Not enough room in your yard for a vegetable garden? Five-gallon plastic buckets can provide a convenient, practical and inexpensive solution.  Although Rachel finds them less than pleasing to look at, they’re extremely easy to work with. Turn your balcony, porch or patio into a highly productive garden with an industrial chic motif. 

You can purchase five-gallon buckets from any big-box or hardware store for about $3. Prepare your bucket by drilling at least a dozen quarter-inch holes in the bottom. Proper drainage is critical. If the bucket doesn’t drain freely, the roots will rot and the plants will die. Rest your bucket on gravel or pavers so the bottom drains without obstruction. Spray paint your bucket if you want to make it look more attractive. Stick with light colors to keep the plastic from overheating in the sun. Place a brick in the bottom for stability.  Fill with any commercial potting mix or blend your own using equal parts (by volume) composted cow manure, vermiculite and peat moss. Don’t use topsoil or dirt from your yard.  After a few waterings, dirt becomes compacted and impenetrable, depriving roots of air and water.          

Not all vegetables do equally well in five-gallon buckets. The limited space doesn’t allow the roots to penetrate as deeply. You’ll need to water daily and fertilize every other week or so. You can expect to achieve good results, but probably not as good as vegetables planted in the ground or in a bigger container. Don’t let this discourage you. That’s the trade-off. Just grow two plants instead of one. 

Overcrowding your bucket will also result in poor production. Best results are achieved from fewer, smaller plants. Here are a few suggestions that work well in our garden. Rachel loves cooking with eggplant. Grow one plant per bucket. Small tomato cages help keep the fruit off of the ground. We’ve grown cucumbers in buckets for years. A four-foot trellis or teepee allows them to hang and grow straight. Cukes tend to curl when they sprawl on the ground. Ambrosia cantaloupe is the sweetest, most flavorful melon I‘ve ever tasted. Rachel and I grow this exotic fruit every year and have never been disappointed. We manage to grow two per bucket and never seem to have enough. You can let them sprawl on the ground or support them on a trellis as well. Another of our favorite treats is grilled jalapeno peppers stuffed with cheddar and cream cheese, wrapped in bacon. Plant no more than two peppers per bucket. Cherry tomatoes are particularly well-suited for bucket gardening. They go great on kebabs and they’re perfect for snacking while tending to the rest of the garden. Use a small cage for support. We’ve grown numerous heirloom and hybrid varieties as well. Good tomatoes require a nutrient-rich soil and consistent watering. Use mulch to minimize water loss through evaporation and to suppress weeds. We like to use fish emulsion once a week. Don’t skimp when it comes to propping up your tomato vines. When laden with fruit, they can get very heavy. Use the sturdiest tomato cages that you can find or make your own. The high winds of a thunderstorm can topple and snap an inadequately supported vine. Unfortunately, we know this from experience.      

Limited space? No worries. Give bucket gardening a try. 

Rachel and Ivan Minnis are avid gardeners. They live in Leavenworth. For more information, visit The Minnis Rose Garden on Facebook. Contact them at rnlyes@hotmail.com