For many urban growers, small space is a problem that limits their planting options. Due to this, they resort to using plastics in growing their food. However, there is a big concern regarding using these unnatural products when growing things for consumption: are they safe to use or not?
One of the biggest questions thrown at organic gardeners, and indeed that organic gardeners ask themselves, is this:
Do plastic containers leach chemicals into the soil that is absorbed by plants and ultimately by us?
In this article, we are going to tackle 3 important points regarding container gardening using plastics:
- SOME plastics are unsafe and they DO leach toxins
- There is GOOD in re-using plastic containers as planters
- You can CHOOSE what plastic to use as planters
Not All Plastics Are Harmful
The general notion is that all plastics are harmful and should be avoided completely. Many times, we have encountered people saying that using plastics to grow vegetables and fruits defeats the very idea of growing naturally or organically.
Though it is true that plastic products are not natural, what will landless people use to grow their own food? They can opt to buy pots sure, but that would be spending more money – most people grow their own food to save money. And buying pots will mean more resources are ‘harvested’ from Mother Nature to make the pots.
Re-using plastic containers is cheaper and it does keep them away from landfills (one of the benefits by the way).
There are other materials that can be used of course, like wooden pallets but sometimes supplies are not always available and they don’t last very long.
Using plastic containers to grow food for your family is not all that bad – provided you know which plastics to use. As stated, some plastics are harmful and they do leach toxins to the soil especially when they are heated or exposed to sunlight for prolonged periods of time. You will find out later on which plastic types are safe to use…
The Good In Re-Using Plastics as Planters
- Plastics are kept away from landfills where they will stay in an undecomposed state for thousands of years
- They can be found almost anywhere
- They are cheap
- They are easy to use
- They last a long time
- Re-using plastic containers minimizes the need to use up more resources that are sadly not being replenished
Plastics You Can Plant In
There are 7 types of plastics commercially processed and sold. The following are the kinds that are safe to use for planting.
PETE or PET bottles. You see the triangle symbol with the #1 inside at the bottom of the container. This type of plastic is used for most clear beverage bottles.
HDPE (high density polyethylene). You see the triangle symbol with the #2 inside at the bottom of the container. This type of plastic is used for “cloudy” milk and water jugs, opaque food bottles.
LDPE (low density polyethylene). You see the triangle symbol with the #4 inside at the bottom of the container. This plastic is used in food storage bags and squeeze bottles.
PP (polypropylene). You see the triangle symbol with the #5 inside at the bottom of the container. This is used in rigid containers, including some baby bottles, and some cups and bowls. Examples are the wide-necked milky white containers usually used for yogurt.
Plastics You Should Never Plant In
And these are the plastics you should avoid and not use in your garden or when growing food…
PVC or V (polyvinyl chloride). You see the triangle symbol with the #3 inside at the bottom of the plastic. These are used in some ‘soft’ bottles and commercial cling wraps. Also the same plastic used for sewer lines and potable water distribution.
PS (polystyrene). The triangle symbol has a #6 inside. Examples are meat and bakery trays and Styrofoam containers. This plastic material leaches toxic chemicals when heated.
Everything else. The triangle symbol has a #7 inside. Just avoid plastics with this symbol because their origin and process are uncertain. Examples: 5-gallon water bottles, some metal can linings and believe it or not, some baby bottles.
When assembling your planters, make sure you use only plastics with numbers 1, 2, 4, and 5 as these are safer (less bad?) than the rest.
50 Things You Can Grow in Plastic Containers
Now that we know which container/s are safer to use, let’s take a look at 50 of the easiest plants that you can start with.
With commercially produced foods being genetically modified by the likes of Monsanto and all the crazy things being added to food, it is no surprise that more and more people are seriously thinking about growing their own food. But to a lot of people, space can be a big problem, especially when living in an apartment.
Growing in containers offers the benefit of being able to produce your own food even in a limited or cramped space. There are many fruits and vegetable varieties that can thrive in a small growing environment. Here’s a list of 50 things you can grow in containers.
Let’s start with the really common ones that you already know for sure…
2. Hot/sweet peppers
4. Squash i.e. summer squash, pumpkin
9. Mustard greens
10. Swiss chard
Herbs (you can grow most herbs in containers indoors)…
21. Herbal tea
Fruit trees (there are lots of tips online for growing fruit trees in containers)…
28. Apples (use a technique called espaliering)
Citrus fruits (ideal for beginner gardeners as these are easy to grow)…
31. Dwarf oranges
Even tropical fruits…
34. Some varieties of guavas
38. Melons (i.e. cantaloupe – small variety; Golden Midget Watermelon)
42. Pole Beans
46. Jerusalem Artichoke
48. Sugar snap peas
50. Asparagus (Yes, it can grow in a container!)
Growing your own food frees you from consuming unhealthy foods produced with GMOs, pesticides and preserved using industrial products. By having a garden, you also cut down on the amount of money you spend on commercially produced food. With a garden, all you have to do is reach out and pluck what you need when you need it. That also eliminates the need to travel just to buy your vegetables or fruits.
I hope this list gives you an idea of what to start growing in what available space you have.