How To Start a Container Garden

How To Start a Container Garden

Sarah Coffey
Feb 19, 2010

Container gardening is a great way for city dwellers to have their own home-grown food source in a small space. All you need is a deck, a roof garden, or a tiny patch of well-lit space to start your own small garden. To learn the basics, we attended a session with Merill Smith, from Chicago's City Farm. Get ready for growing season!

What You Need


  • The planters Merrill uses are made from recycled 2x4s with a plastic screen lining the bottom. She lines the screen with newspaper or burlap, so the soil doesn't fall through. A wine crate is another great option.
  • For herbs and lettuce, a planter with a larger surface area and shallow roots in about 2-4 inches of soil will create a higher yield. Tomatoes require a deeper planter. (Merrill uses a plastic bucket lined with burlap and filled with compost.)
  • The materials for Merrill's planters came from the ReBuilding Exchange, an organization that works with contractors to recycle materials from demolitions and renovations.
  • The compost Merrill uses comes from City Farm, a sustainable vegetable farm between the Gold Coast and Cabrini Green. They sell compost to the public for $5 per bucket.
  • The seeds and sprouts shown above also came from City Farm.
  • Merrill sells her Green Box (the large version shown above) through City Farm for $75, $50 of which goes to the farm.


  • Planter that provides aeration for roots
  • 2-4 inches of good soil (high-quality compost is best)
  • Seeds or sprouts
  • Sunlight (most herbs and vegetables require a couple hours of full sun per day)
  • Water
  • Hand-held garden cultivator (claw)