Gardening With Free Buckets

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About: Building design/consulting in SE Minnesota. Resource based problem solver... in other words, I always take a minute to peek in construction dumpsters :) ---the way some have to workout everyday... i have to...

My garden is largely shaped by reused plastic. Here's how to incorporate the lightweight Trader Joe's buckets that are always free from the floral department.

In this instructable we'll prepare the buckets and make two types of planters:

  • First - shallow buckets for squash
  • Second - deep buckets for nightshade plants (tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos)

---see the updated cover photo with a baby tomatillo!!

Step 1: Tools and Materials

Very Simple. All you need are the lightweight buckets from Trader Joe's. If you don't have access to a Trader Joe's another great option are the heavier duty buckets from a local bakery. These are also always free at Costco.

Cutting Tool. My go to is a Japanese saw. The small sharp teeth cut right through plastic. I like models with the replaceable blade.. but I've never in 10 years actually replaced mine.

Compost. Always a good idea to amend soil with compost. I simply shovel a few scoops from the deep bedding from our chicken coop. Each time I scoop soil the girls mix everything around and leave a fresh batch a few days later. It's taken a year to get to this position but it's very satisfying.

Learn how to build our A-Frame Chicken Coop in an instructable from last season.

Step 2: Bucket Prep

Yes, it is very simple. All I do is cut a few inches from the bottom. Easiest if you have a few buckets together for added rigidity. The last few passes are always the most difficult but I've never felt the need to reach for a disc grinder or mechanical saw.

Step 3: Shallow Bucket: Prep

Clearing the soil. I find this easiest in the early part of spring before the grass and weeds have really taken root. If your ground cover is more advanced you may need to reach for a shovel.

My go to tool is the swan neck warren hoe. There are a few good examples online but I found mine at an estate sale.

Step 4: Shallow Bucket: Setup

Here I am setting the bucket so that the rim is about 4 inches above the soil and at least 2 inches below (ideally 4). This prevents grass/weeds from growing and still provides an angle for sun to reach the soil. The lip also helps keep mulch in place.

Step 5: Shallow Bucket: Planting/Covering

Planting. My approach is to label each seed with a disposable cup. Of course I reuse them. These were discarded after grapes were provided as samples at a local grocery.

Covering. The bottom of the bucket is easy to use as a cover. This keeps the ever present weeds from growing. The black color helps heat the soil while maintaining a humid environment for germinating plants.

Step 6: Shallow Bucket: Sprouts

Sprouts. It's always exciting to see little sprouts come to the surface. In these buckets I planted a few types of squash and melons. This method is perfect for them because they need lots of space and can shade out any of the surrounding grass with their large leaves.

Squash & Melons. Bush varieties will funnel water back into the ring of the bucket for their use. The sprawling vine varieties will simply plant roots as they cover the surrounding grass. All of these planter are on the boulevard between the sidewalk and our neighborhood street.

Step 7: Deep Buckets: Prep

Here you can see that the rim of the buckets are about 12 inches above the ground. The location I picked for these tomato plants sits behind a wall and is just getting full sun. As the plants grow they will climb up a neighboring tree and over the 4' fence.

Loose, Amended Soil: First loosen the soil below the buckets. In this case I used my shovel to breakup the tough clay soil. I added compost to the soil in a wheel barrel before adding it below the buckets. From there it was easy to fill the buckets.

Step 8: Deep Bucket: Planting

Plants like tomatoes will grow roots all along their stems. This is a great feature of some vine plants. I tend to plant the tomatoes lower in the buckets and allow room for soil to be added that can encourage new root growth as the plant gets larger.

Additional Buckets. As you can see in the third and fourth photo an additional level of buckets can be added. Here I am using the additional level to shade the transplanted tomatoes. I've pulled them from my lean to greenhouse after starting them in the window greenhouse (see previous instructables). Added shade isn't necessary on a cloudy day but it helps to keep the sun off of transplants until they set their roots.

Plastic Domes. No photo for this part but a milk jug cut in half is a fantastic way to give the transplants a slightly warmer environment on cold nights... I've heard to assume 15 degrees per layer of plastic... I round down to 10.

Step 9: Enjoy!

Hope this instructable has helped to remove some hurdles from gardening!

I find the garden a fantastic way to explore and reuse materials. Honestly, I don't know how people gardened without plastic... if anyone has any issues with plastic I'd be interested to hear feedback... that said, for me there is only one R - Reuse!

Thanks, Jeff

Here are the other recent instructables I've submitted for the gardening competition:

You can follow the garden on these instagram feeds @coastfree or @kutzkycoops.

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