The zen of organic container gardening

organic container gardeningOrganic container gardening can help reduce your worry about chemicals that people use, we need to have some level certainty in our lives. Wouldn’t it be nice to know where your food comes from?

I know it isn’t farming per se, but it is definitely an important aspect of farm life. Especially, if you have a booth at your local farmers market.

I love knowing where my food comes from don’t you? So why take the risk when you can start organic container gardening.

I took a page out of our friends at Organic and Urban‘s playbook, and I recently attended a workshop on organic gardening, and I learned a lot. The following is some of what I learned at the workshop.

What is organic really?

Organic is something all-natural with no pesticides no herbicides no insecticides used, but can you really be 100% organic?

It is really difficult to be 100% organic because we would have to live in a bubble to support it. How many farmers go the 100% organic route. Not many because it is such a pain in the ass.

Because being 100% organic isn’t easy, we are between 100% organic and non-organic.

We find that happy median between both organic and non-organic because being an extreme is too much.

It is definitely easier for a gardener to start organic than it is for a farmer.

So how to get certified organic?

Here are the quick and dirty steps to getting certified organic for a farm.

  1. Contact certification bodies.
  2. Understand the rules and regulations.
  3. Research organic practices.
  4. Know how long you need to be organic BEFORE you become certified organic.
  5. Choose which certifying bodies you want to work with.
  6. Apply for inspection for transition(fee).
  7. Apply for inspection.
  8. Inspector checks farm while your product is being produced.
  9. Inspector reports findings to the certifying bodies.
  10. Farmer gets notified.
  11. The NEXT year after you get APPROVED you can apply to get certified organic. An inspector is appointed to the farm and inspects it again.
  12. ANNUAL certification application (fee).
  13. Sell products.
  14. Annual reviews of your farm.

That is a shortened version from OMAFRA.

I don’t know about you, but by looking at that process, I would say that it is a multi-year process. How ridiculous is that? How many farmers are going to go through that process? Not many.

Now, being organic and not certified is possible,many farmer tend to do it that way.

Many farmers choose not to get certified organic because of the rigorous process that you have to go through. It is more of difficult to get certified organic than it is to be something like organically based.

Because the process is so lengthy, you can turn to other forms of being organic like organic container gardening.

Organic container gardening to the rescue

organic gardeningThe really nice thing about organic container gardening is the fact that you can control the environment where you are growing your plants. That means that you can cut the amount of pesticides and insecticides used around your plants. This is fantastic because you can make sure that your plants are more organic.

The added benefit is the fact that you can actually move your plants around and maximize the light the plants are getting.

Think of container gardening this way, it is like a studio in a very controlled environment, but in-ground gardening is like a live show, so it is more difficult to control the crowd the songs etc.

What kind of container can you use?

You are not limited to a traditional pot for your plants. You can use anything you can find in your house that is a receptacle for soil.

For example, you could use old pots, kettles, butter tubs, even ice cream containers. You are really only limited by your imagination.

Now there are some special containers you can get such as self-watering containers that work fabulously, but you can use recycled pots just as easily.

One of the disadvantages of self watering containers is that they are more expensive than just using an ice cream container. But they do do a good job.

You can think about things like what the material is made out of. Some materials are porous and others are not, you need to be careful about what you put in porous containers. For example, terra-cotta is porous so be careful what you use in it.

When you use something like metal, be careful because it heats up a lot, so you can cook your plants if you’re not careful.

Another thing to think about is whether to use biodegradable containers or not. The best type of biodegradable containers are cow manure ones. They are plentiful in North America and also biodegradable.

There are also some other options like coconut husk and starch biodegradable pots, but they tend to have a larger carbon footprint.

What can you plant in a container?

You can plant pretty much plant anything in a container. You can plant something as small as herbs all the way up to something as big as a tree. For example, in the Botanical Gardens in Montréal they have trees that are growing out of containers, and they have grown there for more than 50 years.

Where do you find organic seeds?

