Lousy Soil? Try Planting Vegetables in Pots, Tubs and Cans!

A Little Horse Manure for Gardens Goes a Long Way


By Mildred Culver – Gardeners just don’t fade away, they keep on planting, watering and harvesting. In the winter of 1996, my hubby Jim and I moved back to where we came from and that is this beautiful Gold Country of California. The weather’s more conducive to gardening here, and we ended up planting vegetables in pots, tubs and cans with great success.

We no longer wish to own, so we are renting a nice little place about eight miles out of town. Land here is still quite wild. We have cougar, coyotes and other smaller animals, and quite a few wild turkeys. People started opening this land some 30 years ago. Our nearest neighbors are our landlords about one block away, within view. Wonderful folks.

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When we inquired about the type of soil here, dear landlord said “It’s quite rocky.” (It’s all shale rock.) Well, a diehard like me said, “No problem. I’ll get wash tubs and tall garbage cans and some soil and garden in them,” which I did, and began planting vegetables in pots and more.

Our dear landlord drove up one day this past spring with half a pickup load of horse manure for gardens we were planning. It had a little soil in it. (We forced him to accept money for it.) Well, I was so happy about this I just had to say the truth and that was, “I’d rather have this stuff than a fur coat or a diamond ring,” Now that’s a real gardener talking.

That half load was just enough for about three inches in the cans and the small extra garden space we had. I put a half can of straw in first, then filled the cans with the “stuff” to near top. I started growing tomatoes in pots as well as Kentucky string beans, cucumbers and peppers. I also had success planting gourds, and growing sweet basil, parsley, wild blackberries, raspberries and a mulberry tree (oh, it produced beautifully—it’s in a five gallon can), and many flowers of different kinds. That three inches of “stuff” just started the biggest stampede of beautiful, producing plants we ever saw in our life (and we’re past middle age). Our morning glories would have climbed over our house if they’d been four feet closer. This is actual truth.

As all our plants were/are mainly in pots, kettles, cans and buckets, I had to water every single day all summer in 100 degree-plus weather.


String beans, gourds, mums, morning glories, dahlias—even honeysuckle and privet grow in containers

I even had success growing potatoes in containers. I cut up potatoes from the market that were soft and stuffed them in pots along with the peonies, sweet basil and strawberries, etc. and they developed very nicely and were delicious. Some Countrysiders also report success by building planter boxes for strawberries. The string beans grew everywhere, hugging everything in the garden. They were still producing in October, as were tomatoes, peppers, herbs and flowers. Our sweet peas were lovely, too.

Never did a garden look so lovely, and abundant under such circumstances. I didn’t spade the ground or move the driveway rocks. It would have been very hard to do, and only a pick would have worked. I just laid the horse manure/dirt right down and planted.

We’ve had many nice compliments on our gardens. Next season I shall continue the same with planting vegetables in pots and with determination, and tender loving care and work.


This path is bark, laid directly on the ground that’s akin to concrete. All the plants are in pots. Jim made the redwood fence on the right.

Originally published in Countryside March/April 1997

  • I have lousy soil! Clay with rocks. Gardening in raised beds and buckets is the only way I can. so I do what I have to. At 81 yrs, i cannnnot dig in my (adobe) yard, but won’t give up gardening!


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