Growing Food in Buckets: A Step by Step Guide

Growing Food in Buckets: A Step by Step Guide
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Growing Food in Buckets: A Step by Step Guide
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Image via Urban Gardening

Growing your own groceries in five-gallon buckets allows you to raise enough food to feed a family of four in a tiny space. When growing food in buckets, you don’t need a 1/4 acre backyard to raise a bountiful garden as some people claim.

It is always best to use a brand new bucket when growing crops. Buckets get filled with all kinds of junk, fluids, and garden scraps that could kill your plants or make them harmful to consume.

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A bucket that has previously housed swimming pool chemicals, asphalt, or chemical pesticides should be avoided entirely. Plant diseases are often spread by the use of contaminated tools and containers.

Plastic buckets are far more suited for growing groceries than metal ones. Metal buckets will rust and allow the rust to leach into the soil and ultimately, your food source.

5-Gallon Bucket Planting Pros And Cons

Pros

  • By growing food in buckets, you can make use of every little patch of sunlight around your home. It would be highly problematic to place a raised bed on your back patio, but putting two to four buckets filled with plants in the same space would be quite easy – and it will give you the same yield as a raised bed.
  • The common and inexpensive 5-gallon bucket gives you plenty of space for the roots of most garden vegetables and dwarf fruit trees. Some plants require only six inches of dirt to thrive, but others need up to 24 inches of root space.
  • Even when growing in buckets, you can still take advantage of companion planting to help each crop thrive and to thwart destructive insects.
  • 5-gallon buckets are portable. Being able to move the buckets inside during weather emergencies or take them with your during a bugout will keep your food source from being destroyed and your family from starving during a long-term disaster.
  • A suburban backyard or small acreage homestead might not seem like enough space to cultivate a fruit orchard, but it is. Growing dwarf fruit trees in 5-gallon buckets will allow you to cultivate non-native crops since they can be moved indoors or into a greenhouse. A typical backyard deck has enough space to grow enough dwarf fruit trees to garner the same yield as a small orchard.
  • You can quickly and easily protect your container garden from the threat of frost by simply throwing sheets or a roll of plastic over it.
  • There is far less weeding involved with a 5-gallon bucket garden than is required with a traditional ground plot or raised bed. To make the weeding chore even less taxing, place the buckets onto a bench or stool so you don’t have to repeatedly bend over to pull unwanted weeds.

Cons

The only real con to growing in 5-gallon buckets, or any type of container garden, is the watering chore. The container can easily become either waterlogged or dried out. Drilling a sufficient number of holes in the bottom of the 5-gallon buckets is essential, but consistent checking of the soil for moisture or dryness will still be necessary.

To check the soil of a food growing container, press a finger into the dirt down to the second knuckle. If the soil is moist at this level, you do not need to water.

Many container gardeners buy or make a self-watering system for each bucket so they can tackle this ongoing chore more easily. Watch the video below to learn how.

Best Vegetables To Grow In 5-Gallon Buckets

CropAmount
Beets4 sets
Broccoli1 plant
Cabbage1 plant
Carrots10 plants
Cucumbers1 plant
Eggplant1 plant
Garlic6 bulbs
Green Beans2 plants
Lettuce4 plants
Melons1 plant
Onions4 sets
Peppers2 plants
Radishes10 plants
Squash1 plant
Tomatoes1 plant (staked or caged)
Zucchini1 plant

Best Fruits To Grow In 5-Gallon Buckets

  • Blueberries – You will need to grow a minimum of two blueberry plants in separate containers near each other to garner a quality yield. The berry should produce from early June through August. The fruit bushes need 18 inches of soil for their roots to take hold. Grow the bushes in a peat based and acidic soil.
  • Dwarf Banana – You can easily grow miniature banana plants in 5-gallon buckets, but you will have to move them indoors when the temperature drops below 65 degrees. Place the plants in a window that gets full sun or hang a grow light above them during the winter. Mist the plants periodically so they don’t get too dry.
  • Figs – The bucket used to grow the fig must be 16 inches in diameter. They need well-drained soil and full sun. During times of intense heat, the figs will need to be watered sometimes twice a day so they don’t dry out.
  • Passion Fruit – This perennial vine will only have to be planted once. A sturdy trellis will need to be staked into the 5-gallon bucket to support the weight of the passion fruit plant as it grows and becomes laden with fruit.
  • Strawberries – Everbearing strawberries are highly recommended for container growing because they produce two yields per year – one in the early June and one in the late summer.