Nowadays, the most common place to find organic seeds this is online. You can also find organic seeds at your local nursery as well, but be sure to look for the OMRI symbol. Also, you can find a list of places to buy organic seeds on OMRI’s website.

If you can’t find organic seeds, why not try some regular seeds? You don’t have to be 100% organic for everything as long as you start growing something now.

What type of soil mix should you use?

A good potting mix will have a good balance between nutrients and pH balance. Now you can make your own potting mix, but that means you have to store all the individual pieces at your house. In most cases, it’s probably easier to buy a premade mix.

Again, you should look for the OMRI symbol on potting mix packages.

What type of fertilizer should you use?

The ideal fertilizer will have 5– 10 – 5 on the package itself. This indicates that it is a slow release fertilizer. It means it has a good balance between nitrogen phosphorus and potassium.

The best type of fertilizer that you could use is sheep manure. You can either get that directly from a farmer or you could buy it from a store. I suggest going directly to the farmer as you should support your local farmers.

Final thoughts

Organic container gardening is a great way to start gardening. It is also a way to ease your way into the organic realm.

It allows you to try gardening in a controlled environment limiting the number of weeds.

Also, by growing your own vegetables you can enjoy the fruits of your labor, which tastes great. You can also sell what you grow at your local farmers market.

As I mentioned, you can basically use any type of container for gardening.

Finally, make sure you look out for the OMRI symbol on your potting mix.

If you found this helpful, share it with someone who wants to start gardening.



  1. Iain I have a question. The OMRI symbol you mention, is there a way to get that sticker to put on your product after you become certified?

  2. I have been thinking of growing some veggies in containers on my back deck so this article is timely.
    I have a question. You said to be careful of what your put in porous containers such as terra-cotta. What should I be careful of? In other words, what should I be putting in there and what should I not put in there. Most of my large outdoor planters are ceramic or terra-cotta.

    • You should be careful not to put toxic liquids in the container when you are cleaning it. If you use bleach, be very conservative. If you put too much, you could kill the plant later because the soil absorbs the bleach that got into the pot.

  3. Hi Iain – are there different grades of organic food or is food either organic or NON organic?
    If there are grades, who decides the grade – is it the grower?

    • The farmers would love it if that were the case. Unfortunately, there is a board that had to determine whether the farmer is organic or not.

      There are different levels to a certain degree.

      1. organic but not certified
      2. organically based
      3. no pesticides used
      4. no herbicides used
      5. 100% organic

      Those aren’t necessarily the official ones, but people present themselves that way. For those levels it is based on what the farmers say.

  4. Great information Iain, organic is the way to go. I have traveled a bit and I have tested organic fruits from local farmers in Mexico and Thailand, the flavour is unsurpassed.

    I did try to make a veggie garden but I failed, the soil wasn’t good, the birds were also coming I don’t know why, etc, etc. Now I am looking into Hydroponics system, what do you think about it? I would like your opinion.

    • Hydroponics could be an option available to you. One of the issues that you may run into is how much some of the equipment costs.

      I am not an expert in that area, but you could definitely do it.

  5. Dear Iain,
    thanks for the comprehensive insights! I have one question though, what are the regulations for possible packaging in Canada?

    Here in Europe we have difficulties with Organic products being purchased in plastic boxes etc. Just curious. Cheers!

  6. Hey, Iain! I love the suggestion about using ice cream containers! Coming from a DIY niche, I TOTALLY can see myself using ice cream pints Mod Podged (i.e. glued) with pretty scrapbooking paper, and for PENNIES, I will have the cutest little seedling pots! I’m seriously going to try this, and I want to link back to you giving me the idea! 🙂

    Thrift DIving

    • Glad you like the ideas. You could definitely take some like that and turn it into something beautiful.

      It just takes a little bit of time and energy right.

  7. Miraflor says:

    Last summer I ran out of space in my flowering bed at the front of my house, so instead of buying pots I used ice cream containers, those white round ones in alternate with the square ones, and when the flowers were in full bloom they don’t look like ice cream containers anymore. Good way to save money.

  8. This is a wonderful post Iain, good stuff.

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