I’m moving from my deck container garden to a raised garden beds using the square foot gardening technique. I’ve had raised bed gardens in the past but used garden soil from a local organic gardener. I haven’t used these raised bed gardens in almost 5 years so I’m going to replace the top six inches with the specified square foot gardening soil mixture. The square foot gardening book was quite specific about the soil mixture and depth so I’m going to follow that approach to implementing my raised garden beds exactly.
Cleaning the Old Raised Garden Beds
I removed the years of weeds and top six inches of garden soil from my raised garden beds and saved the soil in a pile on the side. This is different and yet similar to the approach I used in my containers for my deck garden. This raised bed garden still has another six inches of soil and then six inches of river rocks and a drain pipe to help with drainage so that the soil does not get too moist. My raised bed gardens also have a water hose run to them and I will install my rain drip irrigation system when I’m finished.
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A New Soil Mixture for the Raised Garden Beds
The soil mixture specified in square foot gardening was very specific – especially with respect to the compost variety for us in the raised garden beds. This is very different from my traditional approach using garden soil for my garden containers. I had to go to several stores to find all of the materials and the large amount of vermiculite was the toughest and most expensive to acquire. I also sacrificed an inexpensive tarp, as instructed in square foot gardening, for a place to perform my mixing of the 3 soil components instead of mixing it directly in the raised bed garden.
Thoroughly Mixing the New Soil for the Raised Bed Garden
The compact packaging of the soil components expanded dramatically when I emptied them to prepare the soil mixture for the raised garden beds. Using the tarp helped a lot to preserve and use all of the square foot garden soil mixture in the raised bed garden. The mixture was surprisingly light as it consists of only peat moss, compost and vermiculite. It appeared very much like exactly what is in the little pots when you purchase plants from a nursery. It was a calm day and with a little water sprayed on the mixture, it was easy enough to mix thoroughly.
Revitalized Raised Garden Beds Ready to Plant
I filled the top six inches of my raised garden beds with the square foot soil mixture. I then added small divider rows to clearly mark out each square foot in my four foot by eight foot raised bed garden. I also went ahead and put in some support structures so that the taller plants in the middle of the raised bed vegetable garden will have something immediately to begin growing upwards on. Now we’re ready to plant seeds and young plants in the raised bed gardens.
Summary of Raised Garden Beds and Square Foot Gardening
Raised garden beds are ideal for implementing square foot garden techniques. I cleared the top six inches of old garden soil first. Then, I carefully mixed the specified square foot garden soil mixture on a tarp outside of the raised bed garden to insure that I got a thorough mixture. I refilled the raised bed vegetable garden with the new soil mixture, put in square foot marking grids and growth support structures for the tall and vine plants. Next, we’ll plant the seeds and young plants in the raised garden beds.
Starting a container vegetable garden is simple but it is not easy. I’m going to tell my story using photos of my container garden. There are a number of tips and tricks that you can easily find in a wide variety of books, but nothing compares to tried and true experience. I’m going to walk through the high points of what I’ve learned while starting a container vegetable garden over the past few years. We will cover
starting a container vegetable garden
potting soil for container gardens
container garden on your deck
drip irrigation for container plants
full sun container gardens
partial sun container gardens
By the end, you’ll have a clear picture of the basics of what you need to consider starting a container vegetable garden on your own.
Potting Soil for your Container Vegetable Garden
Potting soil is one of the most critical elements of starting a container vegetable garden. There are a wide variety of potting soils for a container vegetable garden available. When I priced potting soil at the garden centers I was stunned at the high prices! That may work for small planter boxes with flowers but certainly wasn’t an economic solution for starting a container vegetable garden for me. Instead, I chose to call a local gardener who also specializes in garden soil mixes. He delivered a truck load to my back yard for $25. This picture is actually the remainder from last year’s planting so a truck load of potting soil for your container garden will easily last for at least two years, maybe longer.
Plant Containers and Planter Boxes for Starting a Container Vegetable Garden
I found that Tupperware 18 gallon containers worked sufficiently for starting a container vegetable garden. I placed about six inches of empty plastic bottle in the bottom to take up space and make it lighter to carry up the steps to my deck. These plant containers worked fine for the container vegetable garden for the first year and only showed a few minor cracks in the second year. I also took care to drill approximately 8 holes of 3/8 inch diameter in the bottom of each planter box to allow drainage. To support that drainage, and make it easier to bend over and see the plants, I placed each plant container of the container vegetable garden on top of two cinder blocks.
Starting A Container Vegetable Garden on a Deck
I chose starting a container vegetable garden on my deck. As you can see from the photo at the top of this post, I used to have a raised bed garden out in the yard but it failed due to lack of care. It was just far enough away from the house that I would not take the time to visit it every day and tend it. My deck container vegetable garden is right outside my backdoor and very easy to see, monitor and tend. I also have two dogs and two cats who frequent the deck and they don’t seem to either mind or bother the setup. I believe that ease and convenience are two of the critical aspects and benefits of starting a container vegetable garden.
Starting a Container Vegetable Garden Planting
I over planted my plant containers last year while starting a container vegetable garden with as many as four tomato plants and two dozen cucumber plants. I learned that density was too much for the plants to thrive. This year, I planted only one tomato plant in each container and only six cucumber plants in each container vegetable garden. The plants did much better without the extra competition and actually produced more fruit and vegetables than the more crowded situation.
