Maximizing the growing area will not only help to decrease grocery bills even further, but will allow more naturally grown and healthy produce to be canned, dehydrated and stored. Container gardening is a good way to enhance your growing capabilities, but going the vertical gardening route is truly the best way to make use of small spaces and utilize every inch of empty ground on your property.
Vertical gardening offers the ability to grow more produce in a small amount of space. While such container gardens are ideal for urban and suburban dwellers, they are useful for rural folks, as well. Barrels are large and can offer a high yield, but upcycling plastic soda bottles, wood pallets, and aluminum cans can also be used to create a small space garden.
Commercially manufactured vertical gardening containers are readily available, but there truly is no need to go to the added expense. A clean 55-gallon plastic drum works extremely well as a vertical container garden and can be adapted to the growing purpose quite easily. Such planters take up little space and can grow approximately 50 plants.
Excerpt from a Mother Earth News report on vertical gardening:
“Whether your garden is large or small, you can make better use of every square inch by using vertical gardening techniques to grow upright crops. Pole beans typically produce twice as many beans as bush varieties, and the right trellis can double cucumber yields. Then there are crops, such as tomatoes, that need some type of support to keep them above damp ground, where diseases have a heyday. All properly supported plants are easier to pick from and monitor for pests, plus you’ll get help from bug-eating birds that use trellises as hunting perches.”
The garden in a barrel concept also saves time and water, as well. The 55-gallon drums prevent damage to the plants from rabbits, moles and gophers. Harvesting the crop is also a breeze for those with mobility issues. By inserting a tube with holes down the center of the barrel, composting worms and natural fertilizers can also be added to enhance the growing process.
The Easiest Garden website said making “one of these barrels only takes 1 to 5 hours depending on your skill, and should cost only $20-50.”
Vertical Garden Barrel Basics
Virtually any typical herb or vegetable plant will grow in a garden barrel. Smaller and “bush type” plants are often favored because they take up so little space. Commonly grown vertical garden barrel vegetables include: basil, lettuce, tomatoes, kale, potatoes, spinach, carrots, peas, beets, cucumbers, and bush beans.
Perennials are not typically grown in vertical garden barrels. Such plants often have difficulty because they tend to become root bound inside the barrel. Strawberries are perhaps the one successful exception to this rule. Even though many gardeners have had nice strawberry harvests from a barrel, the plants must still be replaced about every three years.
Although vertical garden barrels do tend to curtail the mole, gopher, and rabbit issues (if the barrel is placed upon legs), deer do remain an issue. Since the barrels take up so little space, fencing the area around the barrels is a viable option to stop deer from snacking on your growing veggies.
A center tube with composting worms is not a requirement for a good vertical barrel crop, but they do help get the most from your seeds and the soil. The composting worms provide an ample source of nutrients to the vegetables and also aerate the soil. Gardeners who live in a mild climate may not have to remove the worms during the winter, but if where you live brings frozen ground ever year, the worms would likely die if left inside the vertical garden.
Only a small portion of the soil inside the 55-gallon drum vertical garden is exposed to the air; therefore less water is generally needed for the plants. Capturing the rain water that drains from the barrel also helps reduce the need to supply water to the crop. An additional 55-gallon drum attached to a down spout is an excellent way to garner water for the plants.
How to make a vertical gardening barrel
- Purchase a new 55-gallon barrel, or one that has not housed any chemicals and is safe for food. Clean the barrel with warm soapy water and allow to air dry – or dry with a beach towel.
- Cut slits into the side of the barrel for the plants. Some folks use a buzz saw, but others hammer a wedge into the side of the 55-gallon drum to create the slits, and other gardeners use a jig saw, heat gun or a crowbar. Regardless of the cutting method used, approximately 48 slits need to be cut into the plastic barrel. If growing larger plants, reduce the number of holes.
- Purchase (or cut to suit) a 4- to 6-inch piece of PVC pipe to serve as a worm hole. This step is optional, but highly recommended by experienced vertical container gardeners. Drill some small holes around the tube so the composting worms can travel from the tube and through the soil to aerate the dirt. Inside the worm tube, put munchies the little creatures cannot resist, such as coffee grounds and general kitchen scraps – the kind of stuff you would commonly throw into your compost pile.
- Cut a hole at the bottom of the 55-gallon drum that the bottom of the worm tube can be placed snugly into. A plug made of rubber or a piece of scrap plastic duct taped around the opening, will keep all the insides in place. Simply open the plug to allow worm castings to fall into a container beneath the barrel. Place a similar cap or plug on the top of the worm tube to prevent rain and mice from getting inside.
- Place the vertical gardening container on cinder blocks or build an upside-down stool type base to balance the barrel and the worm castings contain on. Even if you opt out of the worm tube, raising the barrel just slightly off the ground will help keep rabbits away from the bottom layer of growing vegetables.
- Fill the barrel with soil and start planting your vegetables. Smaller plants should be placed at the top of the 55-gallon drum and vining plants at the bottom. Plants that grow in an upright position, such as carrots, tomatoes and peppers, also need to be positioned at the top of the barrel.
- Maintain the health of the soil and the plants by occasionally sprinkling some of the collected worm castings back into the barrel.