POCATELLO — Mitch Oliver has gardened for much of his life when the opportunity allowed for it.
But it wasn’t until earlier this year, when the retired sheet metal worker noticed some of his potted plants were making use of excess water that ran off into a plate beneath the pot, that he began to formulate an idea for doing things a bit differently.
That idea was quickly forged into a method of planting that not only allows for gardening in minimal areas, including the lack of ground space, but also allows the plant a constant source of water to draw from.
“The plants started sucking the water up from the bottom. I thought, ‘Hmm ... we can do this in a bucket,’” Oliver said. “I came up with an idea for a screen. I approached some people and they make them for me.”
Oliver’s idea, which he has dubbed SOS Gardening System, involves the use of a five-gallon plastic bucket, a screen made from sheet metal and a plastic tube.
The screen is placed in the bottom of the bucket, leaving about four inches from the bottom of the bucket to the top of the screen. The tube is placed in a hole in the screen and extends beyond the top of the bucket.
On top of the screen, the gardener will put the potting soil and eventually a plant. Using the tube, the reservoir at the bottom of the bucket can be filled with water, giving the plant plenty to drink from.
While he started his system with tomatoes, Oliver has quickly spread to other plants.
“I am trying everything,” he said. I want to tell people what will grow and won’t grow if they buy the system.”
Among the plants that also appear to thrive using the SOS Gardening System are several different varieties of peppers, cucumbers, strawberries, okra and even corn and watermelon.
In fact, most of the plants at Oliver’s home appear to be doing much better in the SOS Gardening System than in the ground.
In one case, Oliver has a couple of okra plants put in the ground a month prior to the plants in the bucket. While the ones in the ground are about a foot tall and yielding okra of about two inches in length, the plants in the bucket are nearly two feet tall and giving up okra roughly four inches in length.
“Okra seems to be doing really well,” he said.
The corn, with about five stalks in one bucket, each reaching its expected height of four feet, have ears growing on them. The watermelon plant has two melons and a network of vines growing.
“Anything you can grow in the ground around here or anywhere can be grown in a bucket,” Oliver said.
Oliver sells his plants at the Portneuf Valley Farmers Market on Saturdays and from in front of his home at 1452 N. Harrison St. in Pocatello.
Just the screen will run you $5, and a complete kit, which includes bucket, tube and screen costs $15.
He also sells the systems with plants already going. For a tomato plant without a cage it’s $30 and with a cage it’s $35.
“I make the cages to fit the bucket,” he said.
Another advantage to the system is its mobility. Starting the plant inside can be done as early as February, Oliver estimates.
“Then when we finally do get a spring, you can set them outside,” he said.
But that works both ways.
“In the fall, when you still have green tomatoes on the plant, you can bring them inside and watch them turn red,” Oliver said. “They make a dandy house plant. They will live for years. Tomatoes don’t die, the frost kills them.”