Kauai Bucket Gardening

SUBHEAD: Keeping your family in food grown in 5-gallon-buckets along the side of your house.  

By Linda Pascatore on 15 April 2010  for Island Breath -

Image above: Two year old eggplant still producing out of 5-gallon paint bucket. All photos by Juan Wilson. 

[IB Publisher's note on 6/9/17: About five years after we published this article we abandoned bucket gardening except for the case of herbs and spices. The wine cask containers show in the article rotted away after a few years of dealing with wet earth and the five gallon bucket got brittle and broke down after years of semitropical sunlight. We now do most of our vegetable growing in 1 a raised garden of 8" deep redwood containers with a surrounding wire fence (to keep out chickens) and support growing plants like tomatoes, and beans. If you have do not have space for a raised bed garden the bucket gardening definitely is a good alternative.]

 We recommend that everyone grow some of their own food. For self-reliance, we need to ramp-up food production on Kauai by an order of magnitude. This can only be achieved if growing food is a wide-spread activity. It is easy to do, but requires a some time to get the hang of it and get some food produced. If circumstances find you at Big Save after some emergency panic and the shelves are stripped, you'll wish you had a head-start growing your own food.

 Having an in-ground vegetable garden is not possible for many people. They may be renters or not have rich enough soil (or even have too much predation from wild chickens and pigs). One way to grow abundant vegetables is to plant them in small controllable spaces. For those with some yard, that can be done with a raised-bed garden that is fenced-in.

For those with greater land constraints, we suggest growing food in pots or buckets. This can be done is a tiny space only a few feet across if there is sunlight and available water. The advantages of growing in such a tiny controlled space are:
• Complete control of the soil mixture. • Portability - allowing for quick relocation. • Isolation from most weeds. • Custom treatment of various species.
Another feature of bucket farming is that it is a fast way to get started without the use of a tiller or other expensive equipment and can be added to incrementally. It is not a good way to start a larger commercial operation based on volume. There are certainly many people today who buy all their vegetables from supermarkets. This article is in part directed at those who have made a decision to begin growing food on their own and want an easy way to start.

Image above: Left to right - cracking plastic planter ($10) half oak whiskey barrel ($35), five-gallon paint bucket (free).

To bucket farm you need a bucket or container. We have tried several kinds. They range from plastic planters from Home Depot, to homemade concrete containers, to half whiskey-barrels to the lowly five-gallon paint bucket. If you are just beginning, we suggest trying the lowly five-gallon paint bucket first. Why?

 1) Because you probably have one in your garage right now that won't cost you a cent.
 2) They are cheaper, tougher and will last longer than many commercial plastic planters.

The standard paint bucket is strong and is designed to be stacked high when full of heavy liquids. They seem quite inert relative to the chemicals they may contain. They also seem to resist insects, sunlight ultra-violet, oxygenation and other corrosive processes found in the garden.

 Image above: The lowly yet universal five-gallon paint bucket. Good for carrying anything that will fit in it.

Five-gallon paint buckets can be bought new from many places on Kauai like Ace Hardware. We have had good luck with half whiskey barrels from Home Depot but they are over $35 each and are rarely available. We waited over 2 years for a restocking. Five-gallon-buckets are available for free (or about $5 new). Note, our editor David Ward discovered that the Home Depot orange buckets recently available did not hold up that well. We have had good results with the Ace buckets.

Image above: Two ways to go - amend your own soil (left), or buy complete growing medium (right).  

If you choose to employ a used five-gallon bucket,t make sure it is clean and did not contain something you suspect to be poisonous in trace amounts in soil. In our opinion water-based latex-acrylic paints can be cleaned adequately from such a bucket. Once you have your bucket in hand, drill some holes in the bottom to control over-watering your plants. Five or six quarter-inch diameter holes will do. Next, for drainage, layer the bottom of the bucket with some gravel or small stones.

There are a couple of options for soil to use in your containers. You can use yard soil with some added supplements, or you can use a packaged soil mix. It is simpler, although not necessarily cheaper by quantity, to simply buy a natural soil enriching compost for planting & mulching, and use that as your soil. Three-cubic-feet plastic bags of this kind of soil are available from Ace, Home Depot, or other suppliers on Kauai.

