Colleen Vanderlinden


This is an easy, inexpensive project, and one that gives you a little extra space to grow your own food. I was able to use bins I already had, but you may want to scour your neighborhood on trash day, local resale shops, or Freecycle before going out and buying new ones. Just about everything here can be found for free.

Here's what you need:

Container Garden Components:

- Two eighteen-gallon or larger plastic storage containers and one lid.

- 3 small sand buckets, or old plastic bowls, approximately 4 to 6 inches deep (large yogurt containers or small coffee canisters work great for this!) — whatever you use, they all need to be of equal height.

- A piece of fabric that is a little bit larger than the bin. This can be landscape fabric or a piece of an old sheet or tablecloth.

- A length of pipe that is slightly taller than your bin. This can be PVC, but if you want to avoid using PVC, try looking for pipe made of HDPE or PEX.

- A piece of plastic for the top of the container. A garbage bag will work.

- Zip ties or wire bread twist-ties


- Drill with 3/16", 3/8" and 2" hole cutting bits

- Saber saw or strong shears

- Marker or pencil

- Scissors

How to Make Your Self-Watering Container Garden

Constructing the Water Reservoir Platform 1. Take one of your storage bins and mark a line up from the bottom that is the same height as the small buckets or bowls you selected. From this mark, draw a line all the way around the storage bin. Cut along the line using a saber saw or shears. We'll be using the bottom part of the storage bin.

2. Don't throw the rest of the first bin away. You can cut it into strips to make indestructible plant markers.

3. Trace around all three of your little buckets or bowls onto the bottom storage bin. Cut along the lines with a saber saw or shears (Note: You'll have to use the drill to make starter holes for each.)

4. Drill 3/8" holes all over the top of your platform (which used to be the bottom of the bin). Be sure to put a few near each of your three openings ? you'll need to attach the buckets to your platform later using zip ties.

5.Drill several 3/16" holes in each of your three buckets or bowls. Be sure to put a few around the rim, lining up with the holes you made in your platform.

6.Attach the three small containers to the underside of the platform with zip or twist ties.

7. Using the 2" hole cutting bit, drill one hole in the platform. This will hold the pipe you will be using to add water to your container garden. The hole should probably be about three inches from the side of the bin. Insert the pipe, which should have the bottom cut at an angle.

8. Fit the platform into the second storage bin. If it won't go down all the way, take it back out and cut a slit at each corner—this will allow the corners to compress enough to fit in the other bin snugly.

Constructing the Container Garden

1.Just below where the top of the platform is, drill a 3/8" hole in the outer bin. This will be your overflow hole.

2. Fill each of the three buckets/bowls with potting mix. Mound it up a little on the top. This is important to ensure that the water will wick up from the reservoir.

3. Fill the reservoir with water until it starts to leak out of the overflow hole. Allow the soil to become saturated until top of the soil is wet to the touch.

4. Place your piece of fabric over the water reservoir platform. This will prevent soil from filling the water reservoir.

5.Add two inches of soil to the container garden, and wet it thoroughly.

6. Add soil all the way up to the top of the container. Moisten the soil.

7. Cut a piece of black plastic to fit over the top of the soil. This will be held down with the lid.

8. Speaking of the lid, cut out the entire center of it. All you should have left is the outer rim -- just enough to secure your black plastic. Place the lid onto your container garden.

9. Cut holes in your black plastic where you want to plant your plants or seeds.

10. Plant.

This looks like a lot of steps, but it's a really simple project. For photos and a general idea of how each step should look, you can take a look at the PDF plans for the "EarthTainer." My design is based on that, but I focused on using found and reused items, so it's not exactly the same.

When it came down to it, the only thing I had to buy for my container was the pipe, which was less than five bucks. Cheap and green—it doesn't get better than that!

Like this article? Learn more about organic gardening in our Greener Gardening feature.