How we went from only being able to grow peppers to growing 8 different types of vegetables for less than $40!
In fall of last year I was frustrated by my growing season. We had used small wooden wine boxes and managed to grow a crazy abundance of hot peppers. Virtually every single other plant had failed due to how I filled the boxes and / or how little room there was for roots. I immediately began looking for a way out of our predicament. We had no in-ground gardening plot at that time and no hopes of getting one, either. So what’s a gardener with no ground to do?
After a lot of useless whining and pretending like I wasn’t crying, I improvised. We came up with a plan to make sure that next year we would be able to grow some major amounts of veggies. And get at least a couple friggin’ tomatoes. Come on!
Well, I got my wish this year. The method I came up with utilizes a layering system to enhance soil nutrients, and uses dollar store pop-up hampers to contain and protect the plants while they’re young.
These worked amazingly with SUCH a tiny monetary commitment. I had looked into building raised beds, and while I could have found the wood for free, I liked the idea of having something I could move around. This became incredibly helpful, as we unexpectedly were told that we could make use of an overgrown garden bed that was behind our house. We relocated the hampers from being around the porch to the garden plot so easily without having to disturb anything we had planted.
When I say that these worked well, I mean that next year I’m only going to plant my vegetables in these. And I’m planning on doubling the amount we have. I was expecting them to do the job, but the combination of rich soil and a bit of protection from predators really made these planters awesome.
So here’s how I did it for cheap cheap cheap.
I collected 3 or 4 hampers at a time from Dollar Tree throughout the fall and winter. By March I had 15 hampers and was ready to start filling them. Plus, if you have limited space, as we do, you can keep the hampers packed away tidily in their packaging until spring.
Over winter I also bought a plastic bin, drilled holes in it, and began composting our kitchen scraps. I intermittently added dirt and leaves to the scraps and quickly filled the bin. In late February I bought a container of worms from a fishing department and dumped those into the bin to finish out the decomposing process.
But back to the hampers. The first thing I did with them in March was add about 3 inches of shredded cardboard, then fill them halfway with hay. Straw could work too, or dried grass clippings. You want a lot of this base layer. It holds moisture and as it decomposes it will give your plants lots of food. The cardboard helps catch any moisture that gets through the hay, and also breaks down for food.
You can see from my drawing that I initially had plans to do quite a bit of layering with different materials.
I ended up going just with the materials that were the most readily available to me, which is also what I advise for you. If you can add more of those materials I have listed, then by all means, go for it. It will only improve your soil and give your plants more room for their roots.
After the aforementioned worms had a few weeks in the compost bin, I scooped out compost on top of each hay pile.
I then gave it all a couple weeks of sitting out in the rain. This starts some decomposition and ensures sure they accumulated some moisture and nutrients from the rain. If you have well water and would like to accelerate this process by just watering everything, you could. Do not use chlorinated tap water on this, though. One of the beauties of using compost is the rich microbial ecosystem created. Chlorine will kill those microbes.
Then I bought a few bags of dirt one weekend and poured equal amounts in each hamper. All in all, this project cost me about $30, and it was spread out over several months.
The soil I bought had mixed in mulch, but I also topped off all of the dirt with another layer of hay to keep in moisture and add another layer of protection and food.
I had some seedlings already started, but also planted a ton of seeds directly into the soil. There were fantastic germination rates and a very low percentage of my seedlings failed to root in their new home. And we even had volunteer butternut squash come up from the compost I had added! I pulled most of them up, but when my strawberries were slow to get going (I start pretty much everything from seed so timing can be make or break), I let one take over the strawberry bin.
Again, I am seriously in love with this project. I am planning to at least double the amount of hampers I start next year.
When I go to tidy up these planters in a month or so, I will just cut back the plants. I will not rip out their roots, as the roots help with soil texture and are the perfect plant food, too. I will also add a layer of hay.
In spring, I will probably add another layer of dirt to the hampers that are already established and let that be that.
To anyone who wants to grow vegetables but has no land or very limited space, or even if you just have crappy soil and want to get started with your veggies while you build your soil, this is a great project. Let me know if you plan to try it and if you have anything you add to this!!