Growing Sustainable Food in Containers

Here at Gumtree, we’re always interested in ways to save money and be healthy at the same time. Currently we’re discussing growing our own food in containers, which not only saves space, but keeps our bodies happy.

Growing your own fruit, veg and herbs at home has many benefits:

  • You’ll save money over time, especially growing pricier crops (like strawberries)
  • Using organic methods, you’ll be guaranteed safe, chemical-free produce
  • Locally-grown crops taste much better, as no preservative treatments are required
  • Acquiring the gardening skillset will not only supplement your diet but improve your personal food security

In short, growing your own food is not only the preference of the thrifty and forward-thinking but also the gourmet. Few things are as rewarding as serving fresh, delicious food to your family, friends and neighbours. Even better is sharing your knowledge with them, so they too can enjoy a better diet and more natural lifestyle.

Of course, there are also challenges involved with growing your own food:

  • Study is required for new gardeners – luckily good info is just a web-search away
  • If you lack containers, soil and/or seed(ling)s, there are minor start-up costs
  • Exterior and sometimes interior space will need to be set aside for productive use
  • Harsh climates make sustainable gardening a more specialised, expensive and time-intensive proposition

On balance of the above, anyone in a reasonably clement climate with even a small interest in “DIY food” can try their hand at growing their own fruit, veg and herbs in containers. Experiment with some easily-grown plants (like chives) in a few pots in the garden or in planters along a window-sill. You can grow from there…

Examine the Environmental Factors

To make things easier, seek the advice of local gardeners. They’ll be able to recommend plants suitable to your region. The more exotic a species, the more time and money you’ll likely spend keeping it alive. Also seek advice on the full range of environmental factors and their seasonal variation before deciding on the best plants to grow.  Briefly these are sunlight, wind, humidity, temperature and soil. For growing in containers, you’ll need to select containers germane to the crop, location, and environmental factors.

Before you buy seeds, it’s best to select a suitable growing location. Check the degree of sunlight the area receives over the course of a day, bearing in mind the path of the sun will vary seasonally. Some plants require a lot of direct sunlight and others prefer shade, so choose your plants accordingly.

The next consideration is wind. Plants without tough, waxy or leathery leaves can suffer from moisture loss when exposed to excessive wind. This is especially true of immature plants, which lack an extensive root system to replenish themselves. Constructing a windbreak or planting a screen of more resistant plants is a good idea.

Beyond stopping moisture loss to wind, many plants will benefit from a more humid environment. A simple way to increase local humidity is to place containers of water in the vicinity of your plants. The more surface area of water, the more evaporation will occur and the higher humidity you’ll achieve. Empty this water into your plants (whenever they droop with thirst) so that it doesn’t become stagnant and breed insects. And to be truly sustainable and drought-resistant, it’s wise to harvest rainwater to use in watering your plants. Often channelling a gutter from your roof into a convenient barrel is the simplest way to capture free water.

Another important consideration, which becomes proportionally more important with distance from the equator, is maintaining an appropriate range of temperature for your plants. Rocks placed near your plants will absorb heat during the day and radiate it back out at night, creating a warmer micro-climate which can stave off frost-damage. If excess heat is the problem, establish shade cloth.

You’ll also need good soil in a proper container. If you’re fortunate enough to have good growing soil in your garden or nearby, you’ll be “shovel-ready.” Otherwise, any nursery will have potting soil, which has the perfect consistency and nutrients to promote growth of seeds and seedlings. The only disadvantage to potting soil is its cost; filling a few pots with a bag or two is cheap, but the costs of such soil for large scale projects will mount quickly.

Composting your own soil is a good sustainable practice, but it can take a long time to produce viable soil. A pond is probably the quickest means to break down bio-mass to healthy earth for planting, but there are plenty of other good composting methods, such as using worms. Composting also generates considerable heat, which can be harnessed to keep your plants alive through winter.

Choose the Right Container


Finally, some tips for good containers… While it’s certainly possible to buy very attractive wooden barrels or stone planters, acquiring many of these may not be financially sustainable. Plastic or ceramic pots with good drainage (lots of small holes in the bottom) and a dish with raised lip are cheap and well-suited. But certainly you can repurpose available materials into good containers, too. For instance, you can lay a sparsely-punctured plastic sheet or dense shade-net over bricks or logs and fill it with soil to create a raised bed. Or you can use an old bath-tub, dustbin or oil drum as a planter.

For very large containers, a flow-bin (known internationally as an IBC or Intermediate Bulk Container) can be easily split with a grinder into two plastic containers with accompanying steel framework that are a half-meter deep and roughly 1 meter square. Second-hand IBCs can often be found on the Internet for around half a grand. Of course, always ensure any improvised container has only contained safe, food-grade materials before using it for food production. Do you grow sustainably in containers? We’re interested! Tell us about it on our Facebook Page!


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