Think Outside the Plots

What keeps you out of the garden? Poor soil, no soil, a bad back or maybe its those pesky deer? Here are some innovative gardening ideas that will have you growing & eating your own food without breaking the bank and barely a sweat.

Who knew how many creative ways local residents are growing their food?  Check out these cleverly modified container gardens. One is right for you!


This is Child’s Play

Published Work coverI had the pleasure of meeting two gardeners who are teaching children how to grow and eat their own food. They both thought to ingeniously repurpose unused plastic kiddie pools and use them as raised beds. They placed the pools on their decks where it would get 6-8 hours of full sun. They drilled several holes in the bottom for drainage, filled it with potting mix and voilà, an instant children’s garden! This is a perfect garden to grow such things as carrots, lettuce, bush beans and small tomatoes. This garden can be reused year after year. Kids love to tend their gardens and watch them grow. They get so excited about picking and eating what they grew that they forget they’re eating their vegetables! Let’s just keep that between us.

The Last Straw

The Last StrawStraw bale gardening is a great project to begin in the fall. Since these bales are often sold as harvest-time decorations, they should be fairly easy to find in your local area. The bales are roughly 18” x 24” x 48” and stand knee-high which makes it easier on your back. You can choose one, or more depending on the space available. Just find a place on your property that gets 6-8 hours of full sun and where you can reach it easily with a hose or watering can.

Be sure to choose straw and not hay. What’s the difference? Straw bales have been harvested for their seeds and what remains are the hollow stalks. Hay contains seeds and stalks that might sprout in your new raised bed and unless you are a horse, you won’t be adding it to your salad.

Place the bales cut side up. You can fortify the bales by adding a fencing stake at each end and tying the whole thing together with twine. When the planting season begins, the bales need to be watered well for 1-2 weeks. If you begin this project in the fall and let the bales season over the winter, the early spring rain and snowfall will accomplish this task for you. The heat from the decomposition inside the bales may allow you to start planting a few weeks early. At week three, check to be sure the inside of the bale is cool and easy to “dig” into. At that point, you can plant your seedlings. One combination option per bale; 1 tomato, 1 bean and 1 eggplant. Adding a drip hose will make the job of watering your plants easier. At the end of the growing season, your straw bale garden will turn into rich compost which can be added to your planters or you can simply place a new bale right on top and start the process over again.

Let’s Bag the Whole Thing!

Let's Bag the Whole ThingAfter taking an Advanced Training Class, Master Gardener Lily Bruch was inspired to grow fingerling potatoes in burlap sacks. Filling burlap sacks is easier than digging the otherwise-needed trenches. Lily began by filling the sacks with 6 inches of compost. After sprouting her potatoes on a windowsill inside, she cut them so each piece had at least 3 eyes. Once healed, she planted them inside the sacks. As the potatoes grow, she will cover them halfway with compost or straw. At harvest time, she can simply dump the sacks, collect the potatoes and enjoy! She will add the dirt from the sacks back into her garden. Additional critter protection provided by Ozzy, Lily’s service dog in training for Canine Companions for Independence.

I’d like to extend a big thank you to my friends and to the Montgomery County Master Gardeners for sharing their knowledge and guidance.

To learn more about growing vegetables in Maryland, go to

If you would like to become a Montgomery County Master Gardener go to:



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