Starting a Garden: Ideas For Growing Food In Containers

Starting a garden is a very simple straight-forward process. You do not need previous experience or fancy/sophisticated equipment to get going.

After saying that, if you are starting a garden aimed at growing food in containers, then you will need a few very basic, easily attainable things, namely;

  • Soil or compost
  • Seeds
  • Suitable containers and pots
  • Somewhere to work (working with soil can be a messy business!)
  • Something to water your plants with
  • At least a rough plan of which plants to grow and where
  • Something to scoop your soil/compost into the containers
  • Ballast (broken bricks/stones/ gravel – to put in the base of the pots.

When first starting a garden with container pots, a good place to begin would be to avail yourself of where you can find all the above-mentioned things, and while you are still in your planning stage, start to gather the items in.

You might also want to consider starting a Composter. It will provide you from year two onwards, with lots of rich fertile humus that will enrich and feed your plants. It will also give you a place to start putting your used, old and tired soil from your containers in subsequent years.

Seeds can be purchased online, from catalogs, or from garden centers. If you are planning on keeping some seeds from your crop to grow the following year, then you might want to consider buying heirloom seeds. See my article on seed buying here

You can also gather seeds from shop-bought vegetables when first starting a garden, but be warned! It may be a false economy, as some may not grow at all, and those that do are very likely to be nowhere near as good, or as high-yielding as the original plant.

Also, see the article on Which plants grow best in containers.

Containers & Pots
One of the best things about your containers when starting a garden like this is that you don’t have to specifically use planting containers. Your containers can be virtually anything. If it can hold soil and you can punch a few holes in the bottom for drainage, then you’re in business.

Obviously, the wider the container the better, and the more options you will have. Deep containers are OK but tend to use up a lot of your soil or compost to fill them, which can be wasteful.

Elevated Garden
If you’re not thrilled about the idea of bending down, you can even arrange your pots in an elevated way, and maybe even use recycled materials to build your stands as this page demonstrates.

Tools and Other Stuff?
When starting a garden with containers, it is not essential to go out and buy lots of “stuff”, tools, containers, plants, fancy gizmo’s, etc, although a mini set of gardeners tools like a trowel, spade and fork set, and a watering can always serve you well. You can just put those on your wish list; in the meanwhile just use your fingers and a jug!

Don’t be afraid to ask friends, family, and neighbors for any old pots and containers they might have, and also to save seeds for you. You’ll be surprised just what you might end up accumulating with this method when starting a garden!

Another place to acquire things is at the recycling center. My local recycling center also recycled garden waste, turning it into sterilized compost which they sell very cheaply by the bag.

Do You Have Sunshine?
Another thing to look at when starting a garden for food growing, obviously, is the space you have available to you, and more importantly how much of that space is touched by the sun.

If you have a north-facing garden that is in the constant shadow of a building or a courtyard patio that never sees sunshine, you might have more success with a window box, sunny room, or area located on the south side of the building where there is sunlight. Unfortunately, from experience, we can vouch that north-facing gardens that are in constant shadow tend to produce very poor results.

If you find yourself in this predicament, it might even be worthwhile considering an alternative growing venue. Do you have a non-green-fingered relative or neighbor who would welcome a gardener to tame the jungle they call a back yard? Alternatively, there may be a gardening co-operative in your area where people come together to grow things in areas of towns or cities that are disused or in need of brightening up. Failing that, how about putting your name down for an allotment?

Making The Most of Your Space
If you do have an area of your own that you feel would make a suitable growing area, the next stage is to really think about how best you can utilize that space. How much of the area floor is in direct sunshine during the day and for how long? How much of the area has a combination of sun and shade, and how much of the area is mostly shade, but next to sunlit areas? Bear in mind, the suns rays will bounce and spill into the shaded areas and still provide the necessary conditions for growing.

Click here for an article we’ve written that has some sketches and layout planning ideas for the smaller garden.

Vertical Gardening
Next look higher – are there walls you can place hanging grow bags and baskets on? Vertical gardening comes into play here.

If you were to build a freestanding upright plant climbing frame wall and positioned it parallel to the main wall, but several feet away, could you be introducing a whole new growing area that you wouldn’t have otherwise had? Essentially doubling your wall growing space?

If you positioned it to take advantage of the light as it tracks from east to west so that only minimal shadows are cast by it, would you have space to introduce a second or a third planting frame?

If you were to introduce a table or stacked shelving arrangement – would it raise your containers to enable them to be in the light and not in the shade?

How about raised beds? Are there any areas where building a raised bed might be appropriate?

Don’t Forget Your Airspace!
Do you have any ‘airspace’ that can be utilized? Can you suspend a rope between two anchor points, intersecting the airspace with the rope? If so, you can suspend hanging grow bags along the rope, fully utilizing the otherwise redundant space.

Adding to the rope theme a little more – could a rope be used in the area above a shaded area to hoist the plants into the sun? – Just a thought – obviously the safety of such a venture would need to be assessed with common sense and don’t forget you will need to water them each day, so easy access is important.

An Area to Work in?
Another thing to take into consideration when starting a garden for growing your food in containers is where you will do your potting and general maintaining. Lifting soil in and out of large containers can be a messy business. Do you have an area you can set aside for preparing and working on your pots? do you have somewhere to store bags of compost, fertilizers, tools, and spare pots – assuming you will probably find yourself accumulating such things over time?

Although most people are not necessarily that meticulous when it comes to planning ahead, and most will generally muddle along with whatever they have available to them, there is no denying it will make life easier if you plan ahead for these things. There are some things you will not be able to proceed without, so it makes sense to acquire them before you begin.

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