Lets face it container gardening is a great, practical gardening technique with multiple functions. Not only is it good for renters and city dwellers who have limited space and no permission to garden from their landlords, it is an ideal technique when there may be lead contamination. Considering that lead was legally used in paints up until the 1970’s, if your home was built before then chances are you have high levels of lead in your soil. To make matters worse the lead is typically concentrated right around the edges of your house where paint was scraped, this is often the best place to put your zone 1 kitchen and herb gardens. The good news is container gardens are a cost effective solution to potential lead contamination that is easy on the back to plant and easy to weed. One of the downsides of this technique is that they can dry out quicker than beds in the ground, needing to be watered more often.
I have found the traditional, low cost and low tech irrigation system, the ol-la, to be a perfect solution for irrigating container gardens. The olla is an unglazed ceramic pot, that is buried in the bed, and filled with water. Be-cause it is not glazed the water is able to slowly sink into the container. When the plant needs water, it uses capillary action and pulls the water out of the olla and into its root system. Since the olla is buried in the container it sends water to the subsurface leaving the top layer of the soil dry, thus discouraging weeds and soil compaction which are two downsides to surface watering.
Most people think of ollas as a dry land permaculture technique. With the onset of climate change and global weirding, I find that these types of irri-gation systems are ideal for temperate climates as we are seeing more and more drought conditions. You can easily make them at home and have a potter fire them. This would also make for a good potential cottage indus-try, as there are few places where these are commercially available.
This is a container garden I planted with an annual herb polyculture of lem-on grass, parsley and basil. These are herbs that we cook with frequently, both for taste and digestive health. The container is located in zone 1, right out the back door on our patio, next to the kitchen. That way I can gather all the herbs for our breakfast without getting my slippers wet from dew, passing Bill Mollison’s fuzzy bunny slipper test. I filled the container with a mixture of 3:1 ratio of topsoil to compost and inserted the olla. I next transplanted the herbs.
The container garden is also located next to our water catchment system, which collects rainwater off of the roof. My watering can is easy to fill with the water from the rainwater barrels. Now watering with the olla’s I only have to fill them up every couple weeks and it takes me only a few sec-onds. A great case for the permaculture principle of relative location.