If you do not have any soil available that can be easily moved, you can mix your own, or it can be purchased in bags of scientifically formulated potting mixes. This convenience means you do not need a lot of space to grow some of your own veggies. Tomatoes will thrive in a hanging basket, potatoes can be grown in a large bushel-sized container, and lettuce will grow great in a window box. Containers take up very little space and can be placed on a balcony, porch, or patio; they can sit on a windowsill, be attached to balcony railings, or hung in baskets from the rafters. They can also be positioned in a backyard among traditional garden beds to add structure and attractiveness to your overall garden.
When choosing a container for your vegetables, there are three important rules to remember. First, the container must be able to hold soil; second, it must be large enough for the plant to grow to maturity (some vegetables have shallow root systems whereas others have much deeper roots and need more space to grow); and third, water must be able to drain easily from the bottom of the container so the soil does not get waterlogged. The container can be any shape so long as it can fulfill these three essentials.
Practical and attractive hanging planters can be made from using two recycled-plastic containers, one inside the other (leave at least 1 inch space around between them). Cut drain holes in the bottom of the smaller one; then fill it with potting soil. In the bottom of the larger container, lay some gravel or Styrofoam. The smaller pot sits inside the larger one. Trim the top edges if necessary.
Containers can be purchased at your local nursery or hardware store. The most common kinds available are traditional oak barrels, pots made from reconstituted paper, terra-cotta, ceramic, wood, plastic, and resin. If you are planning to grow your vegetables in a container for several years choose a good quality one that will last. Containers need to be cleaned on a regular basis to keep them looking good, as well as pest- and disease-free, so choose a container that you can take care of easily.
To save money, you can recycle items that are no longer fulfilling their original purpose. Some ideas for small containers for growing lettuces, for example, are tin cans, bricks with a center opening, milk cartons, a bucket, or an old cooking pot (a great place to use that kitchen pot that got burnt and will never come clean again!). When you purchase garden pots, there usually are holes in the bottom of them already; however, if you are recycling a container, make sure you make at least one good drainage hole so excess water can easily drain.
If you want to grow root crops or beans and peas, you need a little larger container. Some suggestions that might work are Styrofoam coolers, wooden crates, plastic crates (which may need a liner such as landscape fabric in order to hold the soil), and plastic ice cream buckets (ask at your local ice cream parlor for their empties). Garbage cans, wooden barrels, metal washbasins, old wheelbarrows that have become rusty and full of holes, or plastic clothes hampers are great options for planting larger crops such as tomatoes, potatoes, and squash. Or try your hand at woodworking. Cedar, redwood, or teak are your best choices for wood if you choose to build your own box, and building your own is a great way to get the size you want for that special spot. When it comes to funky containers, be creative and save money!