Guide to Bucket Gardening for Urban Prepping and Survival

If you live in an urban area, it’s common to rely on your local farmer’s market or grocery for fresh supplies of fruits and vegetables. However, if some disaster happens to strike your city, you may be advised to stay home. Most people stock on goods with an extended expiration date, which is often empty calories, carbs, and other unhealthy food sources. If you have your own veggie garden at home, you can have a constant source of fresh goods straight from your apartment.

Since you probably don’t have the garden or land required for a full garden, what you can do is to start a container garden. It will less likely be self-sufficient, but it’s a great way to move towards a more self-reliant lifestyle. Growing plants in a container like buckets can help supplement and increase your food supply.

You can spend cash on buying fancy containers, but you can simply get a bucket and reuse it as a planter.

Where to Buy
5 Gallon White Bucket & Lid - Durable 90 Mil All Purpose Pail - Food Grade - BPA Free Plastic (5 Gal. w/Lids - 6pk)
Bucket Kit, Five 90 mil Tan 5 Gallon Buckets with Black Gamma Seal Lids
5-GALLON WHITE ALL PURPOSE Durable Commercial Food Grade Bucket With LID
5 Gallon White Bucket & Lid - Set of 6 - Durable 90 Mil All Purpose Pail - Food Grade - Plastic Container

How to Start a Bucket Garden

1. Get buckets.

The size of the pot will depend on the pot being grown, but keep in mind that the right pot size is essential to growing a healthy garden successfully. Check the seed store for recommendations on pot size. The container must provide adequate space for the plant’s roots. If you’re not sure, always err on the side of caution and pick a larger pot than you think you may actually need. The larger the bucket you have, the more room for error.

Now, in getting a bucket, it’s best to choose a food-grade bucket. Avoid cast-off buckets that may have stored toxic substances, as the chemicals often leech into the plastic, potentially harming the soil and the plant you will place in it. Check your local restaurants if they are happy to give away buckets that once stored food items. You may also buy some buckets online. Here are some great 5-gallon buckets you can buy:

However, you can also find cheap dollar reusable grocery bags that can serve as plant containers. Herbs, tomatoes, lettuce, and flowers can be grown successfully on those cheap bags.

2. Provide drainage.

Don’t forget about the drainage. Plants won’t grow in a waterlogged container, so make sure there are drainage holes and a water catcher placed underneath. Drill or punch a few holes at the bottom of the bucket. A hole placed every three inches will usually offer enough drainage.

After that, place about two inches of loose gravel at the bottom of the bucket. These rocks will assist with drainage to keep the soil in place and prevent them from going down the drainage hole every time you water the plants.

3. Pick the proper garden soil.

Plain garden soil is not enough if you’re hoping for great results when container gardening. This kind of soil is usually too dense and does not provide a great growing environment for a plant in a pot. Since plants are grown in a container, it’s essentially trapped and unable to expand their roots in search of nutrition. So, you need to provide that nutrition by getting a good-quality potting soil.

When you’re choosing a potting soil, look for something fluffy, able to hold moisture, and provides the proper nutrition needed by the specific plant you’re going to put on it. It means selecting something that’s about ¾ soil-free mix and ¼ compost. Getting the wrong kind of soil can give you stunted plants, or plants that won’t produce satisfying fruit, or even worse – dead ones.

Fill your buckets with a great potting soil mix that comes with compost and peat moss. Don’t fill it to the brim – allow a bit of space for the plant itself. Plant either seeds or starter plants on a five-gallon bucket.

Here’s how to be sure that you have the right soil:

  • It must drain well. One of the easiest ways to make sure it’s the correct type of potting soil is to check how quickly it drains. The good kinds of soil must start draining after five to 10 seconds after water has been placed in the pot. It must not drain too much too quickly, and it must not drain nothing at all.
  • The potting soil must be rich in organic matter because that’s where your plants will be drawing nutrients from.
  • It must contain quality potting materials like peat moss, sphagnum, aged bark, earthworm castings, perlite or pumice, composted forest products, and a wetting agent that helps keep the soil moist.
  • Try making your own soil mixture if you don’t want to buy a potting soil. Making your own helps you ensure that you know exactly what’s in your soil. Make sure you have the three essential ingredients: a growing medium, a moisture and nutrient retainer (like peat moss or sphagnum), and a drainage aid (like sand, perlite, or vermiculite).

4. Know how to water properly.

After sowing your seed or plant, constantly check the soil’s moisture condition for further watering. Plants in a container need to be watered daily, especially during the heat of the summer, because it can dry out rapidly.

The amount of water and the frequency of watering will depend on what you grow. So, check any recommendations that came with your plants or seed packages. Generally, once the top inch of potting soil is dry, it’s time to water the plant. It’s always better to keep the soil always a bit moist than to have huge fluctuations between wetness and dryness. To prevent fast evaporation from the topsoil, you can add mulch on top of the pot.

5. Consider sunlight and temperature.

When it comes to any type of garden, whether on an actual soil or container garden, sunlight and temperature are two factors that will affect how your garden grows. The great thing about container gardening is it’s portable, allowing you to control how much light the plant receives. You can easily move the container to a location in which it can get the optimum amount of sunlight and just the right temperature. Frost and drought won’t affect your bucket gardens, because you can easily bring your plants indoors.

The amount of sunlight that your plant needs vary from other plants. For instance, veggies like corn, tomatoes, and hot peppers need around 6-8 hours of direct sunlight a day, while leafy greens like spinach and lettuce won’t need that much sun.

The climate in your area will play a great role in gardening. Also, remember that native plants will always outperform non-native plants, and it will be easier to take care of.

Instructions on a seed packet can be a bit vague when it comes to the plants’ sunlight needs. Here’s what the labels mean:

  • Full sun – These plants require somewhere around six to eight hours of direct sunlight a day.
  • Partial sun – These plants need to be placed in an area that receives around four to six hours of sunlight a day.
  • Shade – These plants require less than four hours of direct sunlight a day.

6. Know the best vegetables to grow in a bucket or container.

You can grow anything (except trees and vines) on a bucket container, but there are just some plants that work well on a bucket. Plus, these plants will benefit you with vegetables and fruit, so here they are:

  • Beans
  • Beetroot
  • Carrots
  • Chilies
  • Cucumbers
  • Green onions
  • Herbs (Sage, mint, oregano, rosemary, parsley, thyme)
  • Lettuce
  • Melons (dwarf varieties)
  • Okra
  • Onions
  • Peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Radishes
  • Swiss chard
  • Tomatoes
  • Zucchini

7. Fertilize.

After planting, keeping them in the proper shade, and watering regularly, there’s another task to do: fertilizing. Plan to fertilize the soil at least once or twice a month, depending on the kind of soil and plant you have. Weeds won’t be much of a problem when you’re doing bucket gardening, but you can keep away stray weeds by putting a thin layer of mulch on top of the soil.