Plants with shallow root systems, like salad greens, grow best in crates.
Earlier this spring I totally scored at an estate sale and picked up several vintage wooden crates for $4.50 each. I couldn't wait to bring them home because I knew that they would make the perfect containers for a salad garden on my patio. My crates looked like they'd been sitting in a garage since the Eisenhower administration. So as soon as I got them home I scrubbed out their grimy interiors with a stiff wire brush and then rinsed them inside and out with a strong blast of water from the hose.
Most crates come with slatted bottoms that allow water to drain right through. Good drainage is critical for growing healthy plants, especially in a container. Soil is made up of small particles and air hangs out in the pockets between these particles. If a container lacks drainage holes, water infiltrates the pockets, squeezing out the air and drowning the plants' roots. Plants growing in waterlogged soil do not get enough oxygen and their roots begin to rot, which impacts their ability to take up water or nutrients. If your crate does not have a slatted bottom, take the time to drill drainage holes. Your plants will thank you.
Slatted bottoms may provide awesome drainage, but they also allow soil to fall through, so I lined the bottom of my crates with a piece of burlap to prevent that problem. I also filled my crates up with potting mix, which is lighter weight than garden soil and drains better in a containers. I have five crates and they are planted up with lettuce, a spicy salad green mix, and pea shoots. As summer progresses, I'm planning on filling them with basil, small round 'Parmex' carrots, and heat-tolerant lettuces like 'Nevada'. Even though the crates needed a little elbow grease before planting, they were way less expensive then new containers and they give our patio a lot of personality.
Willi Galloway writes The Gardener column. She lives in Portland, Oregon and writes about her kitchen garden on her blog DigginFood. Her first book Grow. Cook. Eat. A Food-Lovers Guide To Kitchen Gardening will be published in January 2012.
(Images: All images by Willi Galloway)