Friday, February 7, 2014

How to Start a Container Garden for Less than $25

Have you ever wanted to grow some vegetables for yourself? Here is a short summary of a quick and easy way to start a reasonably sized container garden for less than $25.
My container garden
My garden last spring
There is no one method to start growing food. You don't need to be a farmer to do it. You can have a vegetable garden in nearly any location, no matter how little space you have. There are cheaper ways to start a garden than the one here, but it this method provides plenty space for the cost and is basic enough to adapt to different budgets, materials available, and climates.

The 3 most important things to growing are:
  • Location
  • Soil and Container
  • Watering
First, find the sunniest location in or on your balcony, yard, window, etc in your living area. An optimal location is one that can get 6 hours of sunlight daily. If no such place exists, any location that can get at least 4 hours works for some leafy vegetables.
Sun shines on balcony
The sun is very important to plant growth
Second, go out and find a suitable sized container for the space available. For my garden, I use 22 gallon plastic bins which I was able to buy for $5 each at my local hardware store. This was during the holiday season, so it might be harder to find deals like that during the rest of the year. Regardless, a suitable sized container (18-22 gallons) will cost about $5 You can find these at your local hardware or big box store.
Before you fill your bin with soil, take a drill (or borrow one from a friend) and drill several holes in the bottom. This will allow the soil to drain. You don't want water to accumulate at the bottom.
Better Plastic bin example
An example of a plastic bin
You will need some potting soil to fill your container too. A few ways to get soil include digging it out of your yard, compost giveaways from your city, or buying packaged soil. The last option is the easiest way to acquire soil, so I'll discuss that. Packaged soil is sold in cubic feet, so make sure you get enough to fill your bin (1 cu ft is about 7.5 gallons). Prices can range anywhere between $2.50/cu ft to $4/cu ft. So far, your total is up to about $12.50 on the lower end of the spectrum. An important tool to pick up while shopping is a trowel. You can get a simple trowel for about $3. (total = $15.50)

Finally, you'll need seeds to plant in your bin. Go to any hardware or garden store and find their selection of seed packets. Make sure you choose varieties that can grow in small spaces. I would recommend spinach, Swiss chard, lettuce, beets, or any other vegetable similar in size. You can also grow cherry tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, or even zucchini during summer months. Note that these plants grow large, so you will only be able to fit a few plants in a container. Seed packets range anywhere from $1-$2. (total = $16.50 - $19.50).
Lake Valley Product Placement
Some seed packets. I'll let you geniuses figure out which seed company I use.
Now that you have everything, fill your bin with soil, and water it a bit to saturate it. When you are ready to plant, make sure you follow the instructions on the seed packet. I'll use spinach as an example. The packet I have says to space each seed 2 inches apart. Disregard row spacing for this. Starting about 2 inches from the side of the container, dig a small, 1/2'' deep hole every 2 inches to form a grid to the other side of the bin. (Using my bin (24" x 16") as an example, I can fit a maximum of 60 plants). Drop a seed into each hole and cover with soil. And that's it. Once the seeds have germinated, water the soil whenever it looks or feels dry.
Growing Peas and Beans in a container
Peas and beans in a container garden


Things you need:
  • A sunny location of approximately 1.5 sq ft
  • A drill and drill bits
Need to purchase:
  • 18 Gallon Plastic Tote ($5-$6)
  • Soil ($2.50-$4.00/cu ft) (about 3 cu feet)
  • Trowel ($3-$5)
  • Seeds ($1-$2/packet)
TOTAL = $16.50 - $25
  • Acquire a container, soil, and seed
  • Drill holes in bottom of container to allow drainage
  • Fill with soil, water
  • Plant seeds
That's one way to get your foot in the door. Adapt this guide to your location and budget. Good luck to all new gardeners. What do you want to grow this year?


  • You don't need to plant all of a single crop in one bin, you can divide and subdivide it into smaller sections to grow multiple varieties.
  • A bin does not need to be planted to maximum capacity. Spacing plants can lead to larger individual plants.
  • Do not start planting if there is a risk of frost at night. Be sure to plant in the correct season.
  • Be sure not to over-water while your plants are still young.
  • Some vegetables grow better in warm weather, others in cooler weather. Make sure you pick the appropriate seed for the season you're starting in.
  • If a seed refuses to germinate, be patient. Some plants are more difficult than others to start.
  • Leafy plants that can be harvested using the cut and come again method are the best bang for your buck. Consider growing spinach, lettuce, kale, or Swiss chard.
  • Pace yourself if you decide to expand. It is very easy to lose track of what you can do and what you are able to do. It's incredibly easy to lose control of your spending on gardening supplies.

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