5-Gallon Planting Buckets for Kids

If you haven’t found Gardening with Leon on YouTube yet, you are missing out! He’s like everyone’s favorite grandpa who loves to help people grow a garden as easily as possible.

He calls gardening in tubs ‘wicking buckets’ because there is a reservoir of water in the bottom of the container. The dirt wicks the water from the reservoir up to the root system of the plants.

We followed Leon’s instructions in the video below and we’re growing food in 5-gallon buckets.

Supplies to build the bucket

We watched a number of Leon’s videos and this is the supply list we came up with for our wicking buckets.

5-gallon bucket (old or new, it doesn’t matter. Any bucket that is 5 gallons or more will work)
gallon milk jug (or juice jug)
4 or 5 soda pop bottles that are as tall as a gallon milk jug
1″ PVC pipe that is about 2 feet long (I had one that was 18″ and it worked fine)
1/2 pvc or flex water pipe that is about 12″ long

You’ll also need a drill with 1/8″ or 3/16″ drill bit, and a 7/8″ drill bit

Supplies to fill the bucket

Recommended by Leon (yes, we used these)

Potting Mix (not seed starter, not garden soil)
Kelp Bliss Premium Kelp Meal (1 teaspoon)
Sea-90 Organic Fertilizer (3 teaspoons)
Sustain Tomato Tone (6 teaspoons or 2 tablespoons)
Dolomitic Lime (1 teaspoon)
Epsom Salt (1 teaspoon)
Miracle-Gro Water Soluble Plant Food or a comparable fertilizer that is 20-20-20 for weekly feeding (1 teaspoon per gallon of water)

Building the Wicking Bucket

We didn’t cut the top of the milk jug like Leon suggested. We found that we could twist the 1″ PVC pipe into the jug through the opening with just a little bit of work. It was nice and snug, and saved us a step.

We figured out how many soda pop bottles would fit inside the 5 gallon bucket around the milk jug. As long as the soda pop bottles are lower than the height of the milk jug, we can use them.

Next, we used the small 1/8″ drill bit to drill at least 4 holes in the top of each soda pop bottle and milk jug AND at least 4 holes near the base of each of the soda pop bottles and milk jug.

The holes at the top of the containers allow the air to escape the jug as you fill it with water through the PVC pipe.

The holes in the bottom of the containers allow them to hold water ‘in reserve’ so you don’t have to water the container as often after you throughly wet the dirt. Once the dirt is wet, you only need to water about once a week.

You can see that everything we are using to build our wicking buckets was headed to the trash.

Next we drilled a hole in the side of the 5 gallon bucket about 5″ up from the bottom of the bucket using the larger drill bit (7/8″ bit).

We matched up the milk jug to the drilled hole in the bucket and marked the milk jug with a sharpie marker.

He carefully used an xacto knife to cut a hole in the side of the milk jug so it would line up with the drilled hole in the bucket.

When we used the drill in the milk jug, it tore holes in the jug. You can see the black sharpie marker spot where he lined up the bucket with the jug to make sure the placement of the hole was correct.

Line up the hole in the 5 gallon bucket and the gallon jug. Slip the drainage tube into the gallon jug through the hole in the 5 gallon bucket.

Fill the bucket about half way with the potting mix.

Sprinkle the different fertilizers on the top of the dirt.

Finish filling the bucket to the top with dirt.

Plant in the dirt.

We planted pepper plants in four of our buckets. One pepper plant per bucket is enough. One tomato per bucket is enough, too. Leon says you can plant a few lettuce plants in one bucket, but plants that grow larger should only have one per bucket.

Care of Planted Buckets

At first the dirt won’t be wet enough to wick up the water from the bottom of the containers so make sure you water the bucket from the top, right onto the dirt.

Also fill the jug through the PVC pipe in the dirt until you see water coming out of the drainage tube.

After a few days of watering the dirt, and making sure there is water in the milk jug at the bottom of the PVC pipe, you won’t have to water as much.

Use a wooden dowel or stick to check the water level by putting it down the PVC pipe into the jug. If there is an inch or less of water, add water through the PVC pipe. Usually you’ll only need to fill the water reservoir about once a week. Check it every few days to make sure that there is still water in the bottom of the jug. Fill as needed.

If it’s difficult to add water directly into the PVC pipe, use a funnel to help.

Every week use 1 gallon of water with 1 teaspoon of Miracle-Gro or other 20-20-20 fertilizer for best results.

I chose to put pepper plants in my buckets because peppers will live for a few years if you can protect them through the winter. I’ll bring these buckets into the greenhouse for the winter and my peppers will have a head start next year.

Contact Leon throughout the summer and show him your progress! He loves seeing the kids growing projects!

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