27 May 2009

Container (Barrel) Gardening

This year I decided to go with container gardens for growing some of our 'food' crop in. With certain health issues I'm facing and the fact that we don't own a tiller, it was just easier for me to handle and still have some of the fun of growing fresh herbs, raspberries, strawberries and a few veggies to enjoy without so much work! Also there are just two of us now--not counting our drop in children and other family!!
I had done some container gardening before but it had been a long time since I had used wine barrel halves and I wanted to experiment a bit too with some plants. So far I am pleased with the results but the experiment won't end till the harvest is in!
First step: I purchased 3 authentic wine barrels from France. OK, actually I got them locally but originally they were from France -- it says so right on the bottom:) Second step: my wonderful, sweet and very patient hubby drilled 5 holes in the bottom of the barrels with some help from his 'lovely' assistant--me. These, as I am sure you have guessed, are for drainage. No one wants floating plants...well unless you are going with an aquatic garden which some people use these barrels for. But we have the ponds for that ...

Third step: at that same wonderful, sweet and very long suffering hubby's suggestion, I used some gutter (?) screening to cover the hole instead of the window screening suggested by one site. It did the job and was easier then cutting a big circle of the fiberglass window screening I had bought; besides we need to replace the screen on a sliding patio door (sorry no photo as I had both hands busy)Fourth step: together we filled the barrels with planting mix; it took about 3 cubic feet for each one. I so love the feel and the smell of planting mix!!! And there are no weeds in it, it is formulated just perfectly for this type of gardening and --- it is just so earthy and nice. BTW--we did not feel the barrels all the way to the top; the soil line is several inches from the top.

Barrel before we added more soil.
Fifth step: planted the veggies, fruit and herbs. Watered the plants and-of course-too photos of our new baby garden:)
'Bright Lights' Swiss Chard & 'Red Fire' Leaf Lettuce.
This year's garden list (in addition to our fruit trees, grapes, kiwi, blueberries, gooseberries, Waldo & Marionberries, rhubarb, lingonberries & evergreen huckleberries):
Herbs: Sweet basil, lemon thyme, cilantro, variegated sage, lemon balm, Greek oregano, sweet marjoram, rosemary 'Severn Sea' and pineapple sage. Note: some of these like a drier environment and I will have to move them in awhile but had to clean some smaller pots first. I also have some other herbs in a smaller container that still need transplanting to a bigger container (will try to post a photo later; need to make some alterations to this barrel garden)
Raspberries: 'Anne' -- a yellow fall bearing raspberry. Yum, love raspberries. This will be tied to a trellis--maybe a bamboo one. I love bamboo too!
Veggies: 'Bright Lights' Swiss chard (1), 'Red Fire' leaf lettuce (6). I may also try baby carrots---am into the whole baby thing right now. BTW---I SO wish I'd taken a photo of the roots of the Bright Lights Swiss chard. They were beautiful--not brown but multicolored like the top of the plant!
Strawberries: still awaiting a permanent home are three strawberry plants. 'Albion', 'Totem' and ???? Right now they are decorating my outdoor table and front porch.
Tomato: a small yellow one (in a 14 inch deep pot right now not a barrel; used a tomato cage to contain the plant so it wouldn't sprawl) (no photo yet)

Still to buy: lavender (probably 'Munstead') and mints (would like Orange mint, a GOOD peppermint--I have only found one and may transplant some of that) and maybe 'Hillary's Sweet Lemon Mint'--if I can find it). All of these will go into containers -- although we let our mints spread in the garden--I want some on the deck just to nuzzle up to. Yea, I love my mints that much:). I will probably buy a few more herbs too--would love to try chervil and maybe dill. We will see---my hubby says no more wine barrels on the deck; this despite the fact that he builds everything to surpass building codes! I am thinking the area near the deck will do nicely for two or three more barrels.
  • As I have read in a few places, and as common sense would dictate, please make sure your deck or balcony can support the weight of a filled barrel (or barrels) without causing damage. These things, as my toe sadly found out, are heavy-heavy-heavy...and that was an empty barrel. Ouch. I checked with my hubby to make sure they would be fine on our deck.
  • If you are going to move the container later make sure you allow for that; ours are meant to stay where they are so no caddy or casters on them.
  • Make sure your container plants will coexist nicely--in terms of sun exposure, soil, water needs, possible diseases, etc. Some of my herbs will have to be moved in time and I wouldn't plant my tomatoes with my strawberries.
  • The oak of these barrels is thick and hard. Have a good drill and drill bit handy (we used a Makita and a 1 inch drill bit for wood)
  • Shop around. I called three different places and saved quite a bit of money by doing that. While you are at it--do the same for planting mix.
  • Method should work for many urban and rural gardeners like me. Good for many veggies and other plants; check your root depth (many are less then 12 inches).
  • One of the reasons I chose the current location for these barrels was its great location: close proximity to a water source, close to our grill, outdoor table and the home.
  • As I have said before --- I am not an expert on any subject, just a fellow garden lover:) Research and draw your own conclusions. Half the fun is in the dreaming and the other half is in making that dream come true!
Resources that might help: 'Sunset Western Garden Book', Sunset Publishing Corporation (I use this reference book frequently); 'The American Horticultural Society Illustrated Encyclopedia of Gardening: Container Gardening' (for root depth & more), American Horticultural Society (bought this at a Flea Market for a few dollars; well worth the investment) and several links on the web including this one here from AZ. There are plenty more -- just use the term 'barrel gardening' or 'container gardening'. I also checked a good herb book (I used the Ortho 'All About Herbs') and several other books. BTW---thrift stores, flea markets, garage sales are great places to find gardening books for very low cost. That is where some of mine are from:) Please note the above are just suggestions not endorsements; like I said I have many gardening, homesteading type books and there is always the Internet! Oh and your local Extension agent and plant nurseries, farmer friends, etc, etc.
Blessings always,

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