This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more information.
Would you like to grow fresh vegetables, but don’t have a piece of land to call your own? Or perhaps you’d like to try growing some veggies and herbs indoors this winter, away from Jack Frost? Container gardening can help you do just that.
Welcome to the realm of container gardening, where one can easily grow fresh and wholesome foods from anywhere. A sunny patio, balcony, porch, sun deck, fire escape, terrace, rooftop, or even a sunny south-facing window.
To get started, you’ll need the three Ss (soil, seed, and sunshine), water, of course, a little know-how, and a bit of tender loving care.
Container Gardening ~ Clever Ways to Save Money and Space
What Should I Plant?
With proper variety selection and plant care, a container gardener can grow a generous array of different vegetable types. The easiest vegetables to cultivate for the fall or for a very early spring garden include radishes, lettuce and other greens, and bush varieties of beans, peas, and cucumbers, among others.
I prefer miniature and dwarf varieties, since these compact plants are well suited to pot culture, and will provide maximum vegetable yields in minimal space.
However, almost any vegetable variety can be grown in containers as long as ample soil and water are provided. When purchasing seed, try to select varieties that are disease resistant.
Starting Your Seedling Indoors
One of the easiest and best ways to make the most of the growing season is to start your seedlings indoors. By doing this you will add an extra month or so to the growing season. This is especially helpful if you live in an area with short growing seasons.
The nice part about this is that you don’t need very much space to start your seedlings indoors. If you have a few shelves that are about 2 feet long by 1 foot deep, then you are good to go.
Here are some inexpensive starter kits that you can use to start your seedlings indoors.
This Jiffy starter kit is really all you need to get started, along with seeds of your choice of course. It has some nifty little peat pods with growing soil. What I love about the peat pods is that once your seedlings get big enough to transplant, you can just take the entire pod and transplant it into your containers.
Super Sprouter Deluxe Propagation Kit has a grow light that comes in really handy if you want to start your seeds indoors where they might not get the best lighting to grow. You can simply add some inexpensive peat pods and you are good to go.
Selecting the Right Container
Once your seedlings are big enough you will need to transplant them into larger containers that can be placed on your front porch, balcony outdoor patio or just about anywhere that gets a decent amount of sunlight.
There are a variety of container types to choose from: clay, metal, plastic, concrete, rot-resistant wood, and an assortment of composite materials.
Different containers will have distinct properties. For example, plastic tends to be light in weight, which is especially important when employing large containers. But plastic does not allow for the easy circulation of air that clay containers do, nor is plastic considered as aesthetically appealing.
The porosity of clay allows plants to breathe, but it also creates greater watering requirements to replace the moisture that’s lost. You will need to monitor potted clay containers more closely and provide more constant watering.
Experimenting with Containers
You may choose to experiment with different containers or choose a variety of types and see which works best for your location.
I prefer to use black plastic pots with ample drainage for my vegetable plants, and the smaller clay pots for my herbs. I find that the black color helps absorb heat from the sun and maintains the soil at warmer temperatures.
Whether you choose to grow vegetables in plastic milk jugs or whiskey barrel halves, be sure to select a container with a one-gallon minimum capacity. Even when growing miniatures. Soil depth is also important for the formation of strong and healthy roots.
What To Look For In Containers
A good rule of thumb to follow is to allow a minimum depth of 12 inches for deep-rooted plants such as tomatoes, broccoli and cauliflower; 10 inches for beans and cucumbers. It should also between 6 to 7 inches for short-rooted vegetables such as radishes, turnips, beets, onions, lettuce, cabbage, and dwarf carrot varieties.
Drainage is another important factor when selecting containers. Be sure to line the bottom of each container with a one to two-inch layer of gravel or pebbles, or several pieces of broken clay shards. It’s also a good idea to partially cover drainage holes with a few large rocks or broken clay shards (concave sides facing away from the holes). This will help to reduce the amount of soil lost during watering.
For a lightweight alternative, use throw-a-way products such as foam packing peanuts or bottle caps to line the bottoms of your containers. Heavy containers set on dollies or wheeled platforms make it easier to move the pots, should you wish to provide either sunlight or shade for a particular plant at certain times of the day.
Cleaning Used Pots
It’s important to thoroughly clean containers that have housed other plants or were former food containers to prevent the spread of disease. To do so, scrub the inside of each container with a solution of warm soapy water, with an added tablespoon of bleach for each gallon of water.
Clay pots, in particular, will often have white-colored deposits of mildew and minerals clinging to their interiors. Soak these pots in hot water prior to scrubbing, if necessary, then scrub the interiors with a stiff bristle brush or plain steel wool.
Mixing Your Own Soil
Contained plants do best and are less susceptible to disease when grown in loose and loamy soil with proper aeration and drainage. Mix your own soil by combining one-third commercial topsoil, one-third fine compost or peat moss, and one-third vermiculite or perlite.
If using peat moss, add a half cup of dolomite lime for every five gallons of soil. This will offset the acidity of the peat moss, and keep the proper pH balance in check. Avoid collecting soil from the outdoors for your garden.
Unsterilized soil will often contain weed seeds and diseases that can prove harmful to young seedlings ‘such as damp-off disease which causes stems to rot at the soil line.
