Thursday, August 12, 2010

Window Box Gardening

My dream is to live a self sustainable lifestyle on a homestead one day, growing all my own food and being self sufficient and maybe even completely "off the grid". One factor that might put a damper in my plans is that I have a horribly brown thumb. I've killed more plants than you can imagine. I'm a very forgetful person (tied to my ADD type nature) and watering plants never was high enough up on my to-do list for me to actually remember.
I've decided to conquer my brown thumb one vegetable at a time.
What a better time to do so than right after we moved from a home with a yard to a home with only a tiny shared porch. Not.
But not to worry- I've got my heart set on becoming a master gardener, even without a yard, and even with all my forgetfulness.

Project Green Thumb is officially underway.

Before Starting Container Gardening

Prior to starting any serious project, especially one that entails monetary investment, it pays to do some research as to what methods will work best for you, what tricks will save you the most money, and finding out where to go to get the best bang for your buck.
I've written before how to be a frugal gardener, partially based on my past mistakes and partially based on some neat ideas I had read on the internet.

We had a garden in our old place. We grew passion fruit and loofah plants and cherry tomatoes and swiss chard and a few types of flowers. We also raised chickens for eggs (which they gave only very reluctantly) and rabbits for enjoyment (and hopeful profit). Needless to say, the chickens and rabbits did not stay in their cages, despite our best efforts, and our garden, alas, did not survive.
In the old place, I often forgot to water the plants and they'd start shriveling up sometimes. Then we'd water them with sink water and bath water and who knows what else water and soak up the soil, only to forget about watering until the ground was again parched and cracked. (Where we live, it does not rain in the summer, so whatever water we give is what the plants get, no more, no less.)

When I read about Ollas, they seemed like the perfect solution to my watering issues. Ollas keep the ground around them constantly moist without flooding the area. Other irrigation solutions line drip lines on timers also can do the same, but their biggest drawback is that they can't be used with recycled water, unless you have a professional grey water system built into your home.
Ollas are unglazed pottery pieces buried into the ground, with just the small opening peeping out of the ground. The water seeps through the sides into the pieces, giving water to the plants at a slow and steady pace. The bottom of the olla should be wider than the top, preventing excess evaporation.
I decided that no matter when or where or how I would garden, ollas would be my irrigation method.

In my home, I have a few surfaces available on which to grow plants. Three outdoor window sills and one low ledge on my porch. These areas are long and narrow, allowing me to only plant using window box sized planters.

I decided to head into town to buy planters, soil mix (makes me cringe, but we no longer have a compost heap to provide our own compost, and have no land from which to dig up dirt), and look for some ollas. I found the plater boxes easily, but neither of the gardening stores had ollas.
I found approximately what I was looking for in a pet fish store (I knew to look there because my husband was in that profession before the store went out of business with the down turn in the economy, and knew that unglazed pottery was often used in fish tanks). I only bought two pieces of pottery because I wasn't absolutely sure that the type I found would work, and they were also more expensive than I had wanted. If these work out, I'm going to try to hunt down a cheaper source to get more.

Our Container Garden

Our equipment. Back row- millions of packets of many different types of vegetables from my over zealous last failed gardening attempt. Medium row- four window box planters and soil mix. Front row- smaller planters and my ollas, more on that soon.

Today, my son and I got together our gardening stuff, put on our thinking caps and set to work. What would we be planting, where, and how?

We knew we'd be using our ollas and burying them in the planters.


Because the pottery I found had too wide of a neck, I bought little terra cotta pots to put inside the opening to stop the water from evaporating. 

Together with our our favorite neighbor (remember the one who taught me how to make couscous), Lee and I filled the planters with soil, burying our ollas while doing so.

It was then time to figure out what we wanted to plant and where exactly we'd put all the window boxes.
We had a plethora of seeds to chose from, but I was able to narrow down our search. Plants needing full shade wouldn't be happening, because we had sun, sun, and more sun to chose from. That made things like celery out.
Things that were wide bushes or simply needed a ton of room were eliminated, as those would most likely not work in our narrow window boxes. This knocked things like artichoke out of the equation.
Root vegetables were also out, because our planters are probably not deep enough. No home grown carrots, beets, or radishes for us, it seems.
Cold weather crops are out of the question, being as our temperatures are remaining somewhere around 95 on a regular basis. So that means peas are out, as are spinach.

Even once we cut all these types of plants out of the picture, I still had way too many to chose from. Because my space to grow things is limited, I decided to grow plants that are expensive to buy. If I can get cucumbers, eggplant and cabbage at 10 cents a pound on any given week (so long as I go shopping on Tuesdays only at my local store), it doesn't pay for me to grow those when I could be saving myself money buy growing more expensive produce.

In the end, we decided to grow:
String beans
Red Peppers
and Tomatoes.

I can get tomatoes cheaply, but tomatoes are so proliferous and home grown stuff are so much tastier than the store bought stuff that I felt that even if I flopped everything else, hopefully our tomatoes will work out for us.

As a fun, cheap project to go along with our garden, we hunted the area for wide, flat rocks and decorated them with paint. I then labeled them with the names of the different vegetables so we know what is growing where.

On our kitchen window sill, we're attempting to grow tomatoes. The proximity to the sink will make it very easy to water it with the dish washing water.

On the window ledge near our bed, we're attempting to grow the okra. (Yes, that's Spike's hand. With the windows opened for better viewing for the pic, playing with the dirt was so tempting that he couldn't resist giving it a poke.)

On the ledge of our porch, right near our washing lines, we've got the planters with the zucchini and string bean plants.

Because this area has the least shade, I decided to try out my two ollas in these planters, as they're the most likely to dry out quickly.

You might be wondering how we plan on growing something like zucchini vines and string bean plants in our planters, and I'll admit, I'm taking a gamble. I'm a little more confident with the string beans, and assume they won't have any issue growing up the porch railings for support.
The zucchini vine is a bit more risky. In the Square Foot Gardening book I read, it talked about growing vine plants in smaller spaces and tying the vines to poles and having them upward, instead of across the ground. If the zucchini will grow in a planter as narrow as this, I plan on tying it up to railings and then down the stair banister. Hopefully it will work...

I didn't get a chance to take a pictures of the pepper plants or the plants (undecided as of now) that I will probably be growing in my smaller pots.

Wish me luck that I manage to actually grow these plants without killing them! In order to remember to water them, I plan on putting a reminder timer on my computer so I never forget and neglect these plants.
Hopefully, I'll be able to change my brown thumb to a green thumb, becoming the perfect farmer on the way to a homestead.

P.S. As I was planting today, my landlord (who lives downstairs) saw me. She has a yard all filled with junk and nonsense and told me that if I wanted to clean up her yard, I could feel free to grow a larger vegetable garden inside her yard. Tempting offer, seriously!
Once I have a bit of success here, maybe I will end up having a real, large, non container garden.

Do any of you have container gardens? What do you grow in yours? 
Do you have a garden in your yard? How much of your food are you able to grow that way?
Any success stories with changing a brown thumb to a green thumb? 
Lets talk gardening!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Share This