Gardening: Self-watering Containers

Here’s a great way to be able to enjoy a garden or expand a garden anywhere!

Gardening: Self-watering Containers, edward c. smith
18-gallon storage bins become self-watering planters

Gardening: Self-watering Containers

I love our garden – I do. But I am like most gardeners – if you ask me if I have enough garden space, I will say no!


I dream of a day that I can have a huge pumpkin patch and the rest of the garden rivals the beauty and size of Monticello’s.


But, until then, it’s back to reality! And that means running out of space – nearly, well no, there’s no nearly about it – it’s every year! I always have a long list of needs and wants. Usually, my wants get thrown out and my precious space is used for more practical things like corn and green beans (for canning) but every now and then I can scrape by enough space for a little more fun stuff like elephant garlic or lemon cucumbers – even warty thing pumpkins.

The main thing that has helped me immensely are self-watering containers. But if you have ever priced them at the store, you are looking at some major investments. Which I did, then after one such day of being shell shocked I came across a book by Edward C. Smith – “The Vegetable Gardener’s Container Bible”. (No, I am not getting paid for this – just letting you know where I got the info!) I was already familiar with Mr. Smith from a previous book he had released – “The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible”- which is chock full of good information and is one of the first books I reach for when starting to plan the garden.

Gardening: Self-watering Containers, edward c. smith

But this book is all about container gardening. What I liked about this book the most was the section that he has regarding self-watering containers – and how to make them using 5-gallon buckets and plastic storage bins. And it came with step-by-step instructions!

Gardening: Self-watering Containers, edward c. smith

They are actually pretty easy. I made 2 large ones using 2, 18-gallon storage bins and 4, 5-gallon bucket containers. The 18-gallon containers only need the bin and lid, the 5-gallon bucket containers need 2, 5-gallon buckets per container. Which we had plenty of at the time I made these due to a neighbor giving us a bunch before they moved. And you will need a length of plastic downspout (which we also had due to a different neighbor moving!) and various tools and Mr. Smith also says to use silicone caulk for the large container to keep the “spacers” in place. I didn’t use any and was just careful when filling the bin with soil. I also found that without the caulk it made it easier to clean the whole thing out after the season.

Gardening: Self-watering Containers, edward c. smith
Inside the 5-gallon self-watering container

Above you can see what the inside of the self-watering container looks like. The hole in the middle is made to be filled with soil, and the plastic downspout (that has holes drilled into it) helps hold the bucket up while allowing the soil and plant to “wick” the water up. The picture below shows the hole that was made in the side of the bucket that is used to fill the reservoir with water. For the large container, it is similar, but you use 6 spacers to hold the bottom up, which is made from the lid. I won’t give away all the info – I don’t want to cheat Mr. Smith from a sale – but they are very good. Maybe not all that pretty, but extremely useful.

Gardening: Self-watering Containers, edward c. smith

I guess the next question would be – what can you grow in them? Anything! I have had tomatoes, parsnips, lettuce, kale, cucumbers, kohlrabi and carrots in them. I especially like them for the tomatoes because I could keep them consistently watered – which prevented splitting. And that reminds me – I have some watering to do.

I hope this helps you with your garden plans!


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