Uncertainty is one of the greatest challenges for urban gardeners, especially those of us who don’t own property. A garden is a serious commitment of time and effort, but often urban gardeners have no guarantees about future availability of garden space. For this reason, a modular approach can be a good strategy. Breaking your garden down into movable units makes it feasible to relocate if necessary.
Milk crates are an ideal choice to make a planter for several reasons. They are widely available for cheap or even sometimes free. They are very sturdy, with strong easy-to-grip handles. They have a regular shape which makes efficient use of space, and they are stackable. A milk crate holds about a cubic foot of dirt, which is sufficient to grow many kinds of food plants and yet is not too heavy to pick up and move.
On its own, a milk crate is not ideal for holding dirt. But that is easily remedied. You can line the crate with newspaper, cardboard, landscape fabric, burlap, cloth (an old towel or t-shirt works), or even a plastic garbage bag. If you use plastic, just be sure to poke enough holes for good drainage and ventilation so the roots of your plants don’t get waterlogged.
Today I used landscape fabric because there was already some on site. It has the advantage of being easy to cut with scissors, allows air and water to pass through easily, and is reasonably durable. But if you don’t already have landscape fabric, I advise you to use whatever you have on hand. The best solution is usually the simplest and cheapest one.
In these milk crates I planted heirloom tomato seeds of the Columbianum Wildform variety from Sustainable Seed Company in Sebastopol, CA. It’s a bit early to start them outside but this year is off to a warm start.
I repotted my beloved Green Warrior Tree Aloe in another milk crate lined with a garbage bag. “He” was getting too big for my bedroom and was also pot-bound. The crate was a nice step up for him. I think he’ll be happy in his new home, with more direct sun.
I had already used the crate to transport the soil, so I just poked some drainage holes in the plastic. After I seated the Tree Aloe in his new home I topped off the soil with a decorative stone mulch.
I’m using cardboard mulch under the planters to keep the weeds and invasive grass down. That grass will get into just about anything and take over if it gets half a chance.