Estimated reading time: 12 minutes
If you’ve been waiting to grow your own vegetables until you have a large backyard, your wait is over. You can successfully grow veggies for your family in containers, and the best part is that those containers do not have to be fancy or expensive. Five-gallon buckets work very well.
In addition to the versatility of being able to harvest vegetables from your deck or patio, bucket gardening also offers versatility. You can move your buckets undercover inside during a frost or heavy rain or wind storm or out into the sunshine on an early spring day. Your container plants also are less susceptible to weeds or damage from pests.
The first step to bucket gardening is choosing a food-grade bucket. Be wary of cast-off buckets that may have stored toxic substances. Chemicals often leech into the plastic, so save these buckets for storing non-food supplies around the homestead.
Check with local restaurants, however, as they may be happy to give you buckets that once stored food items. You also can purchase new food-grade buckets online or from big box stores.
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What To Do Once You Get Your Buckets
After you obtain your buckets, the next step is to prepare them for planting. Drill or punch a few holes in the bottom of the bucket. One hole about every three inches usually will offer adequate drainage.
Next, place about two inches of loose gravel in the bottom of the bucket to assist with drainage. Then fill the buckets with a high-quality potting soil mix that includes peat moss and compost, allowing room for the plants themselves as you determine the amount of soil. You may plant either seeds or starter plants in a five-gallon bucket.
Water your newly-sowed veggies well and then check for the soil’s moisture level for further watering. Container plants often need daily watering during the heat of summer because they can dry out rapidly.
Also, plan to fertilize your plants once or twice a month, depending on the plant and the soil. Weeds tend not to be a big problem with bucket gardening, but you can keep away even the stray weed or two by spreading a thin layer of mulch on top of the soil. This added layer will also help your soil retain moisture.
Here are some of the vegetables that grow well in five-gallon buckets.
Both pole beans (the tall, vining beans) and bush beans (which leaf out, not up) do well in buckets.
If you are planting pole beans, insert trellis or pole supports for the vines into the bucket before you sow the seeds to prevent damage. Bush bean varieties don’t require support, and you can and try three plants per bucket.
These veggies adapt very well to a bucket home. Sow a few seeds every couple of weeks from spring through early July for a continuous harvest. To speed up germination, soak the seeds in warm water for a few hours before you sow them.
Then plant three or four seeds together about an inch deep and about four inches away from other seeds. Water well and harvest the plants when the beets are golf ball-size.
Standard carrots need more depth than a bucket can provide, but certain short varieties will thrive in containers.
Sow seeds about two to three inches apart and place the bucket in a sunny location.
Chili plants like things warm and sunny, but they can adapt to a bucket home that is placed in a sheltered spot that receives direct sunlight.
Bring them indoors if there is any chance of frost.
Bush-type cucumbers are easy to grow in five-gallon buckets. Fill your bucket with a light, rich blend of compost, peat moss, or coconut coir and perlite. Water well.
Add a trellis or a tomato cage to help the cucumber plant grow up, not out. Water thoroughly.
6. Green Onions
Green onions, also known as spring onions or salad onions, do not require deep soil, so they are perfect for bucket gardening.
Sow onions about a half-inch deep into a bucket every few weeks from early spring through fall for a season-long supply. Be careful to keep green onions watered in hot, dry weather.
Some of your favorite kitchen herbs will thrive in a five-gallon bucket. Allow one plant to spread and grow in one bucket.
Here are some easy-to-grow choices: thyme, sage, mint, parsley, rosemary, and oregano. Save tender basil and coriander for your kitchen windowsill.
Most types of lettuce do very well in a five-gallon bucket.
You can plant as many as four heads per bucket, and the containers are a great way to protect the plants from rabbits and other creatures who want to nibble on the tasty leaves.
As you might expect, melons need space to grow, so you should plan on only one melon plant per five-gallon bucket.
Also, it’s a good idea to select dwarf bush varieties such as “Bush Sugar Baby” musk melons and “Bush Jubilee” watermelons that tend to grow well in containers.
An excellent addition to soups and stews, a single okra plant can grow well in a five-gallon bucket. These plants need well-drained soil, so check on those holes to be sure water is adequately draining as you grow your seedling.
You can grow regular onions in buckets, but since these plants need at these three inches of open soil around them to develop properly, you are limited in quantity.
Plan on two to three onions per bucket. Place your bucket where it will receive plenty of light and fertilize regularly.
Five-gallon buckets can be the perfect home for many varieties of peppers.
Here are a few types that adapt particularly well to container gardening: sweet peppers such as Bell-Boy, Sweet Chocolate, and Gypsy and hot pepper varieties such as Red Cherry, Jalapeno and Cubanelle. One plant per bucket is your best bet.
