Monday, June 24, 2013

Container Gardening by a Rookie

I finally live in a place where I can do some actual gardening. Or, at least it appears to be the kind of place you could do some gardening. But it's all a lie.
I live on top of a mountain, with a large yard and plenty of land.  Each of my neighbors have plenty of land as well. We can't see each other, and we all like it that way.
So what's the problem?
Nature. All that dang nature. It comes with a catch.

My next door neighbor's view

It starts with "on top of a mountain." Our yard is extremely steep. So steep in fact that there is no reasonable way to put a vegetable (or flower) garden in the backyard. And try as I may, there just isn't a good spot in the front yard for a vegetable garden either.
What space I do have in the front yard is a magnet for raccoon and deer. (Not to mention a very passive and friendly bear that lives in the woods between my house and the next house over.)
And so I have resorted to container gardening, greatly aided by ideas garnered on Pinterest.
About 8 weeks ago I bought a starter kit and planted several seeds- tomatoes, jalapenos, snow peas, and sunflowers. I followed the directions, and planted "2-3 seeds per disk." This is something of a joke to me now. It said that because many of the seeds will not take, that it is important to plant 2-3 seeds. I planted 15 disks of each type of plant.

As luck would have it, ALL of the tomatoes took! Not 15 of them! 45! 45 tomato plants! Heaven help me!
Naturally only about 2-4 of the jalapenos actually worked. ALL of the sunflowers (roughly 30) took. And a good 20 of the snow pea plants grew.
That was a problem. I did not have the time nor space nor money to buy that many containers! So I got inventive. (This is where Pinterest ( came in handy.)
Oh wait, I almost forgot to tell you the funny part of this story! Back in early April I hired a teenage boy to come over and do some yard work and clean up for me. He found a topsy turvy I attempted to grow some tomatoes in last year, (It never worked.), some old potting soil, and a bag of seeds. I told him to just toss it all in the topsy turvy, and totally forgot about it. A few weeks later I came back to find a good 20-30 tomato seedlings growing! OOPS!
So there I was with a potential 80 tomato plants, and dozens of other plants needing a bigger home.
I read up on vertical pallet gardening and originally thought that would work perfectly for me. What resulted was just wrong, and pretty funny if you had been there to witness it.
After some diligent dumpster diving for a pallet, I found 2 that I thought might work. (I also just happened to find several really sturdy grocery crates and nabbed them too.)
The instructions seemed simple enough, and the final product was supposed to look like this-
As seen on Pinterest...

Instead, my results looked like this-


So I went back to the drawing board and decided to recycle the crates I had found. I originally had a different project in mind for them, but they seemed like a good "container" for my plants.

All I did was put a large black trash bag in the crate, throw in a bunch of potting soil, and transplant the plants into them. I knew the dirt would slide out of the crate if I didn't line it with the bag, hence the trash bag.

This is where I faced my first interesting challenge. The roots of my seedlings had all started to intermingle and intertwine with each other. This was a problem. I was afraid that if I pulled them apart I would kill too much of the root system and kill my plants. (I was okay with a few of them dying, but I didn't want to kill ALL of them!) With little other choice, I kept them in little groupings, and planted them that way.

Meanwhile, in the front yard I did some homemade ghetto "topsy turvy" planting. I got 2 buckets from Home Depot, punched out a hole in the bottoms, and made my own topsy turvy planters. In these buckets I planted actual store-bought seedlings, and not seedlings I grew from seed.

The trees in my yard are ridiculously tall. We're talking redwoods tall. The lowest branches are still way above my head. I tried buying a shepard's crook to hang them from, but they just bent right over and fell. So I spray-painted my buckets green to help them blend in, and hung them on a dead dogwood tree right by my front door.

In one I have strawberries on the top and bottom.

In the other I have green peppers on top, and tomatoes on the bottom.

All of these plants are doing quite well. I've already had 2 strawberries out of the topsy turvy. (Another thing about living on top of a mountain- I've learned I have to wait longer for things to grow. All of our plants seem to be a good 2 weeks behind in growth what I see happening in yards in the valley.) And today I was very excited to see that I FINALLY have buds coming in on both the tomato plant and the green peppers.

Now back to my containers on the back deck. I haven't mentioned that yet, have I? In order to keep my plants safe from the raccoons, deer, etc., I am growing them all on the back deck. Except for the sunflowers- I planted those safely in the ground, way down in the backyard, in a very sunny spot. However, all 10 plants appear to have died. One of these days maybe I will hike down the backyard to inspect them. But they should have grown to at least 2 feet tall by now, and I can't see them, so I assume they didn't make it.

My crate containers have turned out really well! Natural selection has thinned the herd some, but I still have several very strong plants (more than I know what to do with). If it is true that one tomato plant can yield about 10 tomatoes a piece, I'm in for a bumper crop of tomatoes soon! I may only have 6 (7 if you include the bucket in the front yard), containers, but each one holds 2-4 plants each. There are easily 20 very strong tomato plants growing, and a weaker 10 additional plants.

Today I finally spotted several little buds popping up on the tomatoes, which is reassuring. I was starting to worry I was growing some very strong weeds!

The snow peas are a different story. I admit, I had no idea what I was getting into with these! I bought the seeds because they were less than a dollar. That was about the extent of my forethought. Little did I know that these plants can grow to be about the size of tomato plants! Mine are certainly not that big yet, but they are getting quite long and thick. This past weekend I started a new container, separated a few of the plants, and gave them some more room to grow. (The snow peas had the same problem as the tomatoes- the roots were completely intertwined.)

Which brings me to my pepper plants. Oh those fickle little plants! Out of a good 30 seedlings (from seed), I have maybe 3 still growing. They are getting strong and healthy, and are showing a few buds as well.

As you can see,  they are not in crates. I saw this big green bag at a local nursery and bought it. It was about $30. It has worked out very well for me, however, it has not worked any better than the free crates. Also, it took two very large bags of potting soil to fill it up. It is now so heavy I can't lift it. I will continue to use the bag in the future, but I wouldn't recommend buying one. There is a mix of green peppers (store bought seedling), banana peppers, and jalapenos growing in there. To be honest, I'm not even sure if those are my jalapenos that I started from seed. All of the pepper plants look the same to me. (and my markers fell out) I will just have to be surprised when they finally grow in.

Here are my plants 2 weeks ago-

And my plants yesterday!
I'd say my container gardening experiment is working out just fine!

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