Starting a Container Vegetable Garden Drip Irrigation System
Another critical aspect of the success of starting a container vegetable garden is an easy, systematic way to tend it. I rely on drip irrigation – a simple system that can stand the test of time. I also advocate simple, incremental testing as an approach to learning. When starting a container vegetable garden, I simply used two hose bib adapters so that I could draw water for the drip irrigation system and still have a connection for my regular hose and the dog watering bowl. This system worked adequately but was plagued with continuing problems of leaks and adequate pressure management.
Drip Irrigation for Container Gardens – the All-Important Timer
A container vegetable garden does not need water all the time. My ideal watering times are 6AM and 6PM for five minutes each when starting a container vegetable garden until the plants reach maturity and then 8 minutes each thereafter. A timer for the drip irrigation system makes this possible and very easy to do. It also has a mode that you can immediately turn it on and off if needed. It runs on a simple 9 volt battery and has worked well for two years.
Fertilizing and Drip Irrigation and Starting a Container Vegetable Garden
Fertilizing a deck container garden can be a challenge. The containers are small and the nutrients available to the plants are very limited by the small amount of soil. Adequate fertilizing is critical for success. But, I didn’t want to have to manually fertilize the plants on a regular basis – that violates my principle of simple and easy. I found a very useful fertilizer injection system and it connects directly into the drip irrigation lines and has a controllable flow. This system worked well into it’s second year. There are a wide variety of drip irrigation fertilizer systems available.
Improved Methods for Drip Irrigation Systems
After a year using the initial hose bib adapters and having trouble with leaks and pressure management, I hired a plumber to build a proper hose bib configuration. This approach has eliminated my problems with leaks but even more, allows me to manage the water pressure to each outlet very easily. I was disappointed that the plumber didn’t accommodate spacing needed for my timer and thus needed to get a short extension hose to connect the timer to the hose bib. I will take some time this winter to build a proper mount for the timer to get it off of the deck.
Protecting Your Container Vegetable Garden
Texas Summer heat is ferocious and the plants suffer mightily. I’ve tried a number of different approaches to mitigate the heat transferred from the deck to the planter boxes. One approach was building individual sun shades for each planter box. This did work and lowered the temperature by 3 degrees but ti still runs approximately 10 degrees or more hotter than the ground temperature. AN added benefit to this approach it that it drastically improves the view of the deck container garden. These simple shades look much nicer than the blue Tupperware containers. I recommend you consider this when starting a container vegetable garden.
Planter Boxes, Soil Temperatures and Full Sun Container Gardens on a Deck
I start with a full sun container garden and then modify from there. The planter box shades installed provide two benefits – lowering the temperature and improving the view. I also recommend, if you live in an area with high heat, that you buy and use a soil thermometer. I made a huge mistake last year thinking that the plant’s poor performance was due to water volume or fertilizer. I finally got an Ag Extension Agent to visit and she identified the problem within about 5 minutes – the soil was too hot. In Texas, this is something that has to be managed on an ongoing basis. I find that the plants do best in a full sun container garden until they reach maturity and then benefit from some shade and coolness as they begin to produce fruit.
Helping Your Container Vegetable Garden Thrive
One of the challenges with tall plants in a container garden is supporting their growth in height. Not all of my plants need this support but certainly the tomatoes and cucumbers. I also tried a patio variety tomato plant and it never required any additional support. It’s stalk and stems were thick enough to support it’s growth. The only challenge I encountered with the patio variety tomato plans was that the fruits got so heavy that they eventually bent and broke the stalks. I solved this problem by using stakes instead of cages. For the cages, I found a hog panel at Tractor Supply and then used hose clamps and some inexpensive conduit. These plant cages have worked well for two years. They have adequate wiring to easily support and train the plants and the holes between the wires are large enough for me to reach my hand through.
Partial Sun Container Gardens and Summer Heat When Starting a Container Vegetable Garden
As the plants reach maturity and the Texas Summer sun beats down on the deck, I add an inexpensive deck shade to convert to a partial sun container garden. While it doesn’t provide complete protection, it does offer some and it also provides some additional shade for the dogs – who *really* own the deck. I continue to use a soil thermometer to monitor and manage the soil temperatures as I move forward with the partial sun container vegetable garden.
Summary for Starting a Container Vegetable Garden
Starting a deck container vegetable garden is simple but it is not easy. I enjoy experimenting and learning and treat my garden like an ongoing learning lesson. I doubt starting a container vegetable garden will out produce the local farmer’s market for you but the joy and pleasure of walking out your back door to make your own salad or vegetable side dish for supper is truly magnificent. The biggest benefit is that the taste and texture of the fruit and vegetables that you produce on your own will far exceed that you’d get from the local market. Take some time, do some research, prepare to learn, take lots of photos of you container vegetable garden and enjoy starting a container vegetable garden!
Soil Temperature Problems Start Arising in the Deck Container Gardens…
I asked the County Extension Agent to visit one day and help me find out what might be holding back the growth of my plants in the deck container gardens. The typical summer temperatures in Texas in the Summer range from 80 in the morning to well over 100 in the afternoon. The County Extension Agent thought that the soil temperature may be too hot from the reflected sunlight heating up the sides of the deck containers.
I purchased a soil thermometer from Amazon to test the soil temperature in the deck container gardens.
I measured the temperature of the soil in the deck container gardens and the temperature at 6PM was 104 degrees.
I measured the temperature of the soil in the raised deck container gardens and the temperature at 6PM was 82 degrees.
It is clear that I need some way to shade or cool the soil for the deck container gardens to be successful.