How to Start a Wine Box Garden

I was really pleased to see that my idea of gardening out of wine boxes helped me to win first prize as "Best Container Garden in Maplewood" in 2015.  The Maplewood Artist Collective sponsored the contest and it was a lot of fun to see what other people were doing with their gardens here - really creative and beautiful. 

Some of you may be wondering how to go about growing things out of wine boxes. For me, it was that one little box that started it all and I haven't looked back. I now supplement the wine boxes with other containers and may even try to set up a raised bed this year. But, wine boxes will always be a part of my garden - I love the idea of recycling the boxes that would otherwise be discarded.

Where to Find Wine Boxes

Wine box availability will vary greatly depending on your location and wine stores. I've traditionally had luck getting them from Wine Library, a wine store near me that I've been patronizing for over a decade, but it's hit or miss on when I can get them. Total Wine is another place near me, but they charge for their boxes - only a few dollars per box though, so still cheaper than buying containers.

I even tweeted Gary Vaynerchuk, owner of Wine Library, who is also head of Vayner Media to try to get a boatload of wine boxes. He responded and said they could spare a few. I got a couple yesterday. Hopefully I can get more in the coming weeks.

My advice - ask your local wine stores if they'll give you what they have. If you have to pay a few dollars, it's still cheaper than most containers.

Preparing the Boxes for Life Outdoors

Before putting the boxes out to use as garden containers you'll need to do two things to prepare them:

  1. Drill drainage holes
  2. Secure the corners as needed

Here's the thing - these boxes weren't meant to be all-weather containers. They were built to hold a case of wine indoors. Realize that they may only last you a season or two.

Drainage

With any garden container, you must have good drainage. I realized this one year when I had basil in a large container that I thought had drainage holes in the bottom, but didn't and ended up drowning my poor herbs. And....just try drilling holes in the bottom of a container after you filled it with dirt and plants and you'll find yourself cursing the whole thing.

I use a 3/8" drill bit and drill about 4-8 holes in the bottom of the box. Be sure to wear goggles to protect your eyes! Hold the box steady while you drill the holes.

Drill-bits

Here's a really action-packed video of me drilling holes in a box. I don't want to brag, but it just might be an early contender for an Academy Award.....Just sayin.

wine boxes with drainage holes

Secure Corners

This is a step that may or may not be necessary, but can be the key to keeping your boxes intact for the season. Sometimes, the corners of the boxes start to come apart. I initially tried nailing them together, but that doesn't always keep them together well. What I did find works well, is to secure corner brackets to the affected corners ahead of using them and then when you notice corners coming apart during the season, secure them then. Just keep an eye on the condition throughout the season and address them as needed. These brackets can be found at your local hardware store. Go for the ones that are rust resistant. I put them on the outside of the box, but you could put them on the inside as well. (I just find it easier to work on the outside). When I screw them in the corners, it doesn't necessarily close up the corner gap in the box completely, but it prevents it from getting worse.

corner brackets
screw in corner brackets
secured corners

Filling Wine Boxes

I haven't put mine out in the garden yet, as it's still a bit early (we're actually supposed to get some snow today). But all I do is fill them with 2/3 organic soil and 1/3 organic compost. I use them for most plants except those that grow very large or need a lot of depth (like root vegetables). I've grown everything from eggplant to peppers to tomatoes out of these. They really do work well. Always be sure to have good supports for all of your plants as they grow.

And, really, that's it! Growing food or flowers out of wine boxes is easy. The key is to do these two things (drainage and corner maintenance) to make them usable for growing and keeping them together for as long as you can. And, it's kind of charming to see the wine boxes in the garden; it adds character. 

View from above the garden

View from above the garden

The garden flourishes in these simple containers

The garden flourishes in these simple containers

I'm Catherine, a small-space urban gardener in New Jersey (Zone 7a) who started gardening out of upcycled wooden wine boxes. For years, I wanted to try gardening, but didn't know where to start. I got up the nerve to give it a try - starting small with a single wooden wine box that turned an idea into reality. That reality quickly turned into my filling every sunny inch of space of my postage-stamp size lawn and turning it into a garden oasis. I grow mostly vegetables and herbs with some exception for fruits (when the squirrels and rabbits don't get to them first). I love learning from gardening communities (and lots of trial and error).

I hope one day to take all that I'm learning and apply it to a larger plot of land. To help me get there, I'm extending my learning through the University of Massachusetts, Stockbridge School of Agriculture's, Sustainable Food & Farming program. (I'm addicted to learning as much as I am to gardening.)

This blog isn't just for gardeners (although I hope it inspires some of you to try growing a plant or two). The recipes (food & cocktails) in theRecipes section of this blog contain ingredients that don't have to come from your own backyard. If you like visiting your local farmer's market(or even your grocery store) and would like to get some new recipes you can use with the fresh produce and herbs you get from your local growers, this blog will have plenty for you too.

In addition to gardening and cooking, I also love to visit and photograph my surroundings. I feel fortunate to have so many amazing places here in New York/New Jersey, where I live and work. Visits to local farms, farmer's markets, and cycling through rural farming areas help me feel connected and refreshed. share these experiences in theExploring section of the blog so that you might visit through proxy or be inspired enough to visit yourself. 

With very few exceptions, all of the photographs on this site are ones I have taken myself. (For the photographers out there, I shoot with a Canon 7D and sometimes with my Lumix  DMC-ZS15 compact camera.) 

I hope this blog inspires you to grow, create, explore, and try something new. The best way to stay up-to-date is to follow me using the social buttons above, or click Subscribe and sign up for my email newsletters.    

Happy Gardening and Healthful Living!

- Catherine