Putting in a large garden to produce the bulk of the family food supply involves a lot of planning, work, and praying for good weather. Prepper families should plan to garden, raise livestock, stock a pond with fish, hunt, and purchase long-term food storage items to ensure that their loved ones will not starve during a long-term disaster.
If the space for a massive garden is unfortunately not possible, vertical gardening offers a viable alternative to supplement to diet with healthy food and to stave off starvation should the grocery store shelves suddenly go bare. Growing food in either traditional garden plots or via vertical gardening will only help feed the family if proper food preservation and storage techniques are also used. Root cellars provide the ideal climate to keep both canned and commercially purchased long-term food storage #10 cans and buckets.
Maximizing the growing area will not only help to decrease grocery bills even further, but will allow more naturally grown and healthy produce to be canned, dehydrated and stored. Container gardening is a good way to enhance your growing capabilities, but going the vertical gardening route is truly the best way to make use of small spaces and utilize every inch of empty ground on your property.
Vertical gardening offers the ability to grow more produce in a small amount of space. While such container gardens are ideal for urban and suburban dwellers, they are useful for rural folks, as well.
Barrels are large and can offer a high yield, but upcycling plastic soda bottles, wood pallets, and aluminum cans can also be used to create a small space garden.
Commercially manufactured vertical gardening containers are readily available, but there truly is no need to go to the added expense. A clean 55-gallon plastic drum works extremely well as a vertical container garden and can be adapted to the growing purpose quite easily. Such planters take up little space and can grow approximately 50 plants. The garden in a barrel concept also saves time and water. The 55-gallon drums prevent damage to the plants from rabbits, moles and gophers. Harvesting the crop is also a breeze for those with mobility issues.
By inserting a tube with holes down the center of the barrel, composting worms and natural fertilizers can also be added to enhance the growing process. It only takes about one to five hours to complete a vertical garden barrel, depending on your skill. The project will likely cost between $20-50 to make.
Vertical Garden Barrel Basics
Virtually any typical herb or vegetable plant will grow in a garden barrel. Smaller and “bush type” plants are often favored because they take up so little space. Commonly grown vertical garden barrel vegetables include: basil, lettuce, tomatoes, kale, potatoes, spinach, carrots, peas, beets, cucumbers, and bush beans.
Perennials are not typically grown in vertical garden barrels. Such plants often have difficulty because they tend to become root bound inside the barrel. Strawberries are perhaps the one successful exception to this rule. Even though many gardeners have had nice strawberry harvests from a barrel, the plants must still be replaced about every three years.
Although vertical garden barrels do tend to curtail the mole, gopher, and rabbit issues (if the barrel is placed upon legs), deer do remain an issue. Since the barrels take up so little space, fencing the area around the barrels is a viable option to stop deer from snacking on your growing veggies.
A center tube with composting worms is not a requirement for a good vertical barrel crop, but they do help get the most from your seeds and the soil. The composting worms provide an ample source of nutrients to the vegetables and also aerate the soil.
Gardeners who live in a mild climate may not have to remove the worms during the winter, but if where you live brings frozen ground each December, the worms would likely die if left inside the vertical garden.
Only a small portion of the soil inside the 55-gallon drum vertical garden is exposed to the air; therefore less water is generally needed for the plants. Capturing the rain water that drains from the barrel also helps reduce the need to supply water to the crop. An additional 55-gallon drum attached to a down spout is an excellent way to garner water for the plants.
How to make a vertical gardening barrel
1. Purchase a new 55-gallon barrel, or one that has not housed any chemicals and is safe for food. Clean the barrel with warm soapy water and allow to air dry – or dry with a beach towel.
2. Cut slits into the side of the barrel for the plants. Some folks use a buzz saw, but others hammer a wedge into the side of the 55-gallon drum to create the slits, and other gardeners use a jig saw, heat gun, or a crowbar to accomplish the task. Regardless of the cutting method used, approximately 48 slits need to be cut into the plastic barrel. If growing larger plants, reduce the number of holes.
3. Purchase (or cut to suit) a 4-to 6-inch piece of PVC pipe to serve as a worm hole. This step is optional, but highly recommended by experienced vertical container gardeners. Drill some small holes around the tube so the composting worms can travel from the tube and through the soil to aerate the dirt. Inside the worm tube, put munchies the little creatures cannot resist, such as coffee grounds and general kitchen scraps – the kind of stuff you would commonly throw into your compost pile.
4. Cut a hole at the bottom of the 55-gallon drum that the bottom of the worm tube can be placed snugly into. A plug made of rubber or a piece of scrap plastic duct taped around the opening, will keep all everything in place. Simply open the plug to allow worm castings to fall into a container beneath the barrel. Place a similar cap or plug on the top of the worm tube to prevent rain and mice from getting inside.
5. Place the vertical gardening container on cinder blocks or build an upside-down stool type base to balance the barrel and the worm castings contain on. Even if you opt out of the worm tube, raising the barrel just slightly off the ground will help keep rabbits away from the bottom layer of growing vegetables.
6. Fill the barrel with soil and start planting your vegetables. Smaller plants should be placed at the top of the 55-gallon drum and vining plants at the bottom. Plants that grow in an upright position, such as carrots, tomatoes and peppers, also need to be positioned at the top of the barrel.
7. Maintain the health of the soil and the plants by occasionally sprinkling some of the collected worm castings back into the barrel.
The once commonplace structures are now being made with a wide-variety variety of earth-friendly and upcycled materials. When constructed properly, the food storage units can also be used as a storm shelter or temporary bugout location.
When building an earthen root cellar or storm shelter near your home, four important aspects of the process must remain a top priority throughout the process. The entryway most boast a door which seals completely to prevent as many spiders, snakes, squirrels, and mice from taking up residence inside.
The shelter must be designed large enough to accommodate not only significant stores of canned items, but must also possess enough open space that the family and any regular visitors can still fit inside when used as an emergency shelter.
For a root cellar to function properly, the interior temperature must remain at a constant 32 to 40 degrees and possess a humidity level of 85 to 95 percent. A dual temperature and humidity gauge is typically available for a few bucks at most pet stores, and can be affixed to a storage shelf to help monitor the environment inside of the root cellar. The cool temperature decreases the release of ethylene gas and thwarts the growth of microorganisms that cause decomposition.
The humidity percentage will help prevent the loss of moisture through evaporation. A drainage pipe needs to be properly positioned and angled so that excess water drains away from the cellar, should any get inside. The structure should also be placed in a location that will remain out of direct sunlight so carrots, onions, apples, and other produce does not go bad. Some of the best spots for root cellars and storm shelters are along a soil bank about 10 to 20- yards from the home. If the family must run to the shelter during an emergency, in needs to be as close to the house as possible. If a lot of time is spent inside a barn or workshop away from the house, consider building a secondary (or even third) shelter when it is economically feasible. Getting caught out in the field working the land or livestock could turn deadly quickly if the individual is forced to run multiple acres to reach a shelter.
The thickness of the walls will both help keep the interior of the structure cool and enhance the strength of the earthen building. Stay away from areas near large trees, as the roots grow thickly and the cellar walls could become cracked.
A perfect “hole-in-the-ground” root cellar is built in a good drainage area with sandy soil. Utilizing an elevated slope will move away any water that does accumulate inside the cellar. The door to the storm shelter and root cellar structure needs to be comprised of extremely durable material. Iron and steel plates, even dinged ones you might happen across at a junkyard, would work well.
Once the door is in place, firmly packing another layer of dirt around the structure will increase the geothermal attributes of the earthen building and help protect it from flying objects during a tornado or hurricane.