Do you yearn for a bit of your own greenery, but live in an urban area? We've got good news: limited space doesn't have to keep you from watching your garden grow. Planting vegetables and herbs in moveable containers provides a solution around limited land, time, or poor soil. It's a simple way to feed your appetite for fresh produce and add life to a patio, porch, or even a fire escape.
Best of all, growing food in pots is quite easy. All you need are containers with drainage holes, a good soil mix, fertilizer, light, water, and the right plant varieties. Here are a few tips to get your garden growing.
What you can grow depends on the size of your containers, the amount of sunlight that reaches the plants, and the season you plant in. Leafy vegetables such as lettuce, cabbage, spinach, and radishes are the best bet if you’re working with shallow containers and shadier areas. Give them at least a six-inch wide pot with eight inches of soil depth. Vegetables grown for their fruits, like peppers, tomatoes, squashes, cucumbers, broccoli, and eggplants need more light— six to eight hours of direct sunlight a day—and, in general, more room to grow. Spacing requirements can usually be found on the seed packet or plant tag. If you’re planting seeds, remember to plant more than you’ll need in each container in case some don’t sprout. You can thin crowded young plants later.
Plants with a rapid maturation period are ideal if you’re starting late in the summer, or in order to get several crops from a container. Herbs, small salad greens like oak leaf lettuce and mustard cress, silver beets, radishes, and cherry tomatoes are all quick-growing options. Using vegetable starts instead of seeds shortens the planting to harvest timeline.
Choosing a Vessel
A vegetable container has two basic requirements: holes to allow for adequate drainage and a size large enough to support the mature crop,meaning at least eight inches deep. Clay pots, cement blocks, milk cartons, dish pans, and tin cans all work well for small plants. Larger ceramic pots, half barrels, garbage cans, bushel baskets, and redwood or cedar boxes will house vegetables that require more room. Use potting as an opportunity to be creative and recycle!
Soil, Fertilizer, and Water
Use a lightweight, porous potting soil so that air and nutrients can circulate to the root system. Nurseries and garden centers offer mixes that usually contain peat moss, organic material, sand, and pumice or perlite. Mixing compost or aged manure into commercial soil will give your plants a boost.
Potted vegetables generally require more water than those grown in the ground. Most vegetables and herbs prefer that the soil remain slightly moist. When the soil feels dry to the touch about one or two inches below the surface, it’s usually time to water. You can use an organic liquid or soluble fertilizer every two to four weeks to replenish micronutrients in the soil.
In just a few weeks, you’ll be able to gather bowlfuls of salad or vegetables to grill just by stepping out onto your balcony or deck. You won’t have to worry about unused produce rotting in the refrigerator or whether you remembered to buy the fresh herb a recipe called for. You’ll be eating locally and organically. And, you’ll take pleasure in finding space for a bit of dirt in your life.