Written by Dale Richardson - Updated: June 23, 2023
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5-gallon buckets are becoming a very popular container to enhance a garden. They have many benefits and really make the most of a small space. Let's look at how to grow vegetables in 5-gallon buckets.
5-gallon buckets provide good soil depth, allowing you to grow a variety of vegetables. They are conveniently compact and portable so they can be brought indoors to extend your season. Choose a bucket that is food safe and drill drainage holes in the bottom. Fill it with a mix of good compost and quality soil. Plant your vegetables according to the package instructions and you are ready to go.
Whether you want containers to supplement your garden plot, or if you want to grow vegetables inside, 5-gallon buckets are an excellent choice for cheap DIY pots. Let's take a look at how to grow a variety of vegetables in buckets for a bountiful harvest.
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5-gallon buckets have a number of benefits for growing vegetables. One of the best qualities is that they are very tall, which means you can provide a good soil depth for the roots of your plants. This gives you a lot of flexibility over which vegetables you can grow (see below). They are also small and compact, which means they can be squeezed into small spaces.
Another prominent feature of the 5-gallon bucket is that they are very easy to move around. When the weather turns cool, or an early frost threatens your harvest, you can bring the plants inside until the weather improves. This is a simple method of season extension and is very popular with tomato growers. (If you bring your buckets indoors, make sure to put a tray underneath to catch any water that might drain out since we are going to drill holes in the bottom of the bucket).
5-gallon pails are cheap, and they are readily available at most hardware or home improvement stores. Alternatively, ask at local restaurants, grocery stores, or ice cream parlours and you can sometimes get them for free.
Not pretty enough for your garden? 5-gallon buckets can be painted or decorated to create a nice aesthetic in the garden. This is a good DIY project and a great way to get kids involved. You can also build very attractive boxes that conceal the pails . You have the benefits of 5-gallon buckets and an attractive planter at the same time.
The most important part of choosing a bucket is to make sure it is food safe. To tell if a bucket is food grade, look on the bottom for a recycle symbol (three arrows in a triangle) with a number inside. Numbers #1, #2, #4, #5 are food safe. Food safe plastic is also sometimes represented by a cup-and-fork symbol. Plastic that is not rated for use with food can leach toxic chemicals into your soil and potentially contaminate your produce.
Not all 5-gallon buckets, food-safe or otherwise, are created equal. Some of the more durable ones will last for years and can be used again and again. Some other buckets will turn brittle when left out in the elements and will crack and break after a year or two.
It doesn't take much effort to prepare a 5-gallon bucket for planting. The only thing you have to do is put drainage holes in the bottom of the bucket. If you don't your soil will quickly become an over-saturated bog and your plants will rot and die. You want to put about 10 holes in the bottom that are about .5cm to 1cm (1/4-1/2 inch) in diameter. Some growers like putting a few holes in the bottom and a few about 2cm to 3cm (1inch) up the side. Either way provides good drainage for your plants.
It is not necessary to put rocks in the bottom of the bucket for drainage. However, if you are growing very top-heavy plants, it might be a good idea to put a few in to weigh down the basement and keep it from tipping over. It might also be beneficial to put bark or other rough material in the bottom of the bucket. This is not necessary but it can prevent some of the holes from getting plugged depending on the type of soil you are using. Because 5-gallon buckets are usually quite tall, it can take a fair bit of soil to fill them. Putting rough matter in the bottom can also add bulk so you don't require as much soil.
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The quality of your soil is not only important for drainage, but it will also grow healthier plants. Good growing conditions in the 5-gallon bucket can be achieved by adding lots of compost, manure, or other decomposing organic matter. Unlike growing in the garden, the nutrients your plants can access are limited by what is inside the bucket. The more compost you add, the more food your plants have access to. Try to have at least a third of your bucket full of compost (but you do up to half if you are growing heavy-feeding crops) and the remaining with soil. Purchased topsoil is not recommended for any container growing as it easily becomes compacted, so you are better off using potting soil or soil from your garden if you have any. In another article, here , we go into more detail about the differences between soil and compost and how to have a healthy mix.
There are many different vegetables that grow very well in 5-gallon buckets. On the whole, plant them according to the package instructions as you would in any other container or garden bed. Here are some vegetables that do very well in 5-gallon buckets.
Tomatoes are perhaps the most popular vegetable to grow in buckets. One bucket will accommodate one tomato plant, and you can get a lot of yield from a well-fed plant. To get really creative, you can grow a tomato upside down in a hanging bucket.
Peppers are also a popular choice for many growers. Because of their long growing season and heat requirements, your peppers can be brought indoors if your season isn't long enough. Again, one plant per bucket is usually best.
Lettuce and greens grow very well in buckets and can be sown quite thick to produce an abundant harvest. Because of the deep soil available, root crops such as potatoes , carrots, beets, or parsnips thrive in buckets.
Peas and beans can also grow very well, but you must take care of the vines. You can put stakes directly in the bucket, or position them close to a fence or other trellis. If you build boxes around your buckets you can also build a very attractive trellis on those. Alternatively, select bush or short vine varieties. One bucket will be able to accommodate 2 or 3 plants. You can even grow corn in a 5-gallon bucket !
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