Diggin' Florida Dirt: RVers share their best tips for on-the-go gardening

Jimmy Smith shows off his alfalfa sprouts, left, and mung bean sprouts. He says growing sprouts is one of the easiest, most space-efficient ways to garden while on the road.
Jimmy Smith shows off his alfalfa sprouts, left, and mung bean sprouts. He says growing sprouts is one of the easiest, most space-efficient ways to garden while on the road.
Published Jan. 1, 2017

Ashleigh Priest has been living the RV life full-time for five years, but you won't hear the Inverness, Fla., native extolling the joys of golf cart happy hours.

She rang in the new year under a blanket of snow in a Hastings, Minn., campground. The 28-year-old, along with her husband, Andrew, sons James Dean, 5, and Adler, 3, and newborn daughter MaKaeLynn, wouldn't have it any other way — for now.

"My husband's a pipe- fitter-welder out of Local 123 in Tampa. He has to travel for his job," Ashleigh explains. "We needed our family to be together."

Andrew, who hails from Red Level, and Ashleigh come from gardening families and hope to buy a small farm someday soon. But growing up, they spent more time enjoying the fruits of their families' labors than helping cultivate them. When Ashleigh decided she needed more fresh, organically grown produce, she had to learn how to grow — and how to grow on the go — alone.

She couldn't find any fellow travelers to advise her.

"I haven't met people gardening," she says. "The most we run into is a tomato plant here or a pepper plant there."

I, too, had a hard time finding recreational vehicle gardeners, and no luck on gardening products, like plant boxes for rear bumpers or hanging herb planters tailored for camper windows. But for those of you who, like me, dream of someday giving up everything but our plants for a life on the road, it's not so hard.

Ashleigh devised low-budget solutions and her family enjoyed homegrown lettuce, spinach, peas, onions and basil.

Jimmy Smith, who's been rolling for eight years with lifemate Julianne Crane, author of, has an ingenious way to garden on the cheap in the smallest of spaces.

At the Lazydays RV Resort in Seffner, I met Coleen Burch-Cline. She and her husband, Bob, hauled a dwarf lime bush and four tomato plants from Pataskala, Ohio. I found her contentedly studying in her sunny "garden."

The three share some tips:


Lightweight plastic containers are easier to lug inside and out — be sure to add drain holes. Ashleigh likes Rubbermaid totes. She also crafted planter boxes out of old pallets.

Coleen uses 5-gallon kitty litter buckets — courtesy of her and Bob's feline travel companions — for her tomato plants.

Find great tips for choosing the right depths for different edibles at Click "Containers," then "Container Vegetables."

Travel days

Both Coleen and Ashleigh have pickups with toppers that allow plants to travel upright and protected from the wind.

"I kept the side windows open and watered them every day when we stopped," Coleen says.

Ashleigh also suggests stowing plants in the camper's shower stall.

Do your homework!

Learn about your destination's growing conditions. Ashleigh read up on Minnesota in the Old Farmer's Almanac, which worked — until a surprise spring snowstorm blew in.

Coleen tended a large garden for years before she and Bob sold their home in 2015 to travel full-time. Insect pests have been her biggest challenge in Florida. A little research turned up a simple, effective remedy: foliar spritzes of dish soap and water.

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Garden in a jar

Jimmy and Julianne's home base is a 29-foot fifth-wheel at a campground in Sutherlin, Ore., but when they travel, they live in a 10-foot truck camper. Still, they always have fresh greens for sandwiches and salads.

"You can grow sprouts anywhere," Jimmy says. "Good greens are good food, it's a quick turnaround and they're easy to do in any environment."

All you need is a quart jar, mesh fabric and a rubberband. Add a tablespoon of seeds (alfalfa, radish, broccoli and mung bean are popular) and water. Cover with the fabric, secure with the rubberband, and let seeds soak about eight hours.

Drain the water, rinse the sprouts and drain again. Then rinse and drain once a day for five days or so.

Find detailed directions by Googling "how to grow sprouts." (Note: Sprout seeds can harbor dangerous bacteria. recommends young children, pregnant women, elderly people and those with compromised immune systems avoid eating raw sprouts.)

• • •

Jimmy says he gardens on the road because he can't imagine not growing something — he's been doing it for 40 years.

Ashleigh plunged in because it's hard to find farmers markets and local growers when you're new to an area.

And Coleen says a few plants make her campsite more homey.

"There's nothing like a fresh tomato; there's a warmth to it," she says. "The problem is, I see a red one and I go over and eat it."

Contact Penny Carnathan at; visit her blog,; join in the chat on Facebook, Diggin Florida Dirt; and follow @DigginPenny.