One of my resolutions for 2011 has been to grow a substantial part of our food ourselves. I don’t think we’ll quite reach “substantial” amounts this year, but gardening has opened my eyes to just how much effort it takes to put food on the plate. It is easy to forget this when you can just walk down to the supermarket and pay $2 for a head of lettuce and expecting that lettuce will come out of nowhere as long as you’re able to produce money from your wallet—dangerous thinking! It is quite another thing to sow a lettuce seed, water it carefully for a week and watch a little seedling comes up; then continue watering it for several weeks while it attains the size required to be edible. There’s no instant gratification there. Unlike credit, you can’t produce food out of thin air.

I used to think I had a black thumb: That putting any plant in my care, save a cactus, would mean its eventual demise. However, gardening is like taking care of a pet. It needs to be fed regularly but not enough to drown it, the plant that is. As long as it’s “fed” (watered), it will do okay. Just don’t forget it—like you wouldn’t forget your pet.

Our big challenge living in an RV park is that we’re not allowed to mulch over our evil lawn. Thus we’d had to resort to container gardening. In the past years, we’ve been using simple pots only to “forget” to water them on some random day pretty much resulting in the loss of the crop as the plants withered away.

So this year I made self-watering containers out of 5 gallon buckets.

You can get the general idea by looking at them. It’s one bucket inside the other. The outer bucket acts as a reservoir. In the inner bucket I installed a PVC pipe that goes through a hole in the inner bucket to fill the reservoir. To draw water up, I cut a large hole in the inner bucket and fitted a small plastic container like those that deli/lunch meat are bought in. I drill this full of holes. I also drill some drainage holes in the inner bucket.

This solution will keep the plants hydrated despite temperatures going into the 100Fs. If you overwater the plants, the water will go down to the reservoir and exit through the overflow hole in the outer bucket.

So far, I’ve made 15 self-watering containers and filled them with beets, tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, radishes, squash, broccoli, and cucumbers. There are also 4 large non-self-watering pots.

I find the times given on the seed packets to be optimistic. Maybe this is a general problem or maybe it’s just a question of our hot climate. I generally assume it takes 60 between planting a seed and eating the produce. I also assume that each bucket’s produce is worth about $2 although this obviously varies. I also hope to be able to get 4-5 cycles (8-10 month grow season) out of my buckets. This means each bucket produces $8-10 worth of produce per year.

In that sense each bucket is like owning $300 worth of stocks and bonds and buying the produce with the interest and dividends.

Having 19 pots equals a production of $152-190/year. It is similar to starting a business/investing in the sense that you acquire/build an asset, take care of it, and see it begin to produce an income. In terms of effort/outlay this investment is far better than anything you’ll find in the stock market!

Anyone wanna pay $300 for one of my buckets? 😎 I guarantee it’s far easier to water a bucket than it is to follow a stock.

I’d like to ultimately expand this operation by a factor 5 and have 100 pots going bringing in about $2000 worth of produce per year. Even better, I’d like to get access to some real soil; maybe check into local community gardens.