Potatoes in buckets? Yes, you can. Potatoes need depth but not much space. Here are the steps for growing spuds in a five-gallon bucket.
- Pour about four inches of potting soil into the bucket, and then place two small seed potatoes on top of the soil.
- Add more soil or compost over the top of the potatoes to a depth of about 2 inches.
- Sprinkle soil liberally with water and keep soil evenly moist as the plant grows
- Place bucket in a warm, sunny spot.
- Add more soil (or compost) when you see green growth; leave only the tips of the top leaves visible.
- Continue adding soil as you see a few inches of new growth, and keep it up until you run out of room in the bucket.
- Fertilize weekly with a low-nitrogen fertilizer.
Here’s why potatoes are my favorite food to grow.
You can plant about 10 radish plants per five-gallon bucket. Sow the seeds about one inch deep and about an inch apart. They should be ready to harvest in a little over a month.
Re-sow for a continuous supply of these easy-to-grow peppery veggies that are great in summer salads.
15. Swiss Chard
Swiss chard is not only tasty in stews and salad dishes, it is also an attractive container plant.
Sow Swiss chard seeds about one inch deep and thin out the seedlings as needed. Harvest regularly, cutting away the outer leaves first.
Tomatoes do very well in containers with cherry or bush tomato plants being your best bets. Tomato plants require even watering and are very susceptible to frost. Fertilize with high-potash fertilizer designed for tomatoes for better yield.
Support plants with stakes or a cage as they grow. Water thoroughly but do not allow water to puddle. Too much watering can cause tomatoes to crack and split.
Zucchini plants also like their space, so for container gardening, look for compact zucchini varieties such as Eight Ball, Geode, Jackpot hybrid or Raven, for best results.
Here are some steps to follow for a sizeable zucchini harvest from your bucket.
- Plant about five zucchini seeds in the middle of the bucket, covering them with about an inch and a half of soil.
- Water well. After that, keep the soil moist but not soggy.
- After the seeds germinate, cut away the smaller, weaker seedlings, leaving the two largest seedlings.
- When these seedlings reach about eight inches, cut away the weakest one.
- Harvest zucchinis when they are about six inches long (depending on the variety).
While five-gallon buckets are utilitarian and inexpensive, you may be put off by the look of them on your deck or patio. If you’d like your container garden to be a little more aesthetically pleasing, you can spruce up your buckets before planting. One idea is to cover them with decorative burlap.
After you have drilled the holes in the bottom of the bucket, but before you have added the soil, cut a section of burlap that is slightly wider and longer than the bucket’s circumference. Then fold and wrap the burlap around the bucket, tucking in any loose edges as you go. Secure the burlap by tying pieces of jute or twine around the fabric– one near the top and one close to the bottom.
Another idea is to group your five-gallon vegetable buckets with buckets that are filled with colorful perennial or annual flowers. Marigolds serve double duty by looking pretty and helping keep away some pests.
You could also paint the exterior of your buckets using a spray or liquid paint formulated for use on plastics. Clean the exterior of the buckets thoroughly before painting and allow the paint to dry before adding the soil and planting.
Five-gallon buckets have so many uses around your homestead. You can use them for storing, carrying, mixing, and scooping all sorts of things. When you use food-grade buckets for gardening, you not only have inexpensive and sturdy containers, you also keep one more thing out of the landfills.
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Please advise what diameter the five holes in the bottom of a five gallon bucket should be.
drill about four or five 1/2″ holes in the bottom of the five gallon bucket. I space my holes out with one in the center and four around in a square so it looks like the “five” on a dice.
Claudia Campbell says
Lots of good ideas here. However, growing a bucket full of potatoes this way only works with late potatoes. I’ve tried it here in zone 3 several times with early potatoes, that’s all we can grow, and it never works. All you get is a few potatoes on the bottom and a bucket full of dirt. Haven’t tried layering seed potatoes in a laundry basket yet. Don’t forget the drainage holes on the bottom. The idea is to plant 1st layer as stated, guide the green plant thru the side holes, then add more dirt if needed, another layer of seed potatoes and dirt and repeat until your basket is full. This way, even early potatoes should produce a basket full of potatoes. Won’t save on seed potatoes, but should increase yield in limited space.
Time of the year to think about spring planting. By getting a head start you will be ready to plant and harvest when the times come.
Diana Davies says
An easy way to make holes in plastic buckets is to heat a skewer over a fire, or gas stove flame, and push it into the plastic where you want your hole. My skewer is flat, so I poke it through and turn it.you can pile up the buckets and do 2or 3 at a time this way.