How many mistakes can you make with a planter box?

Lots of mistakes, or I wouldn’t be writing this blog post! In mid last year I set up two planter boxes. I wrote a post about how we put them together. We’re one growing season on, and it’s been hard going! Read my tale of woe…

Photo of a planter box with three small, sad plants!

What we grew in our planter box this season

Timing and support

My neighbours and I had spoken several times about how nice it would be to have extra gardening space. I had a lot on last year and I wouldn’t have started this project, except that I was offered some crates. I took them, assuming I would have help nearby. I discovered that my neighbours and I had different ideas of what we would contribute. My neighbours weren’t deceitful, we just had weak communication. This meant that I hadn’t allowed enough of my time to maintain the boxes. I wasn’t always able to fix problems quickly as they arose.

I have gotten more help from neighbours. As the project has progressed, we’ve worked out where we can contribute. I’d love to work out more ways to help them ‘own’ the planter boxes too.

Location

We put our planter boxes in a car space on the outside perimeter of our apartment block. This is the only area of our apartment that gets sun, so our options are limited. The neighbour who uses the car space rents, and shortly after her landlord decided to sell the apartment. Oh no!

This problem at least was miraculously easy to fix. My neighbour was able to move to another apartment in the same block. The new apartment just so happened to have the adjoining car space. One afternoon a few of us shoved the planter boxes over and the job was done! The car spaces sit outside the newly sold apartment. we’ll see what the new neighbours have to say about greenery by their window.

Filling a watering can from a tap

We use the inner courtyard tap for watering

Water

The location of our planter boxes make them harder for me to access for watering. We did consider setting up an irrigation system, but it wasn’t practical for the location. I live on a top level apartment, so they’re well out of my way too. There’s no tap outside, so I carry a watering can from the internal courtyard, down a corridor and past a security door. I was finding all this hard to manage, so the plants weren’t getting enough water.

I enlisted one neighbour and my husband to help with watering. Another ground-apartment neighbour offered the use of her watering can which saves some schleping. Over time, I’ve found ways to include the watering in my routine so it happens more consistently now.

Mulch

I’m embarrassed to admit this now, but we didn’t initially put down any mulch. We lost all bar five of the plants we germinated or planted as seedlings. We were not watering often and it wasn’t summer yet, so it took us a while to identify mulch as the solution.

We didn’t have resources to buy mulch, so we laid newspaper in the box. We topped that with collected grass clippings from the local park. It made a world of difference. Finally, plants were thriving. Lesson learnt!

Aphids on the broccoli

Aphids on the broccoli

 

Pests

For a brief moment the planters were holding water and the plants were growing. Then the pests descended. First, it was a cabbage moths, or more specifically, their caterpillars. At the height of their invasion, I was picking a dozen caterpillars of one plant! They were easy in comparison to the aphids. My homemade chilli, garlic and soap spray might reduce them, but that’s not elimination. Every day, I find hoards of these tiny insects crouching in my broccoli plant. I physically remove them too, but the plant is worse the wear for it. It’s cold comfort to know that the marigold seeds I planted are good companion plants for this 😦

I think part of our problem is that we haven’t been able to grow a diverse range of plants in these planters yet. Now that we’ve fixed the watering and mulch problems, I hope a greater variety of seedlings will survive. I have found that manual removal is the only real way I can protect the plants, so I’ll keep inspecting them too.

two planter boxes

Two planter boxes full of potential (and new seeds)

We’ve just planted seeds for our second growing season. We’ve got corn and beans, peas and leafy greens. The broccoli seeds are scattered amongst marigold and garlic chives seeds as a precaution. The mulch has been renewed and our hopes are high!

As the planter boxes become a regular thing in our lives, we’re getting better at seeing how contribute to their upkeep. I’d love to hear any ideas you have to continue encouraging a sense of group ownership of the boxes. Do you have any suggestions or experiences to share?

 

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2 Responses to How many mistakes can you make with a planter box?

  1. If you turn them into wicking beds you will water far less often….if you can get your rain gutters to go into a rain barrel, and the rain barrel overflow to go into your wicking beds, you will almost never have to worry about watering and people will “own” their beds.

    • cheliamoose says:

      Thanks for the tips Tim! We did consider the rain gutters, but none have openings that we could access and divert to our planter beds. We didn’t have access to materials for wicking beds when we set these up, but I do agree they’d likely work much better than what we have.

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