Saturday, May 21, 2011
If you don't have much yard or sun, you can still grow veggies in containers. This lush container of greens provided a bountiful harvest today at the Harvesters Demonstration Garden. We have a "curbside treasure" garden where we grow in things we found on the curb to show you don't need to spend a fortune to get started gardening.
The Right Container
Vegetables don't care a lot about a pretty container as long as it is large enough and has good drainage. Avoid any chemically treated wood or containers that held chemicals. Try to use a light color to avoid heat build-up.
One of the most common reasons for wimpy container harvests is using a too-small container. Although greens and lettuces tolerate a pot that is only five inches deep, a small tomato plant really prefers a container 5 gallons or larger. We use several half-barrels that produce beautiful crops year after year.
You can even grow in the reusable shopping bags that are widely available. We sewed the tops of four bags together to create the effect of a larger container that won't dry out as quickly. At the right is a photo from planting day in early April. Below you can see how the plants are quite happy today and ready for harvesting.Place your container where it will get at least 8 hours of sun. Although leafy vegetables tolerate less sun, any fruiting vegetables prefer more than 8 hours of sun.
The Right Soil
Don't skimp on the soil - a high-quality potting soil is best. Don't use topsoil alone as it won't drain well. Below, you can see how we made our own potting soil in early spring by mixing equal amounts of compost, topsoil and vermiculite. Plan to replace the top 12 inches or more of soil each year as it wears out quickly in containers due to frequent watering.
The Right Watering
Containers need frequent watering because the soil dries out more quickly than in-ground plants. In the height of summer, smaller containers may need to be watered twice a day. Mulching helps retain water so we heavily mulch containers with at least an inch of hardwood mulch. Grouping containers together also helps preserve moisture.
If the soil is pale or cracked, it's time to water. You can also check by sticking your finger an inch into the soil to see if the soil is dry. Use a gentle spray and make sure you are watering the soil, not just the leaves. Water until the soil is soaked and running out the drainage holes in smaller containers.
Don't over-water and make sure your container drains. If the soil stays wet too long, your plant's roots won't get air and will drown.
Because the frequent watering washes out nutrients in smaller pots, you'll need to fertilize frequently. Consider feeding your containers every two weeks once they get growing. Use organic fertilizer or a synthetic fertilizer in liquid or time release form.
There's Still Time to Plant!
Try planting themed containers of warm season vegetables before the end of May. This year we have a salsa garden of tomatoes, red onion, green pepper, hot pepper and cilantro. We're trying a new combination to make a creole garden of pepper, onions, cayenne pepper, okra and tomato. An herb garden makes it easy to add fresh flavor. Our herb container is filled with thyme, basil, oregano, parsley and sage.
Containers are the easiest way to get started with vegetables. They are easy to reach for elderly or children, require little care and provide the satisfaction of growing tasty food at your backdoor!