‘Bucket gardening’

Published 6:00 am Sunday, March 24, 2019

Terry Rector

suppose “container gardening” sounds a might more fancy than “bucket gardening,” but lots of people grow a few tomato plants every year in second-hand five gallon buckets.

And some have discovered the larger used-up plastic tubs that once contained cattle protein supplement are just as cheap or as free and will each support more than one tomato plant.

Most of the gardening literature claims people raise vegetables in containers because they are apartment or patio home dwellers without the outdoor space to have a traditional garden. 

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That’s true for some, but I think for most bucket gardeners in this area the reasons are not about space. 

I just think their favorite hobbies differ from being drawn to plowing, planting and perpetuating the growing season.The older I get, the more I like their thinking. 

Raising a few vegetables in buckets is done sans a tiller and tilling, without a bunch of weed control and not worrying with a garden spot most of the year. But the tomatoes taste the same as those from our real gardens.

For tomato bucket neophytes who want to try it for the first time, or for those who might have tried and failed, there are some basics that need attention beforehand. 

First of all, plants require sixteen chemical elements to grow. Three of them come from air and water. The other 13 must be available to roots in the soil or soil substitute. Fortunately most dirt, compost and store-bought soil mixtures contain enough of the ones plants use in small amounts and some of the others. But fertilizing container plants, though fairly easy to do, does require multiple applications. 

Since container gardens have to be watered often, using soluble fertilizers in a few, but not all, of the waterings is a good option. 

While natural topsoil dug locally to fill containers might seem a good idea, dirt alone in a container will get too hard packed from watering and rain.  Use no more than one-fourth regular dirt along with lots of organic material to prevent packing.

Container soil cannot draw in water horizontally or upwards as the dirt beneath us can. So frequent watering is important, but so is avoiding waterlogged roots. 

Good drainage and frequent watering are both necessary for success.  That’s why plenty of drainage holes in the bucket bottom or along the side at the bottom are needed. 

And placing a couple of inches of gravel, broken-up bricks or even Styrofoam packing peanuts in the bottom will keep soil from plugging up the holes. 

Elevating buckets an inch or so off the ground helps with drainage and mulching helps cut down on moisture loss to evaporation.

There is one more thing as important as water, drainage and fertilizer.  That is sunlight and lots of it, the same amount as needed by plants in traditional gardens.

Tomato plant buckets can be placed on an open patio, but not under a covered one. 

Ditto for shade trees. There’ll be no tomatoes without lots of sunlight. 

Terry Rector is spokesman for the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District.