Container Plant Growing Tips

  • Bush style beans are better suited for container gardening than other varieties of green beans.
  • Bush style winter and summer squash, as well as cucumbers, are also highly recommended for 5-gallon bucket gardening.
  • You can grow potatoes in 5-gallon buckets if you drill holes large enough fit your hand inside around the bucket from 2 inches above the base all the way to 2 inches below the rim. Follow potato barrel growing instructions to cultivate a smaller scale crop.
  • When growing herbs, you can typically cultivate at least six plants in a single 5-gallon container. If growing herbs that do not tend to sprawl or become exceptionally bushy, like rosemary, chives, thyme, cilantro, and basil, you can usually fit 8 to possibly 10 plants without overcrowding them.
  • Carrots must be grown in loose soil so their roots develop properly. Growing carrots in rocky or compacted soil typically produces poor results.
  • To keep destructive insects at bay, introduce nematodes into the soil or make a super cheap insecticide soap. To make the soap, combine five tablespoons of Blue Dawn liquid dish soap with 1 gallon of water. Spray the plants in the early morning hours to avoid scorching and to give them time to dry before dark to avoid the chances of mold growth.
  • Combine 1 part flour with 1 part salt and sprinkle the mixture onto the leaves and around the base of the 5-gallon buckets to kill bugs. The bugs will consume the mixture and it will dehydrate them from the inside out after causing them to swell immensely. The downfall to both this treatment and the insecticide soap is that it kills beneficial insects along with the harmful ones.

Choosing The Right Kind Of Soil

Not all dirt is created equal. It is vital to the growing process that you buy or compile the right type of soil for container gardening. Even though the plants can grow in subpar dirt, the anticipated yield will most likely be far less than desired.

There is a big difference between topsoil and potting soil.

Topsoil is composed of dirt scraped from fields and is mixed with compost, sand, and manure – among other natural ingredients. Topsoil is designed to provide a much denser planting mixture than potting soil.

Unlike topsoil, potting soil is sterilized. This significantly reduces the chance of any plant fungus or diseased matter harming your seeds or plants. It also helps to sift out other possible impurities like insect eggs, larvae, or weed seeds.

Potting soil often doesn’t contain any soil at all. Potting soil varieties contain bark, sphagnum moss, vermiculite, coconut or coir husk, and peat moss. Peat moss expels water instead of soaking it up. The first time you water the 5-gallon bucket containers, they will require a bit of extra tending.

Mix a small amount of slow-release fertilizer with the potting soil. This type of fertilizer is always best to use in container gardening so the plants don’t become overwhelmed. Then, mix the potting soil with a bit of water, add it to the container, and repeat this until the container is full to ensure the plants garner enough moisture.

When these ingredients are mixed together, they form a solid texture that helps growing roots. Potting soil offers much better drainage than topsoil, which is extremely important when growing in containers.

To make your own potting soil mix together:

  • 1 part composting material
  • 1 part vermiculite or perlite
  • 1 part peat moss
  • 1 part small gravel
  • ½ part sand
  • ½ part tiny bark chunks

Homemade Potting Soil
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Homemade Potting Soil
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DIY 5-Gallon Bucket Planter

Supplies:

  • Plastic bucket
  • 50 – 50 compost and potting soil mix
  • Plants
  • Small rocks
  • Burlap and twine – optional for wrapping buckets
  • Power drill with a half inch bit

Directions:

  1. Turn each 5-gallon bucket upside down and drill up to five drainage holes in the bottom. Never put too much pressure onto the drill when making the holes as doing so can cause the bucket to crack.
  2. If you want to paint the buckets to make them either more attractive or covert, do so now. I highly recommend scrubbing the outside of the bucket with equal parts ammonia and water to scuff up the plastic finish enough to permit the paint to adhere to it. You can also wrap some burlap around the bucket to give them a decorative look and to add a bit of insulation. Simply tie a piece of twine over top of the burlap and knot if after wrapping the covering around the bucket.
  3. Fill the base of the 5-gallon bucket with a single layer of small rocks to help facilitate proper drainage. The layer of rocks should be about two to three inches deep.
  4. Add a layer of potting soil and water it lightly.
  5. Repeat step four until you are within 1 inch of the rim of the 5-gallon bucket.
  6. Add the desired seeds or plants into the bucket. If planting tomatoes, I highly recommend planting basil at the base not only to enhance flavor but to ward off destructive insects as well.

Repeat each step for all of the 5-gallon buckets you are using to establish your container garden. The video below shows what can be accomplished with a bucket garden.

It is also possible to grow vertically with 5-gallon buckets to increase your crop cultivation space. You can stack buckets on top of each other to grow root crops like potatoes, onions, beets, and carrots as long as you cut wide holes into the sides of the bucket with a power drill. A clothesline style vertical setup can be used to hang two rows of buckets without casting too much shade on the lower containers.

How you choose to lay out your portable garden will depend on both the dimensions of your property and the spaces which offer enough sunlight for the plants to thrive.

Do not crowd the buckets too closely together. Each plant will need proper ventilation in order to reach its full potential. Spacing the buckets at least six inches apart will also make it a little bit harder for insects to traverse from one plant to another.

When purchasing buckets for your container garden, try to find some that have been manufactured to food grade standards. If using an old bucket to grow crops, wash it with warm and soapy water and dry it thoroughly. Next, scrub it inside and out with distilled white vinegar to completely disinfect it. You can rinse out the bucket after cleaning it with vinegar or simply allow it to dry outdoors in the sun.

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