Zesty Survivalism; or, Container Gardens

Awhile back I wrote about the importance of having non-writing hobbies. One that I’m repeatedly drawn to despite a habit of forgetfulness, a lack of space, and incurably hot weather is gardening.

My dad is an incredible garden. He knows so many things and has shelf after shelf of books on how to do gardening better. And he’s a science teacher, so as a kid, we did a lot of backyard “experiments” on his garden to try to find the optimal growing conditions for things. I joke that I am a gardening apprentice.

But a friend of ours just started gardening at the community garden. And while that is great (50% of the produce goes right to the food bank!), it’s made clear the massive divide between my dad’s gardening knowledge (epic) and most people’s. Even my basic understanding of how to water things (and how much) so they don’t die is far superior to Average Joe’s gardening know-how. And part of me thinks that is sad–gardening is a very useful skill–but I know that it’s just not something a lot of people have exposure to.

I mean, I guess there’s a reason they call experts “Master Gardeners.”

However, it is so useful, you might as well consider it a survival skill–in the event of some kind of, oh, I dunno, zombie uprising or other catastrophic dystopia (plus it’s a hobby that requires continual minimal upkeep and gets you outside and away from your computer. That’s a good thing.)

herb garden

So here is my new herb container garden, and I thought I’d run down the basics.

This is a really easy design and that’s good for my no-space patio. It’s three corrugated metal tins picked up from the hardware store, potting soil, and herbs. There’s also a just-in-case trowel in the back there for future gardening needs.

I think the whole setup, herbs and all, cost me maybe $25, but then I did have my Master Gardener dad with me to help on a few steps, so your mileage may vary.

This kind of setup is great for small spaces and leafy plants like these herbs. A tomato, for example, needs a lot more soil and a lot more water than this arrangement could provide. Pumpkins practically require acreage. The kind of plant you want to grow really determines how much space you are going to give your garden.

If you want a garden like this, you’ll need to buy your supplies. Then, the first thing you’ll need to do is drill holes in the bottom of your tins, at least five in each layer. If you don’t drill holes in your pots, water will be trapped and can drown your plants from the roots up. That’s a good way to get rot. So it’s important that the water have a way out, though that can make it inconvenient and frustrating when you have to water a lot. It’s really important.

Then, put in potting soil. Unfortunately, due to a lot of environmental reasons and basic pollution, regular dirt from  your yard isn’t going to be very good for plants. (This is my first fundamental problem with the end of Wall-E… it takes a long time to recover from that kind of pollution!) Plus, potting soils have a lot of whiz-bang add-ins that can really help your garden. My potting soil has water crystal things in it that absorb water and slowly release it, so that my plants can go a little longer between waterings before drying out. That’s very useful!

Put in your plants. This garden has: spearmint (top), oregano (2nd left), thyme (2nd right), sage (3rd far left), rosemary, chives, and basil (3rd far right). The middle part that is currently empty is actually some purple clover, which is not an herb and is just decorative, but will hopefully grow in and become a nice waterfall effect that should be pretty. I picked my plants (except for the clover, which was a gift from my dad) for practicality. This is a lot of what I cook with, so it’s what I wanted to have on  hand. You should pick your plants based on your requirements: are you going for pretty? Practical? Do you hate basil? Etc. Herbs are fairly easy because they grow in similar circumstances, but ask at your garden shop to make sure you are getting plants that can be happy together in the same conditions.

When you put your plants in the soil, you’re going to want to dig a little hole so the base of the plant comes flush to the top of your soil. Then you’re going to want to add a little potting soil all around, so each is wrapped up all nice and cozy. Don’t cover the leaves, but don’t let the roots show, either. You want snug, and then maybe just a little more than that.

Then, water them. A lot. You’re just introducing these plants to a new home, so you want to make them feel welcome. The first time you water them, you really want to saturate the soil. I put in three full pitchers of water in this planter. And yes, some water ran out–but remember, that’s a good thing!

To care for them, now I’m going to water my planter every day or every other day. I’m going to just stick my finger in the dirt to feel whether or not it’s damp, and if I’m even not sure, I’m going to put some in any way. In an herb garden with proper drainage, it’s better to overwater just a little than to let it dry out.

When I want to cook with something, I can just pick it off! As long as I leave about 3 inches of plant, it’ll grow back. As long as I keep the plant well watered and the weather stays suitable, they’ll just keep growing, and I can just keep eating them. Now, they will die out when it freezes, but that’s ok. Some of these will go to seed and might grow back, all by themselves!

I think this is one of those “life skill” things people really ought to know. Not just for the zombie apocalypse or whatever, but just because it is easy to get away from the Earth, to get so completely engrossed in technology and things with screens, and forget how important it is to our survival. We need to have a healthy respect for it. And fresh herbs taste way better, too.

And everyone knows zombies hate rosemary, so there’s that.

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