basil and pepper sharing a five gallon bucket
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For the last two years, I have been gardening in five-gallon buckets. A team of Extension colleagues from the Horticulture and Nutrition programs are teaching area residents who do not have access to garden space how to grow and their own herbs and veggies. The ‘Garden in a Bucket’ outreach has already reached hundreds of people in McLean, Livingston, and Woodford counties.

Like some of our bucket gardeners, I had no access to garden space for several years, but a strong desire to grow. This was a far cry from my childhood experiences where my grandparents had rows and rows of tomatoes, peppers, onions, green beans and squash. But because of my desire to grow my own vegetables and herbs, I started growing everything in containers.

In my endeavors, I learned certain vegetables like eggplant, pepper, carrot, radish, beet, greens and many herbs were easy to grow in a small amount of soil. Tomatoes, potatoes and squash grow large and their growth potential and ability to produce was stunted in the containers. The first time I grew eggplant in a container, I got more than 20 fruits in a growing season. This was a harvest worth watering throughout the growing season.

In the ‘Garden in the Bucket’ program, we grow a mixture of carrots, peppers, thyme, basil, and kale. All produced ample harvest. This year, I am experimenting with eggplant, Swiss chard, spinach, and green beans, as well as smaller 2.5 gallon buckets—a five gallon bucket full of soil is not fun to move around. Even though we are coming close to the start of fall, you can still grow vegetables and herbs in a bucket this year!

Simple, affordable buckets can be found in the paint section of your local hardware store. For proper drainage, we drilled holes in the bottom of the buckets and put a mix of top soil and potting soil in the bucket. We added a scoop of slow release fertilizer and planted our transplants or buried our seeds.

You need to sprinkle seeds with water every day to ensure germination. Until roots begin to grow abundantly, you do not have to water heavily, but as soon as the bucket fills out, you need to water until it drains from the holes at the bottom of the bucket.

Start seeds of greens like spinach, lettuce, beets, Swiss chard and arugula. Grow root crops like radish and carrots and herb like cilantro and parsley. These vegetable and herb selections taste best when grown in cooler weather!