Growing vegetables in containers is an effective--yet easy--way for you to provide fresh, wholesome vegetables for your household without the work of having to maintain a large garden. Because of their size and the fact that they're so readily available, 5-gallon buckets are popular pots for container gardening. In fact, according to the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida, 5-gallon buckets provide ideal containers for most vegetables, including herbs, tomatoes, broccoli, lettuce, strawberries, carrots and bell peppers. Frequent watering is a key step in successfully using 5-gallon buckets to grow your vegetables.
Select and prepare your 5-gallon buckets. You may be able to recycle old 5-gallon buckets, provided you make sure they have only contained food-grade materials; since you're growing vegetables for human consumption, you don't want to use containers that have contained potent chemicals in the past. Home improvements stores often sell empty 5-gallon buckets for storage purposes, as well. Wash your buckets thoroughly with soap and rinse them with water.
Make drainage holes. Use a sharp knife or a drill with a 5/8-inch drill bit to make 10 to 15 holes around the circumference of each 5-gallon bucket. Locate the holes approximately 1 inch from the bottom of the bucket.
Fill your 5-gallon buckets with potting soil. Depending upon your gardening experience, options include plain garden soil, premixed general purpose potting soil and your own custom-mixed soil, which may contain a range of ingredients, such as peat moss, manure-based compost and vermiculite. Fill the buckets up to within approximately 1 to 2 inches of their tops.
Plant your vegetables. If you're planting seeds, follow the planting depth and spacing instructions on the packets. If you're planting started vegetables, the University of Maine Cooperative Extension suggests that you avoid planting them within 1 inch of the side of your bucket in order to keep them from getting too hot. Gently mist the soil with your garden hose, allowing the water to soak into the soil.
Care for your vegetables. Provide a balanced fertilizer every two or three weeks if you're not using premixed potting soil, which usually contains fertilizer in it already. Check the soil daily to ensure that it's moist; if not, water it. Container gardens typically require more watering than traditional garden plots because of the limited room. Remove weeds as they appear, providing a bit of mulch on top of the soil if necessary to discourage weed growth.
Harvest your vegetables regularly to encourage your vegetables to produce a more bountiful harvest.