Keep in mind that the soil in the containers will pack down over time. You’ll need to replenish the surface of each potted plant with an additional two to three inches of soil once or twice early in the season. Loosening the soil with hand tools to fluff it up is also helpful.
Empty milk cartons and plastic cups can be used to start seeds. First wash the containers thoroughly, then poke a few holes in the bottom to allow for proper drainage. Set these containers inside a larger tray to collect draining water.
Seeds do best when germinated in a commercial soil-less mix, specifically formulated for this purpose, or start seeds in peat pellets. Set sown seeds in a warm location, such as the top of a refrigerator or sunny draft-free window.
If you’re in a mild climate and plan to grow your plants on a protected balcony or another moderate spot this winter there are a few things you should do.
Harden off seedlings by placing them outdoors in a partially sunny location for short periods each day. Steadily increasing this time over the span of a week or more. As soon as seedlings can be left outdoors for a full day and night, they are ready to be transplanted.
Try to do your transplanting on a cool and/or cloudy day. When transplanting seeds which have been started in peat pellets, be sure to score a large X in the bottom of each swollen peat pot using a sharp knife.
This will break through the tough outer netting and encourage down and outward root growth after transplanting. Also, be sure that the top of the peat is buried below the surface of the soil. Exposed peat material can act as a wick and draw moisture away from the plant.
Of course, you may choose to purchase seedlings in flats and then transplant these into ready containers. Be sure to select plants that appear sturdy ‘avoid plants with a leggy, spindly appearance, or which have roots growing out of the bottom of their containers.
Even when planting bush varieties of squash, peas, and cucumbers, it’s a good idea to provide stakes, lightweight trellis-work or other bracing structures in each individual container for added support. Growing climbing varieties up a vertical trellis saves space, too.
Water Requirement Fertilizer Requirements
Contained plants have greater watering and fertilizing needs since they lose more moisture than their garden bed counterparts, and have no underground source to replenish them from. Water when the soil is barely moist to the touch, and don’t allow the soil to become crumbly and overly dry.
Properly moist soil should feel like a wrung-out sponge. Insufficient or uneven watering creates plant stress and problems such as the common blossom end rot in tomatoes. (This is when the bottom of the fruits turn black). Overwatering can cause root rot and provide a welcome medium for the proliferation of pests and fungal diseases.
Also, avoid wetting the leaves of squash, cucumbers, and other cubits to avoid powdery mildew disease.
Container gardening requires deep watering by fully saturating the soil, but avoid muddiness which is an indication of overwatering. Shallow watering will cause roots to remain near the soil surface and thereby weaken the plant’s structure. Deep-rooted vegetables, such as tomatoes and peppers, will easily drink up to 1-1/2 to 2 quarts of water a day for every two to three gallons of soil.
Container gardening requires will need regular feedings of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and other nutrients. Once the plants have been growing in their containers for about three weeks, fertilize every 10 to 14 days.
You can feed plants with a commercial 5-10-5 solution, or you may wish to mix up your own organic fertilizer. To do so, add all vegetable scraps from your kitchen to a large container. Scraps can include onion skins, carrot, potato and cucumber peels, the leftover stems of broccoli and cabbage, and even eggshells.
Feeding you Plants
Cover the leftovers with a generous amount of water and allow the solution to sit uncovered for two to three days. Strain the fertilizer solution and use it to water your plants every one to two weeks.
You can also whip this mixture up in a blender or food processor to make a thin liquid. Feed the plants, then cover any remaining vegetable particles along the surface of the soil with another thin layer of soil. This will help to further break down the vegetable nutrients and prevent mildew.
Your plants will thrive with this nourishing solution, and it will allow you to recycle vegetable matter that may otherwise be discarded. Because pesticides accumulate in their most concentrated forms on the skins of vegetables, it’s wise to use organic produce when possible or to gently scrub the vegetables prior to peeling.
I like to collect the kitchen waste from my garden vegetables and use it to further feed my growing plants.
When container gardening several stories above ground level, a variety of pests can find their way to your vegetable plants and begin a course of destruction if allowed to become established. The most common pests of contained gardens include aphids, spider mites, and whiteflies.
You can combat pests with several methods. Hand-picking is the most labor-intensive, but most valuable method to use at the onset of a problem before pests are out of control. Once pests have begun invading several plants, however, you’ll need to treat the problem with a commercial or homemade insecticide solution.
When applying a commercial solution, be sure to follow the manufacturer¹s directions. It’s also important to spray the solution along the bottom of each leaf. This is where many adult pests congregate, and where eggs are laid and hatched.
You can try mixing your own pest-deterring solution, consisting of one tablespoon liquid dishwashing detergent, and two tablespoons rubbing alcohol added to a quart of tepid water.
Add a half teaspoon of chili powder or several drops of Tabasco sauce to the solution and shake well. Spray the plants daily until all signs of pests are gone, and then spray every few days thereafter.
This is my favorite part picking fresh herbs, crispy radishes, and tender string beans just a few paces away. Container gardening has many advantages. These include easy accessibility, efficient use of space And perhaps most important of all this time of year ‘fresh produce as winter winds howl and holiday lights twinkle outside.
Enjoy your fresh and healthful container-grown vegetables in your own small piece of paradise.
Container Gardening ~ A Clever Way to Save Money and Space is courtesy: https://pickbestlawnmower.com/best-lawn-fertilizer-brands/