When I first moved into my home 6 years ago, there was an outdoor space of my very own balcony. I was an avid couponer already, learning to live on just shy of one thousand dollars a month, and it was HARD. So I was trying every way I could think of to save money. One of those ways would be to use my very precious balcony space to grow food. It couldn’t be that difficult, and I am the type of person that jumps in head first. So, I would grow all of our favorites, and even things I hadn’t tried before. I spent an entire months worth of grocery money thinking it would pay off. Buying flats of seedlings, potting soil (only the best of course), pots, and of course shelves. With no clue what I was doing or how to grow food in containers. I don’t want you to feel this way, so I want to show you how to grow food in containers with little to no money.
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What You Need to Grow Food in Containers
There are only five physical items you need to grow food in containers. Potting soil (no the dirt from someone’s backyard or garden won’t work here. I’ll tell you why in a bit), Food Grade containers (you don’t necessarily HAVE TO have potts but, I won’t lie. It does make things a smidge easier), Seeds/seedlings (this is pretty much a no-brainer, but it obviously bears mentioning), Water and Sunlight.
Potting Soil is the only appropriate soil you should be using in pots. This is probably the only place you will have to spend a bit of money. It is designed to be light and airy. This allows appropriate water drainage and also allows roots to grow freely and strong. A very key component to a happy plant.
Containers are needed to grow those beautiful babies in. You can thrift pots or use any container that’s considered food grade. Meaning you could safely store food, without worry of contamination from chemical substances. All you have to do is use a drill, burn or poke drainage holes in the bottom. Another method if you can’t get holes placed in the bottom is to use small stones. About 2 inches (5cm) is enough to give the plant adequate drainage, and space.
Seeds or Seedlings
Seeds are much cheaper, but you do run the risk of having little to no germination depending on the quality. I have used dollar store seeds for a few years now with a 50% germination rate and higher. Seedlings can be purchased and planted right away. Thus costing a bit extra due to the labor of growing and choosing only the strongest plants for sales purposes. You can also easily use kitchen scraps and start from there. This also allows you to minimize your household waste, and save more money at the grocery store.
Water & Sunlight
Water and sunlight are two completely free and obvious requirements when growing anything. However, how much is a completely different story. This is where I failed, so I can teach you what not to do. Each plant has a season. Lettuce and dark leafy greens grow best in cool/cold weather. While tomatoes and peppers grow best in the summers long days and warm heat. These are all things that you can find when purchasing your seeds and seedlings. The same also goes for watering, some plants like more water than others and flourish in it, while others prefer the just moist enough soil of consistent watering.
How to Grow Food in Containers for Sustainability
One of the easiest starter methods for growing anything as a beginner would be to get an already growing plant. However, if that is not necessarily in your budget, I completely understand. I believe I only did it once myself. I much prefer the satisfaction of seeing my seeds germinate. An easy way to have success with germinating what is seen as “cheaper” quality seeds would be germination tests. I have a video showing how I do that, that you should watch. It shows the basics of what you need and how to start.
Tips & Recommendations for Growing a Container Garden
Once you have sprouted the seeds you have chosen, select the best and strongest looking sprouts to go ahead and plant. These sprouts will have the thickest roots and healthiest stems. This will allow you to have the best start at your plant’s life. When you plant your new sprouts ( I call them sprouts because seedlings have their first true leaves (second set of leaves to form on a sprout, the first set does not look like the plants’ proper leaves) minimum) you will want to read the information on the back of your seed packet. This will tell you sprout spacing (in this case how many sprouts you can safely put in one container, or how big your container needs to be), how deep to plant the seeds and what lighting and water they need.
One of my most fruitful (pun intended) posts about container gardening has been about typical mistakes most new gardeners make. This would have really helped me out when I first started, and I highly recommend you read it. It talks about overwatering and crowding your plants. All of the things we do without a second thought. This is all types of things you have to worry about!