As a whole soil substitution, we have recently used "Kellogg All Natural N'Rich " from Home Depot, costing under $20 a bag. It contains: Forest humus, Compost, Composted chicken manure, Worm Castings, Kelp meal, Bat guano, Gypsum, Oyster and Dolomite limes (pH adjusters). You can add river-mouth sand or your own soil to stretch this material. One bag will, however fill three or four buckets.

Image above: Packaging of Kellog All Natural N'Rich soil compost for planting and mulching.

 As an added soil supplement to stretch your commercial compost soil or (help loosen clayish homegrown soil) we harvest some river-mouth sand from a stream into Hanapepe Bay. This sand includes some ocean sand (ground coral and shells) mixed with runoff eroded from the surrounding hillsides. It piles up at the mouth of the stream and will eventually just wash to the bottom of the ocean. In effect we are recycling dirt.

Of course, all soil can be improved by adding your own compost material from kitchen waste and yard cuttings. Backyard composting is critical to soil building and conservation. More on this in another article. If you choose to use yard soil as the basic ingredient in your bucket garden, you will likely need supplements.

Much of the soil on Kauai has been exhausted. Pineapple and sugarcane fields that have been built upon are poor soils to grow in. Many river bottom areas have too much clay in the soils and many areas have too little organic material for for healthy plants. The permaculture expert Ray Maki, has a natural fertilizer formula for supplementing Kauai soil. We consider our buckets a Permaculture Zone 1 activity. See Ea O Ka Aina: Permaculture - Growing Zones 3/22/10.

Ray Maki has a nursery and does permaculture consultations. He can be reached at: Ray Maki Nursery, Farm & Garden Design PO Box 498 Kilauea, Kauai HI 96754-0498 Cell- 808-634-5412.

Soil Recipe: For a five-gallon-bucket we use a 16 oz empty yogurt container to dole out the parts. - 2 parts chicken manure pellets ($14 for a 50 lb bag) - 1 part Rock Phosphate ($22 for a 50 lb bag) - 1 part Glacial Rock Dust ($23 for a 50 lb bag) - 1 part New Jersey Green Sand This is a mixture of long term nutrients, to be applied once a year. The chicken pellets alone, which supply nitrogen for growth, can be applied two to four times a year.

We have recently purchased the Chicken Pellets, Rock Phosphate, and Glacial Rock Dust for prices mentioned above from: Crop Production Services 3042 Peleke Street, Lihue, Kauai, 96766 (808) 245-3472 If you know a chicken farmer, you might get dried chicken manure there. We have purchased a mixture of sawdust and aged manure (good carbon/nitrogen balance) from: Nolan & Lavern Bukowski Pali Uli Farm, Lawai, Kauai (808-651-4504).

You can by starter plants from garden centers like Home Depot and Walmart's or plant from seed. Ace has a wide variety of UH bred seeds that do well in tropical Hawaii. We highly recommend them. We usually start our plants in a controlled "nursery" (an old sink we liberated from the Hanapepe Transfer station and keep outside). This lets us pay more attention to spacing, moisture, wind and sun when the plants are still infants. Once they seem established, we transfer them to the bucket or pot.

Image above: un-plumbed tub-sink we use to protect a flat of seeded starter pots from wind, chickens and too much sun.

We have found in our semi-shady area of the westside, when it hasn't rained recently, we need to water our bucket garden every-other-day. Many plants like lettuce get too much sun here and we often shade our buckets with plastic window screen material supported on sticks shoved into the soil. We have yard chickens, and some plants they want to dig in even though they are up in a bucket. They tear up baby lettuce and carrots.

Those plants we protect with chicken-wire supported on sticks as needed. Some plants do not grow well in buckets. We have had the best luck with swiss chard, kale, collards, eggplant, lettuce, carrots, arugula, basil and a variety of herbs. Two eggplants we have in separate buckets have been producing for two years. There are many other varieties to experiment with. See also: Texas A&M: Gardening in Containers (http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/extension/container/container.html) Backwoods Home Magazine: Gardening in a cramped apartment (http://www.backwoodshome.com/articles/wolcott61.html)


1 comment :

Eleanor said...

Dear Juan and Linda

Good article but tomatoes and squash can be grown in buckets with concrete mesh wire circle supports. I have seen several of these in Kekaha recently.

I wish your articles had broader exposure -- especially this one. Is the Garden Island totally opposed to an article like this? How about talking with Pam Woolsey?

Keep up the great work. Yours is one of the few emails that I always open.


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