Learn How to Make a Container Garden

Even the Smallest Space Can Produce Plenty of Vegetables

••• Donna Montaldo

Have you been thinking about growing a small container garden? If so, check out this system that is not only super cost-effective, but it will also reward you with a wonderful abundance of vegetables and herbs in a small amount of space.

Let me start off by saying that I am clearly no gardener, or at least I wasn't until last summer. I think what finally convinced me it was time to dabble in a small garden was grabbing a few yellow peppers at the grocery store, which and were over $2 a piece. I like peppers. I like tomatoes. I love cucumbers. However, I really dislike having to pay so much in order to eat fresh vegetables.‚Äč

One Tomato Plant Is Worth $50

Bankrate.com had an article about the advantages of growing your own vegetables. The article focused on the fact that not only do people waste less food by being able to go pick fresh vegetables when they need them, but the cost of having a small garden compared to buying fresh produce from the grocery store can actually save money.

When asked if it was true if one tomato plant can really save consumers $50, Thomas Bewick, national program leader for horticulture of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service told Bankrate, "If you harvest 30 pounds at $2 per pound, that plant is worth $60. But it only cost $2.90 to buy the plant, a few cents for water and 15 cents for the fertilizer

After reading that statement, I became very motivated with the idea of turning an area in my (very) small back yard into a thriving, growing fresh veggie haven! Then I spent several weeks drooling over pictures and garden plans boasting of beautiful bounties of fresh vegetables.

I have to admit, the pictures intimidated me a little. But more intimidating was the fact that the days were getting longer and if I wanted to serve fresh tomatoes in the current year, I needed to get serious and start planning my garden, for real.

Plastic Tub Gardening

During my research, I read about Earth Boxes sub-irrigated planters, and I liked the idea, but the price tag (almost $50 apiece) was a turn-off. Then a friend emailed an article on how to make my own container garden out of Rubbermaid containers for about $12 apiece. That I could handle. Worst case scenario, I'd lose the garden and store them in my attic.

Motivated by the idea of picking my own vegetables from my own garden, I headed off to get my supplies.


  • Two 20-gallon Sterlite containers with the lids.
  • A long piece of PVC pipe 1 1/2 inch in diameter.
  • Two small plastic baskets from a dollar store. Pond baskets are recommended but I was unable to find them.
  • Garden Soil to fill the containers.
  • Fertilizer.
  • A variety of a dozen vegetable bedding plants around four to sixes inch tall.

Total cost was around $45.00. Within three hours, I had a small vegetable garden, which I could place in the area of my yard with the most sunshine.


Eight weeks later, I had all the tomatoes I could eat and have since enjoyed cucumbers, banana peppers, yellow peppers, eggplant and yellow squash, all produced from my small garden. As a first-time gardener, I definitely made mistakes. For example, I bought one string bean plant and it produced about eight beans. I guess you need more than just one plant? More research is planned for the next go-round. Also, I do not like pesticides so I did lose some things, mostly peppers, to bugs. But overall, the good way, way, way, outweighed the bad -- plus it is fun to watch it all grow.

Herbal Additions

Along with the vegetables, I also picked up a few basil plants, which were quite prolific, although recently I stripped the plants and made a wonderful batch of pesto which we have enjoyed over our fresh tomatoes and also mixed with pasta and shrimp. Already I see new growth popping up in the basil planter, so I am hoping to get another batch in a few months.

Other herbs I am growing include fennel, bay leaf, and green onion as well as mint for iced tea. I also had room for a small tree and decided on a lime tree, and I am happy to say, it is producing several limes which are perfect for summer margaritas. It looks like I will be making lime ice cubes to use after the limes are gone.

Space Is Not an Issue

The do-it-yourself Earth-type boxes are perfect for rooftop gardening, apartment balconies, small courtyards or a yard without a lot of sun. Another benefit is that when the growing season ends, it can all be taken down and stored until the next year. The garden has been a wonderful addition to my summer days and my summer food budget. I can't wait to start my fall garden.

Tips to Keep in Mind

Check your local area for the best time to grow specific vegetables or you may waste money, time and expectations on trying to grow a winter vegetable in the middle of the summer or vice versa. If you plan to start with seeds (the most cost-effective method) remember that you will get what you pay for.

Aim for buying high-quality seeds rather than going for the least expensive packs. Also, some vegetables are easier to start from seeds than others. Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants are generally more difficult to get started with seeds, compared to beans, and it may pay off in the long run to buy the small plants.