The publications in this collection do
not reflect current scientific knowledge
or recommendations. These texts
represent the historic publishing
record of the Institute for Food and
Agricultural Sciences and should be
used only to trace the historic work of
the Institute and its staff. Current IFAS
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site maintained by the Florida
Cooperative Extension Service.
Copyright 2005, Board of Trustees, University
GROWING VEGETABLES IN CONTAINERS
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This book belongs to:
T-e of Club_
4H GRM 02
Table of Contents
Requirem ents of the Project .............. ..................... .. ...... 3
Choice A-Single Plant Containers .......................... .............. 4
Choice B- W ater Culture .......... ................... .................. 5
Choice C-Strawberry Barrel ............... .............................. 6
Activities for You ........................................................ 7
4-H Garden Record ....................................... .............. 9-10
Garden References ...................................................... 11
4-H BEGINNING GARDENING
offers you 4 CHOICES c
Plant Science Experiments
o Vegetable Gardening
Vegetable Identification Workbook
o Growing Vegetables in Containers
Prepared by: James M. Stephens, Assistant Vegetable Crops Specialist, Florida Cooperative Ex-
tension Service, University of Florida, Gainesville
Revised by: Susan D. Gray, Assistant in Vegetable Crops, Florida Cooperative Extension Service,
University of Florida, Gainesville.
* .; .
iOR 7 GARDENING
This is another gardening project which you
may take even though you do not have a large
space for a vegetable garden. Growing vegetables
in containers is a way to have your own garden
fresh vegetables without the garden. And, you
will learn many things about plants and how they
Many kinds of containers might be used -
bushel baskets, hampers, drums, gallon cans, or
others. Your "soil" might not be soil at all, but
something like sawdust, woodshavings, pebbles, or
even water. Growing plants in these kinds of arti-
ficial "soils" is usually called soilless culture or
hydroponics. You will find that there is not much
difference in the way plants grow in soil and
Requirements of the Project Area
There are several methods of growing plants
in containers. Three of them have been outlined
for you to choose from in this project area. They
are: 1) strawberry barrel; 2) single plant con-
trainers, and 3) water culture. You may select
any one of these three ways to grow your vege-
You must fill out the record pages and answer
the questions about how you grew your vegetables.
Other Beginning Gardening Projects
You can learn about vegetables and even grow
your own by taking the BEGINNING GARDEN-
ING PROJECT, though your yard may not-be
large enough for a garden.
Growing Vegetables In Containers is one of
four areas you may select in the Beginning Gard-
ening (Unit 1) project. The four areas are: (1)
Plant Science Experiments, (2) Growing Vege-
tables in Containers, (3) Vegetable Identification
Workbook, and (4) Vegetable Gardening. There
is a separate booklet for each area.
You may choose at least one of the four areas.
If you complete one area one year, you may wish
to do another area the next year. You should be
9 to 12 years old to do this project.
A-. Containe r
With this system you i' use a separate con-
tainer for growing each plant. You must have at
least 10 containers to complete this project .
any container that will hold a foot or more of
sawdust will do. The best ones are bushel baskets,
hampers, or 5-gallon cans,
Punch holes in the bottom to allow good drain-
age. Fill the containers with wood shavings, saw-
dust, or other well-rotted plant material such as
leaves. You may even use sandy garden soil, al-
though it is not as good as sawdust because of
diseases and nematodes which may be in the soil.
Vegetables that may be transplanted are best
to grow in container culture. Choose vegetables
like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and lettuce. You
should germinate the seed in a seed-bed or plant-
box. Then, when the little plants are about 4
inches high, they should be set in the containers.
Usually, one plant in each container is best.
Cucumbers and pole beans are also good vege-
tables to grow in containers. They produce a lot
from a single vine and may be grown in a small
space when supported on a pole or trellis. These
two should be started by planting seed directly in
Most vegetables need a lot of sunlight. Place
your containers in an open, sunny area. Leave
enough space between them so you can walk
around them while attending to them. Remember,
containers resting on the lawn will kill the grass
beneath, so place them where this will not happen.
