I rent my duplex and, while I'm lucky enough to have a bit of a backyard, I can't go digging it up to plant all the herbs and tomato plants I dream about. So I came up with an alternative that's pretty simple and, in my opinion, looks pretty cool.
Since my plants didn't all die after this project -- in fact, they're thriving, yay! -- I thought I'd share it with you. It's a great afternoon activity and it lets you get your hands a little dirty, which is always fun. And, because they're moveable containers, you can still do this if you have really limited space, like a patio or outdoor stairway that gets a good amount of natural sunlight.
Here's what you'll need:
Wine crates (I got mine for $1 each at a local wine store)
Flat head screwdriver
Screen mesh (cheap and easily accessible at any hardware store -- click here for example -- I needed one roll)
Potting soil (ask your local nursery how much you'll need based on how many crates you're filling -- it's always better to have too much than not enough!)
Herbs/plants of your choice
My wine crates (the big one is for a tomato plant -- it'll need more depth for its long roots).
Herbs ready to be planted. Amazing canine ready to observe and keep me company.
First, you need to remove the bottom wood slats from your crates. Wedge a flat-head screwdriver in between where the bottom slats and side slats meet, then hammer the screwdriver so that the bottom slats start to pull away. You can then use the backside of your hammer to really pull the wood apart. You'll be left with a four-sided wooden box like the picture on the right.
Next, roll out the screen mesh over the bottom of the crate and trim it so there's a good two inches hanging over all four sides. Use your staple gun to staple the screen to the wood. Start by putting one staple in the middle of each side, pulling the screen taught with each staple. Add more staples along each side, continuing to pull the screen gently with each staple so you don't end up with a sagging bottom. Then trim the sides of the screen so there's only a 1/4 to 1/2 inch overhang all around.
Lay about five pieces of newspaper in the bottom of the crate. This will keep the soil from washing out through the bottom when watering but won't impede the drainage process. Add several inches of soil to the crate. Place your plants on the soil but don't crowd them -- the roots need room to spread out -- and then fill in the container with soil. I put three basil plants in one wine crate, but only two rosemary plants because they grow taller and need more space. If you're going to plant tomatoes, only plant one per crate and make sure to get a deeper container (a magnum wine crate). Those babies need a lot of room to grow!
Now find a nice place for them to soak up the sun and give them a good watering. With any luck, yours will grow like this:
And your tomato plants will grow little fruit like this:
P.S. You should also get a tomato stake if applicable. It helps shape the plant as it grows and will keep it upright and stop the branches from breaking when the fruit begins to grow and weigh them down. I got mine at OSH.