It’s great to grow your own food. It’s awesome to use container gardening to do this. But it’s also cool to build a sustainable container vegetable garden.
The good thing is, it’s not as difficult as you may think.
You can start small with a few simple steps and keep building on how much sustainability you want to create in your garden.
Let’s get started.
What is the meaning of sustainability in the garden?
Sustainability in the garden means we want to grow plants but without affecting the environment. We want to ensure that the garden is organic and aims to conserve natural resources. We want there to be less waste and want to help protect biodiversity.
That’s why I always recommend using organic materials for fertilizers or pesticides instead of synthetic ones. I also recommend using efficient watering methods such as drip irrigation or soaker hose that can help reduce the water required.
I would suggest avoiding the use of pesticides as much as possible even if it’s organic. Because any such materials can harm beneficial insects and pollinators. The first attempt should be methods like hand picking, using traps, or cutting affected parts. Using pesticides should be the last thing we do if we want to build a sustainable vegetable garden.
Some other things that improve sustainability include using organic mulch that will slowly add nutrients and organic material to the soil. And growing locally adapted native species of plants that have fewer watering needs and are better protected from pests and diseases.
Overall, sustainability in the garden means taking a holistic approach to gardening that considers the impact of our actions on the environment and seeks to promote long-term health and productivity for both the garden and the planet.
What is the purpose of sustainable gardening?
When we use sustainable gardening, we want to create a vegetable garden that is productive and resilient but with the purpose of reducing the negative impact on the environment.
We avoid using chemicals in the garden for fertilizers or pesticides. We use organic methods only so the chemicals can’t leach into the soil or water and cause harm to the ecosystem.
The purpose is to grow organic, nutritious, and flavorful vegetables with zero waste. The food would be available to humans, animals and birds to maintain a balance.
Once you build a sustainable vegetable garden, it can help reduce your trips to grocery stores and help lower gas consumption. The more people grow their own food, the greater the reduction in transporting food over several miles and the impact on the environment.
How to make the container vegetable garden sustainable?
You may think it’s difficult to make your container vegetable garden sustainable. You need to put in a lot of effort. But that’s not the case. I’ll give you some simple tips to get this started.
You don’t even need to do all the things at once. Start with one thing and keep building on it until you’re happy with what you achieved.
1. Avoid using synthetic chemicals in the garden
The best thing you can start with is avoiding using chemicals in the garden. So you don’t use fertilizers or pesticides that are synthetic.
These chemicals cause serious harm to beneficial insects, soil microbes, and even humans and animals. The chemicals leach into the soil and water table and impact the entire ecosystem.
I recommend always going for organic methods for the fertilizers and pesticides. There are plenty of options for organic fertilizers such as cow manure, seaweed, bone meal, blood meal, alfalfa, fish emulsion and potash. If you use compost regularly in the garden, you may not even need much fertilizer.
My favorite organic fertilizers to use are cow manure, potash, and neem cake powder. I find they work really well for the pepper, tomato, spinach, and cilantro plants in my container garden.
If you find pests in the garden, the first solution to check is if you can handpick the pests or cut off the affected parts. Some other options include using physical barriers such as row covers or netting.
You may use traps to capture some pests. Or you may use beneficial insects such as lady bus or praying mantises. If that’s not possible, the next thing to look at is using organic pesticide.
2. Recycle food waste at home
Making your own compost is another simple step towards a sustainable garden. You collect food scraps and yard waste you can use to create nutrient-rich compost for the vegetable garden.
You can use kitchen food waste such as vegetable and fruit peels, coffee grounds, eggshells, yard waste such as dried leaves, wood chips, straw, chicken manure, and shredded paper.
You can keep a compost pile, bin, or tumbler in one part of the garden and add these materials to build compost. The compost helps recycle organic matter in and around the house and reduce greenhouse emissions.
Use the compost in your garden to add nutrients and organic matter to the container vegetable plants. This helps you get a healthy plant and a good harvest. It also reduces the amount of fertilizer you’ll need to add to the potting soil.
3. Reduce the use of water in the garden
Conserving water will be an important part of creating a sustainable container vegetable garden. Plants will need water, but you want to be efficient and provide only the required amount.
The good thing about using containers is you already reduce the water you need to provide the plants. You only need to water the potting soil when it becomes dry. And pour water until it drains out of the drainage holes.
The way I check this is to stick my finger 1-2 inches into the potting soil and see if it’s completely dry. If the finger comes out with no soil sticking to it, I give the potting soil a deep watering.
You can reduce the water consumption even more if you use efficient methods such as automated drip irrigation or soaker hose. You can set it up to provide just the required water for the specific time.
Another option to conserve water is to keep rain barrels in the garden. Rainwater is the best water for your container plants. And collecting the rainwater can help reduce your need for tap water.
I would recommend using organic mulch on the potting soil as it can help keep the moisture for a longer time. So you need to water less the plants hence conserving water.
4. Grow many native plants in the garden
Native plants are cool because they are adapted to the local climate. They have less need for watering and maintenance. And they are better protected from the native pests and diseases.
I would recommend growing native plants together with the container vegetable plants. The native plants will attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies as they work as hosting and feeding plants.
The native plants will also attract birds and beneficial insects to your container vegetable garden. They will feed on many pests that would attack the vegetables.
5. Reuse materials at home and the garden
You want to reuse as many materials as possible at home and in the garden. Making your own compost and mulch is one way to do this.