The plants must absorb certain minerals
through their roots to survive. Some are needed
in fairly large amounts, such as nitrogen, potas-
sium, phosphorus, and calcium. These must be
added as fertilizer. Others also are needed, but
in such small amounts that they are contained as
impurities in the fertilizer.
The easiest way to add fertilizer to plants in
individual container culture is by preparing a
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nutrient solution and "slopping" or pouring it
over the sawdust or shavings.
The nutrient solution (water containing fertil-
izer) should be added to the container about once
a day. It not only feeds the plants, but keeps them
If you use transplants, start using the nutrient
solution the day you set them out. If you plant
seeds, us only plain water to keep the sawdust
moist until the seeds germinate and the little
plants come up. Then start using the nutrient
Once each week, it is a good idea to wash all
the old fertilizer out of the sawdust by running
water from a garden hose through it for several
minutes. Too much fertilizer will injure plants.
Then again start daily additions of nutrient solu-
tion to the containers.
How to make the Nutrient Solution
There are many good fertilizer mixtures for
nutrient solutions for sale. You may want to buy
and use one of them. If so, follow the directions
on the label.
If you wish to make your own, you may do so
by dissolving 2 cups of common fertilizer, such as
6-6-6, 6-8-6, or 8-8-8, in one gallon of tap water.
(In addition, a better solution would contain, 6
tablespoonfuls of epsom salts, one-half teaspoon-
ful of iron chelate, and 4 tablespoonfuls of calcium
chloride. But, if you cannot get these materials,
make your solution without them.)
This is your Base Solution. From it you will
make up the solution (Growing Solution) which
will actually be poured around the plants.
To make your Growing Solution, first shake the
Base Solution well. Then, mix 2 tablespoonfuls of
the Base Solution to a gallon of water. Once a
day, apply enough of this Growing Solution to
wet the shavings to the bottom of the container.
Don't forget to fill in the report section in the
back of this booklet.
Choice B Water Culture
Should you choose this activity for your Begin-
ning Gardening Project, you will need to grow at
least ten vegetable plants by the water culture
method. You may use a separate container for
each plant, or one big container for all your plants.
Again, you must complete the record page and
answer the questions asked about water culture.
In a water culture method, the vegetable plant
is grown in a container of nutrient solution. The
stem and upper parts of the plant are held above
the solution while the roots are growing down in
There are at least two problems with this sys-
tem. First, you must find a way to suspend the
plant above the water and keep it anchored up-
right. And next, an air (oxygen) supply must be
provided the roots of the plant in the water.
There are many kinds of containers that you
might use. You might use a cement or wooden
trough, glass jars, earthenware crocks, or metal
containers. Of course, they all must be leak-proof.
Glass containers should be painted dark to keep
sunlight from making chemical changes in the
solution. Leave a narrow strip down the side un-
painted so the level of the solution can be checked.
Metal containers should be well-painted on the in-
side with an asphalt-base paint to avoid corrosion.
Containers should be fairly shallow, about six
inches deep, and narrow, less than three feet
You will need a "platform" for planting into
and supporting the plants as they grow. This is
sometimes called a "litter bearer." It is made up
of a chicken wire or hardware cloth base on which
is placed about three inches of wood shavings,
excelsior, or similar material called litter. The
metal wire should be painted with asphalt based
paint. It should completely cover the container.
Aeration.-Plant roots must have oxygen to
live. You must provide some way to supply it.
One way is to leave enough air space between the
platform and the solution. Then you need an
opening from this space to the outside air. You
can try propping up the platform a little to let
air in. This may not be enough air for some plants.
You may have to use an aquarium air pump.
Starting the System.-After you have selected
your containers and located them in a sunny or
well-lighted place, fill them with your nutrient
solution. You may use either a purchased, ready-
mixed solution (follow the label directions), or the
home-made Growing Solution described under
Single Plant Container Culture. If you become
interested in this type of gardening, you may use
more elaborate solutions in a later 4-H project.
Try Tomatoes and Lettuce
Place the litter on the platform and keep it
moistened. Transplanting into the litter is the
best way to get plants started. Work the roots
through the support netting into the nutrient solu-
tion. Then, build up the litter around it for support
Such plants as tomatoes and lettuce transplant
easily, and are suggested for you to try your first
Seeds also may be planted in the litter. Cucum-
bers may be started in this way. When the little
plant starts to grow, you must keep the nutrient
solution close enough to the platform so that the
roots can reach it, yet still leave a small air space.
