PHOTO: Jessica Walliser
June 23, 2017

Containers don’t have to be large or ornate to be useful. In fact, just about any household item can become an upcycled garden container, as long as you select the right plants to grow in it and you make sure there’s a drainage hole in the bottom. A quick trip to your local secondhand store yields a plethora of container options.

This simple project is perfect for beginners; it uses an old plastic baby bathtub to grow a mixture of kale and lettuce. Baby bathtubs are common finds at our thrift store, and I find them useful for growing all kinds of different small-statured edible crops. They’re lightweight, too, which makes them great for shelving units and tabletops, and for tucking along a staircase or against the edge of a fire escape.

This upcycled garden container project is best done in early spring or early fall, when the temperature is cool. Kale and lettuce are cool-weather crops that perform best before the arrival of summer heat. But, if you want to grow a summer crop in the same bathtub, short-statured, warm-season veggies such as herbs, bush beans, beets, Swiss chard, and bush cucumbers also do great in baby bathtubs.

Babies use these tiny tubs for only a few short months before outgrowing them, but these items last for many years in the garden. Consider them a miniature raised bed of sorts, and when you’re ready for an upgrade, switch to plastic baby pools, which can be planted in much the same way. You can fit more crops in them, but they’re far heavier to move.

Making Your Greens Garden

Materials

  • 1 baby bathtub
  • Enough 50/50 potting soil and compost blend to fill the bathtub
  • Lettuce and kale seeds; mixed varieties

Tools

  • Box cutter

Step 1: Establish The Drainage

upcycled garden container
Jessica Walliser

If the bathtub already has a plugged drain in the bottom, open it. If not, use a box cutter to cut several 1/2-inch drainage holes in the bottom of the bathtub.

Step 2: Add The Soil

upcycled garden container
Jessica Walliser

Fill the bathtub with the potting soil blend until it’s within an inch of the top of the tub.

Step 3: Plant The Seeds

upcycled garden container
Jessica Walliser

Sow 10 to 12 kale seeds toward the center of the bathtub, planting them about 1/2 inch apart and 1/4 inch deep. Surround the kale seeds with two oval-shaped rows of lettuce seeds, planted to the same spacing and planting depth as the kale.

Step 4: Add Water And Sun

upcycled garden container
Jessica Walliser

Water the seeds in well and put the bathtub where it receives six to eight hours of full sun per day. Continue to water your lettuce and kale tub as needed; do not allow the seed bed to completely dry out or germination will be limited.

Step 5: Thin The Seedlings

upcycled garden container
Jessica Walliser

Once your seedlings are an inch or two tall, thin the kale plants by snipping off or pulling out all but the strongest two or three plants. Thin the lettuce seedlings down to six to eight of the largest plants. Continue to regularly water your upcycled garden container until the plants are ready to harvest several weeks later.

Harvesting Your Greens Garden

If you prefer to harvest your greens in the “baby” stage instead of allowing them to produce full-size heads of lettuce and kale, do not thin the seedlings at all. If you harvest them as baby greens, you’ll be able to get several harvests from the same planting, essentially growing them as a “cut and come again” crop. Use a sharp pair of scissors or pruners to collect the outer leaves of each plant, leaving the growing point intact to generate later harvests.

Growing an upcycled garden container full of edible greens is a fun—and delicious!—project.

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