Camping & Survival

Container Gardening for Urban Preppers: Growing Your Own Food Virtually Anywhere

Growing beans, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers on a small balcony.

Being an urban or apartment dwelling prepper presents many challenges. Storage space and privacy is always an issue. If you have always wanted to be self-sufficient, but your location prevents it, you can start by growing your own supplemental food supplies in even the smallest spaces. Called container gardening, herbs, vegetables and some fruits can grow on balconies, patios, front porches, fire escapes, and even windowsills.

Growing beans, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers on a small balcony
Growing beans, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers on a small balcony

Some of the best survival foods such as beans, kale, berries, broccoli, potatoes, and spinach will grow in containers. Squash, tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, radish, cucumbers, peppers, and herbscan also thrive in a small amount of space. Short and shallow-rooted vegetables are best for container gardening.

Garden Research and Planning

To start, research which fruits and vegetables grow best in your area. Your local nursery should be able to guide you through what is easiest to grow depending on the climate you live in. Some have had bad experiences with big box retailers, however my local Lowe’s and Home Depot have been quite helpful in telling me what plants will survive our long hot Texas summers. Choosing dwarf varieties of vegetables and fruits gives the plant more room to grow in smaller containers.

Next, you need to decide the amount of space you have to grow your plants. This will determine the size and type of containers you buy. Any container will work. I’ve seen sand pails, five-gallon food grade buckets, terra cotta pots, plastic window planters, two-liter soda bottle, and metal buckets. A container holding 8 inches of soil will accommodate most vegetables. Whatever container you choose will need drainage holes in the bottom.

Get Growing

Starting seeds can be tricky. They can often be delicate and super sensitive to climate and moisture changes. If you chose seeds over seedlings, start them indoors in smaller containers on the windowsill. After they sprout and there is no more chance of frost, you can transfer them to a larger container outdoors.

A variety of vegetables and herbs on the front patio
A variety of vegetables and herbs on the front patio

All fruits and vegetables need soil rich with nutrients. It may not be the cheapest option, but it is easiest to purchase pre-packaged potting soil. Your veggies and fruits will need organic material such as mulch and compost to grow. A mixture of lawn clippings, peat moss, compost or manure (bought commercially or composted rabbit, cow, horse, sheep, or goat) can work. However, plenty of companies offer organic potting soil and fertilizer mixes. Check out FoxFarm Soil & Fertilizer Company and Dr. Earth for a variety of organic soils and fertilizers.

Most vegetables and herbs will need full sunlight and water every few days. If you have a very small space to work with, plant your herbs together in the same container as your vegetables. For example, for an Italian blend, plant tomatoes in the middle of the container with basil, oregano and thyme around it all in the same container.

Your plants will take a little bit of work besides watering. Prune the leaves off the top of the main stalk to stimulate the growth of your vegetables, fruits and herbs.

Strawberries growing off the windowsill
Strawberries growing off the windowsill

Because maturation depends on many different factors, there is no hard fast and rule to know when to harvest. Each vegetable and fruit has different characteristics that determine when it is ready. Many of those characteristics are climate based; however, Cornell University has an easy-to-understand, basic guide on what to look for.

There is a learning curve to container gardening. For example, for someone like me who has never ventured into gardening before, did not know that a typical grocery store baker potato might not seed. Therefore, burying it in the ground after it has eyes will not necessarily grow a new potato. However, the learning process is challenging and rewarding. You learn a new skill and become self-sufficient.

Do you have a vegetable, fruit or herb garden at home? What are some tips you can share with us? Tell us in the comment section.

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Comments (4)

  1. One of the best companies I have seen that offers start to finish urban, small space and winter growing is Atlantis Hydroponics. They have seed systems, grow lights indoor greenhouse enclosures and more. the best part is you can get their products from there own website or on Home If you want to setup a “doomsday” garden or you just like to grow your own food year around, they have everything you need. I have been doing business with them for a couple of years now and they have never let me down.

  2. Besides making sure you have a good soil mix in your containers. Make sure and use “Water Keep” in your container grown plants and veggies. Water Keep is a high tech polymer that absorbs up to 300 times it’s weight in water. This allows you to cut way down on watering time, as it balances out too wet and too dry cycles in your containers. If there’s too much water, Water Keep absorbs the excess and as your soil dries out Water Keep releases the stored water back into the soil creating the perfect balance of moisture for your plants. I’ve used it for years in all my potted plants AND some of those grown IN GROUND too. You only use a teaspoon or 2 in most average containers, so a small 1 or 2 lb. package will last a long time. The crystals NEVER WEAR OUT and last forever. Instructions for amount to use are listed on the package. It’s a no-brainer, use Water Keep.

  3. For those who live in the Western half of the country a great resource is the Sunset Western Garden Book. It is a vast store of information on the flora that grows in the arid west and includes garden vegetables. It also has great garden tips. We live in AZ and have a garden with lots of peppers and tomatoes in pots.

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