Change Solution Periodically
Empty your tanks every two weeks and renew
the solution. While doing this, do not let the roots
dry out. You might want to this on a cloudy day
to keep the roots from drying.
Be sure to complete the report section in the
back of this booklet.
Holes should be placed 8 inches apar around
the barrel, and 8 inches apart up and down the
barre. Each hole hoould he placed t. to
those above and below it Holes should be 8 inches
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Would you like to grow your own strawberries,
but you _. -' that you do not have enough available
space? Then why not use the space-saving Barrel
:. '. i Each year, about 50 pints of strawberries
may be obtained from one 55 gallon barrel (drum)
on which 40 to 50 plants may be grown.
For this project, you may use any size container
that will hold at least 10 strawberry plants.
',atin,~ :- 1"ed-i to Get Started
1) Barrels or drums. -commonly found are
30 gallon and 55 gallon sizes, either metal
2) Pipe section. about 30 inches of gutter
or stove pipe (3-4" diameter) is needed for
watering and feeding.
3) Coarse gravel. enough small pebbles to
cover the bottom of the barrel up to 2
inches will be needed for good drainage.
4) Hole puncher. some means of cutting
holes or slits in the sides and bottom of the
barrel will be required, such as an axe or
chisel. Your Dad may volunteer to cut
them for you with his acetylene torch.
5) Good garden soil.--should be fumigated
for best results. Do not use peat or muck.
6) Coarse sand. to fill watering pipe.
7) Fertilizer. 4-8-8 or 6-8-8 is best.
8) Strawberry plants. Florida Ninety or
Florida Belle variety.
What to Do
1) Prepare barreI by cutting out top and
thoroughly washing to remove any material that
may injure plants. It is optional whether the
bottom is cut out or left intact. If not removed,
four or five holes should be made in the bottom
2) Cut holes or slits into the side of the barrel
to receive the plants. Holes may be easily cut
using an acetylene torch. If an axe or chisel is
used, the holes are much easier to cut if the bar-
rel is filled with soil. Holes or slits should be about
from the bottom of the barrel and 5 inches or so
from the top.
3) Prepare the soil for use by thoroughly mix-
ing one pound (2 quart) of 4-8-8 or 6-8-8 analysis
fertilizer into 55 ii.: r --. of soil. Or, for other size
containers, use 1 ounce of fertilizer for every 3
pounds of soil.
4) Fill the bottom two inches of the barrel
with coarse gravel.
5) Punch holes (nail-size) in the sides of the
pipe; distribute them over the entire surface of
the pipe to allow even watering throughout the
barrel. Place the section of pipe into the center of
the barrel; it should be standing upright with one
end resting on the gravel. Fill the pipe with
6) Shovel in garden soil onto the coarse gravel
and around the pipe, until the level of the first or
bottom row of holes has been reached. Firm the
7) Set the strawberry plants into the bottom
row of holes. Spread the roots in a fan- shape
fashion onto the soil and cover to hold in place.
careful not to cover the crown (, .-) of plant.
Then shovel in soil up to the next row of holes.
At this point it might be desirable to lightly
sprinkle the soil with water. Set plants and repeat
the :.-. !-,lI i,. watering, and plant-setting until
the top row of holes is set. Then add soil to with-
in 1 inch of the barrel top. Set plants on top about
8 inches apart around the pipe. It is best to set
plants during a cloudy day or late in the after-
noon so that plants have time to become estab-
lished before being placed in hot sun.
For maximum production, strawberries should
be planted (set) from mid September in North
Florida through mid-November in South Florida.
These planting dates should be observed since our
strawberry varieties require cool temperatures
and short days for fruiting. Fruit production be-
comes quite reduced as soon as temperatures rise
to around 80F. in early summer.
