Thursday, January 22, 2009

Dreaming + schemeing of pots

I have a few pots that I collected over the years. Mostly from houseplants that didn't make it when I moved from my dorm (that faced west and got plenty of afternoon light) to my old (sun-deprived northern exposure) basement apartment, aka - The Cave. (I'm depressed just thinking about it.) Part of the reason I decided to attempt this garden is that my apartment faces southwest.

It's glorious.

One pot is currently holding my lemon verbena, which is staying safely indoors this winter. I hope it'll revive this spring. Outside (under a couple feet of snow, but next to the door for warmth) is the sage and oregano. They were all I could find at a local garden center when I moved to my new place in August. I hope they'll make it through the winter.

I also have a couple tiny ceramic pots and one big pot - not a giant by any means - but it'll be very useful. I think I can put a few plants in it.

I also have the hard plastic liner from a cooler like this. (The hubby used the soft part for a homemade luggage rack for my motorcycle. He's so handy! Cheap, too. :D) It's pretty deep so I'll put plastic bottles in the bottom to make it lighter and not have to use so much potting soil. Plus, those bottles won't end up in the city incinerator. I think it'll be perfect for the other herbs. And I'm going to make a box to hide the cheap white plastic with some scrap pine lumber I have saved. The lumber is all 1x6x12", so designing and constructing that will certainly be interesting.

I also have a couple shallow dish pans for lettuce and salad mixes.

And there is a single hanging hook just outside the door - so I'll probably get some kind of hanging planter. I like this one, but I don't know if the hook is strong enough to support it. It would give me a lot of growing space though and be perfect for the strawberries.

When I get plants from the garden center I might just leave them in their black pots. Cecilia at Balcony Garden Dreaming recently posted a technique for wrapping black pots in hessian/burlap. I'll have to try it if I get the chance. Burlap has such a great texture! Or maybe I'll have some scrap lumber left over from hiding the big ex-cooler planter. Or I could spray paint them a glossy white.

I'm also going to be on the lookout for cheap containers. Once it warms up and garage sales start popping up I'm going to scour them for supplies.

But what about the rest of that long list of things I'm planning to grow? Well, I'm working on it. I've thought of a few different schemes, and it's looking like I'm going to have to spend a bit to get what I want - Quality, durability and safety.

Issues I have to deal with:
  • I have a limited area - the balcony is only 6'x8' and a good part of that is taken up by the grill and 2 chairs (and I'm going to add a little table after I paint it and the snow melts.) I will have some pots, but there isn't nearly enough floor space for everything I want to grow. So, to maximize space I want planters that hang out from the railing. That'll give me quite a bit more space since there are railings on 3 sides (20 linear feet.)
  • I cannot permanently affix anything to the deck or building wall according to my rental agreement. So no screws, nails or glue. I think zip ties and nylon rope are fair game though!
  • The railing is white metal and only about 2" wide. (Former tenants had a couple planters with metal brackets, but they left rust stains on the railing; I want to avoid adding to that.)
  • It needs to be sturdy so it doesn't blow away in a thunderstorm.
  • Veggies like lots of room for their roots, so I need something that can hold a lot of soil.

My first idea was to cut bags of potting soil in half and suspend them from the railing with a net of twine. Though not pretty, it'd be cheap, but probably wouldn't last very long so I'd have to redo the whole thing next year, if it even lasted one season.

I could buy window boxes, but while fake plastic terra cotta is inexpensive, it's super ugly, and they aren't very big.

One more idea -- Build them. This could work out for the best. I can custom build the size I need and make them wide and deep enough for vegetable roots. I do want to make sure they'll last and aren't made of something that could leach into the soil and be absorbed by the veggies (and then by me!) So, no regular timber (it'll rot unless I line it with plastic or something) or pressure treated timber (chemicals) or pvc (it'll leach).

So I'm left wondering what I can use.
  • I could use pressure treated wood that is arsenic-free, but is it as safe as it should be?
  • If I use untreated wood with a plastic liner - How would I keep the water that drains out the bottom from rotting the wood that way? Maybe seal the wood with polyurethane? Would that leach into the soil? Maybe polyurethane AND a plastic liner? What kind of plastic liner would hold up? GAH! My brain hurts! What do I do?!
  • Vinyl decking? Maybe, but I've only seen it come in 6" widths, and I want the planter to be 8-12" deep.

For tools: I have a hand saw, mitre box, a drill, and a hammer. Hubby might have a few things hiding out in the garage, but I think they're mostly for working on his car.
And I don't mind doing a bit of construction. I'm pretty handy and ingenious at that kind of thing if I do say so myself. ;)

I'm not concerned about a design. I just don't know what to build it out of.

Anyone have ideas to help me along?


  1. It looks as if you have too many clay small pots, in consequence it triplicates the amount of watering/irrigation.

    Suggestion: find nice looking pots, not necessarily
    round, I prefer regtangular wide on top, narrow at bottom with simple low relief designs.

    Fiberglass ones are great. To decrease the amount of weight to be dragged/moved, use a third of aluminun
    cans, foam, then add the soil. This will also increase drainage.

    Arrange your plants with similar water/sun/heat
    needs and you will have more time enjoying your
    plants, and less at work...

  2. Thanks for the suggestion. The "regtangular wide on top, narrow at bottom" sounds pretty, but would be even more efficient if they didn't taper and could hold the most soil with the least amount of wasted space.

    I don't think I'll go out and buy a bunch of pretty $60 pots though. I'm going to try to find as many used + cheap containers as I can.

    Thank you for the tip about grouping plants by their water requirements. Seems like such a simple thing to do, and it will make things a little less chaotic.

  3. Ok, I have a question or two for you. I know you are really just starting this, but did you start your veggies in those little seedling starter kits or did you just plant them in the pots directly? We have plenty of space here for a traditional garden, but I don't want to tear up my sod just in case my thumb is more brown tha green.

  4. Actually, I'm buying several plants from a nursery, to save me the hassle. Some plants are really hard to get going from seed. Others have to be sown directly where you want them to be in the garden - they don't like to be cooped up in a starter pot or transplanted. I'll have a lot of those, too.

    I am going to have a few (very few) mini-greenhouse starter peat pot things... I'm getting a package of coir(or peat) pellets (like what comes with a mini greenhouse), but I don't want to have to buy the greenhouse part, so I'm going to use a couple old paper egg cartons with plastic wrap over them. Yay recycling!

    If you're not sure about digging up your yard a container garden is a great idea. You do need to invest more - pots + potting soil. But it's an easy way to start on a small scale.

    Good luck!!

  5. Good to know. I almost bought a thing made by Burpee at Lowes today that was a mini greenhouse kind of thing, but opted for the book you commented on Amazon instead. So excited and I can't wait to see what happens. May start blogging about this myself.