But you can recycle several materials such as containers in which you grow the vegetables. You can use anything that is deep enough to grow the plants such as pots, pans, buckets, milk jugs, food containers, and grocery bags.
I would suggest cleaning the containers with a bleach solution and water before using them. Make sure that you add drainage holes into the containers that you use so the excess water drains out.
You can also use materials such as burlap sacks, old pieces of cloth, netting to work as row covers for the vegetable plants.
6. Use organic mulch in the containers
Organic mulch is one essential to have in your container garden. We have seen that the organic mulch helps you recycle materials such as dried leaves, wood chips, straw, newspapers at home.
The organic mulch will break down over time and add organic material and nutrients to the potting soil. This helps reduce your need for adding fertilizers to the plant.
The organic mulch will act as a layer to suppress weeds in the potting soil and reduce your need for weed control.
The organic mulch will keep the soil temperature regulated. This means it helps the potting soil keep moisture a lot longer. This reduces the need to water your plants as often and helps to conserve water.
7. Save seeds from your vegetable harvest
Once you grow organic vegetables in the garden, you can save seeds for the next growing season. This helps keep the garden sustainable because you reduce dependency on buying new seeds every season.
You can grow heirloom and open-pollinated varieties of plants that will produce seeds that are true to type. This helps conserve these rare seeds and you can share the excess with seed banks, friends, and family.
8. Conserve energy use in the garden
You can use solar energy to conserve a lot of power in your container vegetable garden. My favorite way would be to use solar-powered lights and reduce energy consumption. You can also use solar-powered devices for the automated drip-irrigation system and water pumps that you may have.
I would prefer to use sunlight to dry out the leaves and straw that I use as mulch in the garden. I would do the same for any vegetables such as onions and potatoes that need to be dried a little so they can store for a longer time.
If you live in a cold climate, you can set up a greenhouse that can keep the container plants warm and extend your growing season.
Which vegetables are more sustainable to grow in the garden?
Tomatoes: Tomatoes are a popular choice for container gardens because they are easy to grow and produce a bountiful harvest. They require a large container, at least 5 gallons in size, and need plenty of sunlight and regular watering. Tomatoes are also rich in vitamins and minerals.
Peppers: Peppers are another easy-to-grow vegetable that does well in containers. They require a warm, sunny location and well-draining soil. Peppers come in a variety of colors and flavors and are rich in vitamin C.
Lettuce: Gardeners can take advantage of lettuce’s fast-growth and cultivate it in containers all year round. It prefers cooler temperatures and partial shade, and needs frequent watering to prevent wilting. Lettuce is a great source of vitamins A and K.
Beans: You can easily grow nutritious and protein-rich beans in containers. They require a trellis or support structure and prefer full sun and well-draining soil. Beans are easy to grow and produce a high yield.
Cucumbers: Cucumbers are a refreshing summer crop that do well in containers. They require a trellis or a support structure, plenty of sunlight, and regular watering. Cucumbers are rich in vitamins and minerals.
Radishes: Radishes are a fast-growing root vegetable that are easy to grow in containers. They prefer cooler temperatures and partial shade and require regular watering. Radishes are a good source of vitamin C and potassium.
Carrots: Carrots are a nutritious root vegetable that you can cultivate in containers. They require deep soil, plenty of sunlight, and regular watering. Carrots are rich in beta-carotene and fiber.
Herbs: Herbs such as basil, parsley, cilantro, and thyme can be grown in containers and used for cooking or medicinal purposes. They require well-draining soil and regular watering, and prefer a sunny location.
I hope you’ve learned the benefits of sustainable gardening and how you can begin implementing the same in your container vegetable garden. If you’re looking to know how to improve your container gardening, you can find the basics in the post below.
Here are some of my favorite container gardening tools
Thank you for reading this post. I hope it helps you with your gardening needs. I’ve listed some tools below that can help you with container gardening. These are affiliate links so I’ll earn a commission if you use them.
Gardening Gloves – I find the Pine Tree Tools Bamboo Gardening Gloves really good for both men and women. It’s made from bamboo so helps absorb perspiration. They are also comfortable and fit very well.
Containers – You know picking the right container is crucial for your container gardening. I’ve written a detailed post on the best containers you can choose from. If you’re happy with a plastic container, you can check out the Bloem Saturn Planter.
Watering Can – This is a must-have tool when you’re growing plants in pots or grow bags. It helps to water the potting soil without splashing on the foliage. The Kensington Watering Can is stylish, strong, and can provide precision when watering potted plants.
Trowel – Garden Guru Trowel is my favorite because it’s durable and comfortable to use. My gardening friends really love having a trowel because they use it for digging soil, mixing fertilizer, moving seeds, leveling out the soil, mixing compost or mulch, and also dividing tubers
Bypass Pruner – I really like the Corona Bypass Pruner because it’s durable and gives a clean cut that helps plants recover faster. If you’re looking for something cheap, get the Fiskars Bypass Pruner that is really good as well.
To see an extensive list of the best container gardening tools gardeners recommend, check out this resource that I made for you.
Kevin is the founder of Gardening Mentor, a website that aims to teach people to grow their own food in a limited space. As a self-taught gardener, Kevin has spent several years growing plants and creating gardening content on the website. He is certified in Home Horticulture and Organic Gardening by expert gardeners from Oregon State University.