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HOME GROWN: Essential points to container gardening

Suzanne Griffith

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Recently I received an email from a reader enquiring on how to start kitchen gardening in split blue drums. Readily available locally, often at little or no cost, these containers make an excellent choice for an initial foray into kitchen gardening.I’m always encouraged when I hear of persons seeking to take the plunge into kitchen gardening; it is even more heartening to know that they are considering doing so using recycled containers. There are, however, several essential points to consider when creating a container garden in any recycled container; the following however will focus on the blue containers queried in the reader’s email. First and foremost, for your own safety, ensure that the containers you intend to use have previously, and only, contained food grade contents. To be on the safe side it should always be assumed that the previous contents of the drum have been absorbed into the plastic, or remain as surface residue, and could again potentially allow harmful chemicals to leech back into the soil, ultimately making their way to your plantings. The same applies to any recycled container you might consider using. As a rule of thumb, if you wouldn’t consider consuming the former contents of the container, avoid planting in it.Once you have established that your drums are appropriate for planting be sure to create adequate drainage holes in the bottom. Drilling multiple, evenly-spaced quarter-inch to half-inch holes in the bottom of the drum ensures that water will not become trapped in the drum ultimately causing plant roots to rot. Soil loss through the drainage holes can be prevented by putting down a layer screen netting over the bottom of the drum. To further facilitate drainage, place a two-to-three inch layer of marl in the bottom of the drum. When blue plastic drums are split lengthwise some of their inherent stability and strength is lost. For that reason avoid filling your drums with a heavy soil mix which will likely not only cause the sides of the drums to splay, or bend outward, but can also become bulky and unworkable over time. There are two options for lightening the load in your drum, either choose to fill the drum with a lightweight potting mix, or a mixture of half soil mix and half organic compost. When choosing the latter, continuous amendments of organic compost are critical to maintaining the workability of the soil. • [email protected]