Asphalt Garden: Planting the Perfect Crop

Once I had prepped the wine barrels that were making up the raised vegetable garden in my apartment parking lot, it was time to actually put stuff in them.

Potting soil, manure, garden soil, peat moss (clockwise from the top).

Making the soil: Sunset (which I think will become my go-to source for all things gardening) recommends using soil containing peat moss and perlite (which helps the soil retain water). I made my planting soil by combining “garden soil” (the coarsest soil, with visible wood chips), “potting soil” (which contained some peat moss and perlite, plus other organic matter and sand), straight peat moss, and steer manure. I originally only purchased garden soil, but when I opened one bag and saw how woody it was, I realized I needed to make my own mix. We’ll see how my dirt performs this year. I used 4.25 cubic-feet of dirt per barrel, and I could have fit at least another half cubic foot of dirt in. Having some space did make it easier to mix the different dirts together.

Picking the vegetables: I had four wine barrels to work with, and I needed to select what I was going to grow. I knew for sure I wanted two tomato plants – one plum-size or larger, and one cherry. But what else? I wanted cilantro for sure, and I was enamored with the idea of growing a jalapeño pepper. Basil was also a no-brainer. When I was growing up, in addition to tomatoes we had cucumbers and zucchinis.

Ultimately I paired two basil plants with my tomatoes. Some sources say growing basil near a tomato will give the fruit stronger flavor, and also deter pests. Others say the basil benefits are negligible. We’ll see if I can notice any difference.

I made my third barrel an herb barrel, with two cilantro plants, oregano and thyme, plus a jalapeño. It’s possible I tried to cram too many herbs into one barrel; both oregano and cilantro are known to spread.

In my final barrel I opted for a zucchini over a cucumber. I actually prefer cucumbers, but I use zucchinis in a much wider variety of dishes. I knew from my childhood that zucchini plants can grow quite large, so I gave the plant its own barrel.

Tips for Planting: When you pull the seedlings out of the containers they were originally planted in, give their roots a good tickle and loosen them up. This will help them grow faster in their new (much bigger) home.

Tomatoes can be planted deep in the soil. Pinch off all their shoots except for the top two or three, and bury the rest of the plant. The tomato will produce roots wherever you clipped its leaves.

Now that I have all my vegetables planted, I play the waiting game. I should get my first tomatoes in about two months, and my first jalapeños in about three. Until my first harvest I’ll have regular updates covering topics like fertilizer and the additional challenges of planting above ground, plus a look at the economics of starting a vegetable garden.

  • Lydia

    What are the red trays in the barrels?

    • Mark Evitt

      The trays are supposed to help fruit development – they trap heat in the soil and also reflect it up to the plants, which peppers and tomatoes like. One of the clerks at the garden store suggested I use them. We’ll see if they work …

  • Anonymous

    The Maryland Cooperative Extension service out of U of MD has a comprehensive info sheet on container gardening by Jon Traunfeld, Regional Specialist, Maryland Cooperative Extension, including how to make a self-watering garden container out of 5 gallon plastic buckets.
    But not nearly as nice looking as your wine barrels.

    • Mark Evitt

      The fact sheet is a great resource, and I’m eager to try the self-watering buckets – maybe next summer …

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