How to Start A Bucket Garden

Spring is here! And it’s time I get going on this year’s experiments in the Just Live Simple garden.

I don’t have a ton of space to garden this year as I’m renting which means no garden beds. So, I’m going to start something that I’ve had some limited experience with: container gardening.

I’ve grown herbs and smaller vegetable plants in pots before, but not exclusively in containers. When you consider the depth and width of a five gallon container, they’re really perfect for a food-producing garden in an urban setting. They may not be your first choice visually, but more importantly, they’re inexpensive, portable, and plentiful. All these things that make them the perfect entry point for the beginning gardener.

From what I’ve read, just like with garden beds, everyone seems to have their own method to creating the “perfect” bucket garden. Self-watering buckets, irrigation line connected buckets, this kind of bucket, but not that kind of bucket.

I think an argument can be made for any of those options, but when you consider what to use to start your own bucket garden you really only need a clean bucket. That means you probably wouldn’t want to use a bucket that previously held paint or some other type of chemical mixture. It just ain’t worth the risk.

I’ve heard there are lots of places to get free buckets like donut shops or bakeries that have the food grade kind that are supposedly better for gardening, but pricey if you buy them brand new. Gosh knows I seen enough of buckets strewn on the sides of freeways, but I decided to spend a couple bucks for some new buckets from Home Depot at $3 a pop. Not too bad at all.

We’ll need the bucket to drain the excess water that goes into it otherwise our plant’s roots can rot in the standing water. So drill enough holes in the bottom so that you have a drainage hole every couple of inches.

Put some gravel or rocks in the bottom of the bucket to help with drainage so the water doesn’t build up in the soil. There was a pile of gravel in our backyard from someone dumping them. Thanks for the free rocks!

Now things get fun. Pour your soil mix into your bucket. Everyone has their own “perfect” blend. Some people make the whole mix from scratch, I got some inexpensive mix that already has compost/organic fertilizer/peat moss/and soil in it. The only thing I add is a few handfuls of Miracle Gro for plant food.

Make sure not to overfill your bucket. You want to leave enough room that you can plant your seedlings and still have a couple of inches at least to the top of the bucket.

I planted three starter plants that I purchased: an heirloom tomato, mint, and red bell pepper. The other three buckets I planted seeds in so hopefully we’ll see new seedlings popping up soon.

Go ahead and give your new plant a good drink of water.

Although we’re pretty much done, there are a couple things you can do to improve your plant’s chances at a healthy growing season.

You can cover the soil around the plant with mulch, gravel, or something like a garbage bag with a hole cut out of it to help protect against evaporation and keep your bucket from drying out on hot summer days.

I used some clear plastic containers that were headed for the recycling bin and cut the bottoms off to turn them into mini-greenhouses.

Total cost:
6 Buckets x $3/each = $18
Potting mix = $20
Total base cost = $38

We’ll see how my plants do in the coming weeks. Check back for updates!

4 Responses to “How to Start A Bucket Garden

  • I grew up an Army brat and we lived a majority of the time in military housing, which is pretty much apartment living. My Mom always planted stuff in buckets on our balconies so we'd have fresh veggies. I remember them doing really well. I plan to try my hand at this once we get Tiny done and move in.

    • That's fantastic! I've had raised beds before, but we're renting now and I have really fallen in love with the bucket garden because it's a garden we can take with us when we move! Can't wait to see what you come up with.

      Oh and everybody better check out Chrissy's excellent blog at A Tiny Home Companion!

  • I love you are doing this. I've been reading about 5-gallon bucket planters and the concept sounds great. I usually end up with half dead looking plants in the heat of summer though so I'm a little concerned that mine might end up looking less than attractive. Bucket with pretty plants a win! Bucket with my dead plants…not as much. lol! I may have to splurge for a more attractive pot so at least it will look nice when the plant dies. Lol! Can't wait to see how your's progress. You may inspire me to at least try the bucket approach.

    • Dead plants in summer? Just make sure you add some mulch or other cover to the top of the buckets. I neglected to document that step because I only just did that yesterday. Prevents the soil from drying out so quickly and can save you a lot of water and droopy, dead plants.

      Ours are not doing too bad and honestly the bucket thing isn't as aesthetically-displeasing as you'd think. When you see your tomatoes shooting up out of there, you don't care so much what it's in. I was just at Home Depot yesterday and the price they charge for even plastic pots is nuts, about 8 times what a bucket of equal volume costs. Plus buckets, because they have the same diameter all the way down actually make more sense for vegetable gardening and the like as opposed to decorative pots that narrow as they get deeper giving root systems less room right when they need it.

      That's my two cents. You don't have to join my bucket cult.

      But we have cookies.

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