8) The barrel should be placed so that plants
will get full sunlight. Water will probably be
needed about twice weekly and should be added
by pouring into the pipe. In the spring, if addi-
tional fertilizer is needed, 1'' cup of the same
fertilizer can be dissolved in a gallon of water
and poured in the center pipe. Then pour in about
2 gallons of water to .: li 1i.n e the fertilizer.
9) barrel should be emptied each year,
fresh added, and new set into the
barrel if you plan to keep this barre your
A report section is included in the back of this
booklet. sure to fill in all the blanks as com-
pletely as you can.
Unit '-- ..- ,.. --. _, i.:.-:.,.;_ Activities
Those of you who are taking this -: i-i.-
Gardening 7'i ..j : should also take part in one or
more of the f '. -,- activities. They are fun to
do and will help you get a lot more from your
1. Vegetable Demonstrations. You should
participate in a demonstration once a year. If
you have ever shown anyone how to make a kite
or mix a spray solution, you have given a demon-
stration. In a vegetable demonstration you show
how while you tell about some gardening practice.
There is a 4-H pamphlet which you can get
that tells how to prepare a demonstration. It is
called "4-H Horticulture Demonstrations." Ask
your leader for a copy.
2. Horticulture Judging. This activity is in
the form of a contest. By competing in it, you will
learn about kinds and varieties of vegetables, and
how to pick the good ones from the bad ones. You
might have a chance to be in a club or county con-
test and test your knowledge of these things. Any of
you taking any part of Beginning Gardening may
participate in vegetable judging.
Get a copy of "4-H Horticultural Judging,
Grading, and Identification Manual" to find out
more about this contest.
3. Exhibiting. At every opportunity you
have, such as at a fair, you should be proud to
show others the produce that you have grown.
When you show others how well you have done,
they may benefit by trying to do as well.
To find out how your vegetables should be ex-
hibited, review the 4-H circular called "Exhibiting
and Judging Vegetables."
4. Tours. Visit the gardens of your neigh-
bors and of other members of your club. Field
trips into farming areas are fun and educational.
Group trips through local market places to see
how produce is sold will be very worthwhile.
For Year 19
My ........... Year in I :- . ir' Gardening
U I,-- GRC( "T" VECTAELEi IN CONTA IER
My name is My parents are
My address is
'I.:-t or Route) (Town) (County)
I am years old. I am in the grade. This is my_ year in 4-H work.
Now there are several questions for you to answer. But, first draw a s k e t c h of your vegetable
growing system in the space below. Or, you may attach a picture of the system here. Show your con-
tainers, how many, and kinds of plants.
"':;-.. :, r: -About Your V = .- : : I
What Container Culture method did you use?
How many containers did you have? Describe them.
What material did you use as your "soil"?
What vegetables did you grow?
When did you plant?
Did you set transplants or plant seed?
What fertilizer did you use?
How often did you apply it?
Did you have any problems with your fertilizer solution? What were the problems?
What insects bothered your plants?
What diseases bothered your plants?
How did you control them?
How many vegetables did you harvest?
Did they look and taste as good as most vegetables you have eaten grown in a garden?
Did you sell any of your vegetables ?
Do you consider your method successful? In a few words, tell what were the most important things
you learned by taking this project.
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1. This document is 4HGRM02 of the Florida 4-H Youth Development Program, Florida Cooperative
Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida.
Produced August 1979, revised May 1996, Reviewed June 2002.
2. James M. Stephens, Assistant Vegetable Crops Specialist, Florida Cooperative Extension Service,
University of Florida, Gainesville. Susan D. Gray, Assistant in Vegetable Crops, Florida Cooperative
Extension Service, University of Florida, Gainesville.
COOPERATIVE EXTENSION SERVICE, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA, INSTITUTE OF FOOD AND AGRICULTURAL SCIENCES, Christine
Taylor Waddill, Director, in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture, publishes this information to further the purpose of
the May 8 and June 30, 1914 Acts of Congress; and is authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to
individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, age, sex, handicap or national origin. The information in this publication
is available in alternate formats. Single copies of extension publications (excluding 4-H and youth publications) are available free to Florida
residents from county extension offices. Information on copies for out-of-state purchase is available from Publications Distribution Center,
University of Florida, PO Box 110011, Gainesville, FL 32611-0011.