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Flexible Plastic Containers in my Small Kitchen Garden

Have you seen these flexible plastic buckets in your local department or gardening store? I did some math and found that they hold up to severn and a half gallons. They seem to be sun-tolerant, and the handles make them easy to move around on a deck or patio during growing season.

I’m always experimenting with low-cost, simple ways to extend my small kitchen garden. One of my greatest frustrations has been the expense of buying or building planters to handle vegetables with large root systems. Cheap, durable planters that hold five or more gallons of soil typically cost $15 or more, and it’s common to find prices over $35.

Thankfully, lower-cost products have emerged in recent years. Grow Bags are “pots” made out of material that resembles plastic garbage bags. Depending on how many you buy at once, you could pay as little as 20 cents apiece for these bags in the five-gallon size. They are free-standing and hold their shapes when you fill them with soil.

Slightly Upscale Plant Containers

I appreciate the low cost of Grow Bags, and might use them for gardening in spaces where there isn’t a lot of traffic or where I can hide them from view. A company called The Seed Keeper Company produces a “burlap girdle” you can wrap around a grow bag to provide some eye appeal, and you’ll have a five gallon planter that costs under $10… not bad.

These flexible plastic buckets are water-tight, so I drilled five quarter-inch holes in mine before I filled them with potting soil.

But three years ago, I started noticing flexible plastic “all-purpose” buckets (with handles) in local department stores. In season, these usually go for $5, and they hold seven and a half gallons if you fill them to the rim. One display for these containers showed them holding canned or bottled drinks in ice, or tools for gardening… but typically there’s just a stack of nested buckets with that $5 price tag. In early winter, our local Walmart usually drops the price to $4.

I’ve bought three buckets to try as planters and they work pretty well.

Gardening in a Bucket

Clearly, whoever manufactured this $4 bucket didn’t intend it to be a planter; it doesn’t have drainage holes. Before I planted, I drilled five holes in each bucket using a ¼ inch bit. I filled each bucket with commercial potting soil, and planted as I would in a garden… one planter received five bell pepper plants, and another I planted with carrot seeds (I’ll tell the carrot story in an upcoming post).

The buckets spent most of each summer day in direct sunlight—when there was sunlight (it was a very rainy year). They performed as you’d hope for a seven-gallon planter, and looked pretty much unmarred by the season. In October, the buckets were flexible and strong; I was able to lift them by their handles without trouble. Based on that experience, I would recommend them to anyone looking for a vaguely attractive low-priced container for deck or patio plants.

Five bell pepper plants in six gallons of soil might have been pushing it a bit; I’ve found a two-gallon planter is pretty good for a single pepper plant. So, next season I might plant my flexible plastic buckets with only three pepper plants apiece. Incidentally: If you want to get an early start on peppers, set seedlings outside in containters three or four weeks before your last frost date, and lug them into your garage, back hallway, or garden shed when overnight lows head toward freezing.

But there’s more: Last week I carried one of my buckets across the yard and dumped stuff out of it. With the bucket empty, I dropped one handle so the weight of the empty bucket transferred entirely onto just one handle. At that moment, the bucket snapped off of its handle and fell to the ground!

What changed from October until now? The temperature dropped. Apparently, when these flexible plastic buckets get cold—I’m talking about 24F degrees cold—they get brittle.

For now, I’m sticking with the recommendation: for $4 or $5 apiece, these utility buckets make great planters if you put holes in the bottom. I did some research and found that they come from a company in China called Ningbo Bonny E-Home Co, and chances are you won’t find a brand name on the bucket itself. Bonny apparently makes the buckets out of recycled plastic which makes them more appealing to me. I’ve found them at Walmart and Big Lots, and I suspect they’re available at other department and garden stores as well.

If you decide to try some of these flexible plastic buckets in your kitchen garden, try not to use them when the temperature drops.

 

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7 Responses to “Flexible Plastic Containers in my Small Kitchen Garden”

  • Tom Mann:

    LOL Dan – my fingers would have snapped off at 24°. I hibernate on those days :) Thanks for the planter tip.

  • Good idea! This would be a super easy way to rotate seasonal crops.

  • I had the same experience with one (higher-priced) flexible bucket I got a couple of years ago – didn’t use it for a planter (which is a great idea) but for general garden tasks. It was wonderful, and then I left it outside in winter and it ended up in shatters. So, next time, into the shed!

  • Melanie:

    what about chemicals leaching from the plastic into your veggies?

  • I always wait until fall rolls in, and buy containers on sale. I got a few, made out of natural materials, for about $.60 each. I always use 2 liter bottles to make upside down topsy turvys!

  • Daniel Gasteiger:

    Melanie: Excellent question, and certainly one for concern. As science has found that even BPA-free plastics release chemicals that may disrupt our endocrine systems (here’s an article with some background), it’s important to make informed choices about how we grow our own food. I’m far more comfortable growing vegetables in plastic containers than I am storing leftovers in them to reuse in upcoming meals. Both uses have their potential dangers. Thank you for bringing it up.

    Kallie: I experimented with upside-down planters a few years ago and summarized my experiences here: http://www.smallkitchengarden.net/small-kitchen-garden/upside-down-tomatoes-why-oh-why

  • Doug:

    Here at our nursery/greenhouse in Kansas, we encourage people to return plastic pots for re-use or to recycle. My personal gardening time is limited, and since we use organic practices on all our plants in the greenhouse and nursery, I grow my vegetable garden in larger nursery pots scattered about the garden center. Anyone watering can grab a snack from whatever is ripe. Makes the work more enjoyable.

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