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A Moveable Feast: Growing Your Veggies in a Wheelbarrow

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You can readily fit a small vegetable bed into a wheelbarrow. Photo: garden.com

It sounds like a crazy idea at first, but sure you can grow vegetables in a wheelbarrow. An old one, logically, having outlived its original usefulness. Call it “meals on wheels” if you like.

There are plenty of photos on the Internet showing people gardening in wheelbarrows, both with flowers and vegetables. Even creating mini-landscapes in them. It could be kinda neat in a rustic or shabby chic décor … or maybe you could use it to annoy a neighbor with highfaluting landscape ideas, knocking the overall neighborhood look down a notch or two?

Aging wheelbarrows are easy to find. You probably have one already! Photo: Cjp24, Wikimedia Commons

You might have a rusty wheelbarrow lying about already (mine’s getting close to that stage). If not, check out a flea market or garage sale. I mean, you’d want to upcycle, right? Not punch holes for drainage in a perfectly good one. 

Whether you want to let the rust show through (although so many wheelbarrows are plastic these days) or gussy it up with a coat of bright paint is totally up to you. 

Follow the Sun

Man moving wheelbarrow with vegetables growing inside.

Whither the sun goes, the wheelbarrow garden shall follow. Photo: clipartmax.com,computerclipart.com & illustoon.com, montage: laidbackgardener.blog

Where this project might be especially interesting is in spots where sun is lacking. As shade from that big tree or house wall engulfs one part the garden over the day, just move it to a sunnier spot. Vegetables do appreciate their sunlight! 

Not terribly laidback as a technique, though, is it: wheeling a garden hither and thither over the day? And this is not going to work if you’re not home to do the deed (sometimes COVID confinement can be a good thing!) But when most of your garden is in shade much of the day, you might just be desperate enough for the intense sunlight you need to grow the best vegetables that you might be willing to get up off your tush once or twice day and move the garden to a better spot. 

Robotize It

Robot pushing wheelbarrow garden over landscape, dotted line show path. 3 suns show movement.

A robot wheelbarrow garden would be able to follow the sun’s movements. Photo: clipartmax.com,computerclipart.com & illustoon.com, montage: laidbackgardener.blog

Now, if I were an inventor, I’d robotize the wheelbarrow. Put in a solar panel, a motor and a little computer, then program it to follow the sun. That would be interesting, totally laidback … and really creepy. In fact, you could have a whole slew of robotic wheelbarrows meandering about, seeking the sun. Rather like the War of the Worlds, but hopefully with less carnage.

There are already robots that seek the sun … you’d just need to adapt one to an actual moveable garden. Photo:  www.vincross.com

The How-To

Well, skipping the robot aspect (although in my increasingly shady yard, that really would be the way to go!), preparing a wheelbarrow garden is a simple project anyone can carry out.

Drill piercing old wheelbarrow dirty inside.
Just drill a few drainage holes in the bottom. Photo: miraclegro.com

Essentially, all you need to do is to drill holes in the bottom of an old wheelbarrow to ensure drainage. (And yes, good drainage is going to be an absolute necessity: you don’t want your plants to drown on the first rainy day!)

Try holes of say about ½ inch (1.3 cm) in diameter about 8 inches (20 cm) apart. Then, cover the bottom with a sheet of newspaper or an old cloth—which will let excess water drain through, but keep the soil in place—just to make sure your precious soil doesn’t drip out when you water. 

If the bottom has partly rusted through, just cover the open section with a piece of fine window screen … and that will give you your drainage; you probably wouldn’t have to drill any further holes.

Next, fill the tray with top-quality soil to about 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 cm) of the brim, adding compost and slow-release all-purpose organic fertilizer as you see fit. (Veggies are needier than the average plant when it comes to minerals.) There is no need for a “drainage layer.” 

Hands planting lettuce in wheelbarrow garden.
Just grow and sow, like an in-ground garden. Photo: miraclegro.com

Then plant or sow your favorite vegetables and herbs, just as you would in the ground, and water well, adding a few inches (7 or 8 cm) of mulch to keep the soil moister and the weeds down once the plants are tall enough. 

Maintenance is just going to be watering when the soil starts to dry out … and that can be quite frequently, possibly even daily in hot, dry weather: a wheelbarrow tray won’t hold enough soil mass to remain moist for a week at a time. And probably adding further fertilizer to maintain healthy growth as the summer wears on. 

A wheelbarrow herb garden. Photo: balconydecoration.com

Move your wheelbarrow garden to the sunniest spot possible that offers a flat surface. And wherever necessary if you’re having it follow the sun.

______________________________

A wheelbarrow garden: odd but doable. And when you get the robotic bit worked out, send me a video and I’ll feature it in this blog!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

8 comments on “A Moveable Feast: Growing Your Veggies in a Wheelbarrow

  1. It’s sustainable as well and thank you 😊

  2. Yard art with a purpose – I like it. 🙂

  3. I have an old wheelbarrow and think I might try this!

  4. I never liked this idea; but it happens to work well for plants that need to be contained anyway, such as mint or horseradish. I prefer to grow what I can in the ground.

  5. Pingback: A Moveable Feast: Growing Your Veggies in a Wheelbarrow — Laidback Gardener – Ninnys Nest

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