Sometimes it can be complete and utter failure from the get-go, other times it is a slow and tortuous decline and often includes an element of sadness as my “little green friends”, so strong at first, ultimately succumb and perish. I maintain a container garden as a result of failure to be able to breathe life into certain crops in my Zone 9,Central Florida, climate and soil.
It all started with nematodes munching away at my tomatoes planted in the ground. When I finally understood via net research why I failed, I decided to switch to containers and see if that would help. I ordered these 5 gallon and 7 gallon containers. I love these large plastic pots and have about 100 of them in use in my container garden. I have had them for three growing seasons (spring, fall, spring) and they have held up extremely well. I ruined one with a brush cutter but the other 99 are still going strong.
What grows well in my container garden?
- Tomatoes – in 7 gallon containers and defeats nematodes
- Eggplant – in 5 gallon pots and 7 gallon containers and moved to safety in frost
- Leaf Lettuce – 1 gallon for 1 plant or 5 gallon pot for 3 plants
- Basil – put out early and moved inside as needed, they hate the cold
- Cabbage – first time, 1 plant per 5 gallon pot
- Broccoli – 1 plant per 5 gallon pot, does just as well as a row crop
- Various flowers - for movement for display
- Various herbs – kept close to the kitchen
The Upside: Why I use containers?
At first it was an issue of soil quality and organisms. Florida Zone 9 has very sandy soil and needs a lot of amendment to really work. It is much easier and cheaper to amend the soil for a container garden with nursery pots than to incorporate it into my row crops. I do amend the row crops also but I do not add the perlite and vermiculite to the rows as a function of cost. Also, as the nematodes taught me, the soil isn’t always friendly to all crops.
Here are a few other reasons that I use a container garden:
- Ease of irrigation and water saving using micro-drip tubing
- Ability to isolate or relocate groups of crops to avoid the spread of disease
- Movement to increase or decrease sunlight during the seasons
- Spacing changes as need by plant growth
- Increased difficulty of some bad critters to locate the plant in the container
- Savings in use of fertilizer, especially liquid applications
- Placement near more attractive plants for bees and pollination (tomatoes near citrus in Zone 9).
- Arrangement for aesthetic reason especially my flowers and bromeliads
- Increased usage area without tilling or dedicating areas like row crops
- Eliminates the need to rotate crop location
- They work (see photos)
Getting Heavy Containers Located
One slight disadvantage to a container garden is, well, you have a bunch of plastic pots filled with dirt! Yes, indeed dirt is heavy and I’m old. My solution is to put the empty containers in the poly-cart and fill them while in the cart and drive them to their location with the little old John Deere and get them as close as possible to their destination home. This avoids the lifting-up part any way. I have 2.5 acres and hauling around 100 large plant pots by hand gets old pretty quick. Before the poly-cart I used a wheel barrow and that works fine but it is not without effort. I set out empty containers in location and wheel barrow the dirt to the containers.
What is the cost for a container garden?
I bought 100 containers ( 5 and 7 gallon sizes) for about $130 and have gotten 3 growing seasons (and counting) so the cost per season is now at $0.43 per container use. I anticipate getting at least three more seasons for a total of six which would drop the cost per use to $0.21.
Soil Cost and Reuse
I don’t reuse the soil for vegetable crops. So, what to do with the soil at the end of the season? I haul it around to my flower beds and till it in the ground. So far that has not evidenced any disease or pathogen problems and the flowers love it. The consequence is I spend about $150 a season hauling multiple loads of dirt at 1 cubic yard per truck bed costing $19 for a mix of top soil and mushroom compost. Row crops on the other hand still need amendment each year so the soil cost difference of container soil versus row crop amendment I would estimate to be about $50/season in my garden. A well planned container garden can be a bountiful, rewarding, and cost-saving addition to any home.