Whenever I’m out and about in the city, I've always got one eye on the sidewalk and the other scanning the curb for attractive junk that I can recycle into planters for my roof garden. Dresser drawers and discarded terracotta are premium finds, but even old fruit crates are just deep enough to accommodate leafy greens or herbs with shallow root systems. I decided to fill this one up with a crop of wild arugula (Eruca vesicaria sativa). I prefer this type to the cultivated 'Rocket' variety as it has more attractive, softer leaves and a deeper, spicier taste.
What You Need
A fruit crate
A regular plastic shopping bag
Organic container soil
Compost or vermicompost
1. Little work is required to prep your crate for growing. The bottom of mine had large spaces between slats and required a liner to contain potting soil. Inversely, crates with solid bottoms will require drainage holes to let water out. I laid an average-sized plastic shopping bag inside the crate and using a pair of scissors, cut several small holes to make drainage.
2. Next, fill up the crate with good quality container soil that is well draining but also contains some organic matter that will feed your plants. If you can’t find good stuff, buy very lightweight soil composed of perlite, vermiculite and peat (or coir) and add your own organic matter to the mix. Compost is heavy and can become very compacted in a pot, so add no more than 20% compost or use vermicompost (worm poo) since it is much lighter. Fill your container to the top and tamp it in with your hands. You want to remove the air pockets and make a respectably flat surface. Don’t go crazy with it — a level is not required.
3. Once you’ve got your soil in place, cut around the edges with a pair of scissors to remove the excess plastic bag. Pour a handful of seed into your hand and spread it thinly, and evenly across the soil surface. Don’t worry if you have too many seeds as you can remove (and eat) excess seedlings as they grow. Add another 1/4″ of soil on top of the seeds and water everything in well.
4. Keep the soil moist, but not soaking wet. Arugula can be harvested at any size. Pull out excess seedlings at anytime and beginning cutting off tender leaves within a month or so of sowing.
Additional Notes: Leafy greens prefer cool weather and shadier spots. Plants will bolt in hot weather, which means that they quickly go to seed and become bitter. How much sun is too much depends on your conditions and the time of year. Mine are currently placed in a protected spot with partial sun to avoid the hot afternoon heat. You can also try a second sowing once the temperature has dropped in late summer/early fall for a fall harvest.
Other suggestions for your crate include:
- Kale (baby only)
- Red Orach
- Rouge d’Hiver Lettuce
Other Guest Posts from Gayla Trail: How To Grow a Crate o' ArugulaYouGrowGirl.com, a community for laid-back but enthusiastic gardeners where she also shares her personal experiences tending four very urban gardens: a rooftop edible container garden, 2 community garden plots, and a guerrilla garden planted in a once derelict space on the side of her building. Her work as a writer and photographer has appeared in O Magazine, The New York Times, Newsweek, ReadyMade, Domino, Budget Living, LA Times, Life Magazine, and more. She is the food gardening columnist for The Globe & Mail and the author of Grow Great Grub: Organic Food from Small Spaces and You Grow Girl: The Groundbreaking Guide to Gardening.