Container Vegetable Gardening 101

kitchen herb garden potted

There are many reasons to start gardening, but for many people, a traditional garden in the back yard is no longer possible. Many developments are minimizing the size of the lot the house is built on, and there is simply not enough room for a garden. More people are choosing to live in apartments or condos. Their outdoor space is limited to a patio or balcony. If you have never gardened before, a container garden is a good way to start out. If you are worried that you don’t have the time to devote to a garden, a few containers can be perfect. Containers are also perfect for anyone with limited physical ability, like the elderly or disabled. Whatever the circumstance, if you still dream of gardening, containers can be the answer.

kitchen herb garden potted

There are very few vegetables that can’t be grown in a container, so you simply have to choose the right variety and the right size container. An obvious non-container plant would be sweet corn or a large vining plant like pumpkins or large watermelons. Also, perennial herbs may not be the best choice for a container, depending on your growing zone. The majority of vegetables do come in varieties adaptable for containers. So, let’s get started!

Choosing your containers

Pretty much any container will work. It just has to be large enough to accommodate the size and type of vegetable you want to grow in it. For instance, if you want to grow some carrots, you will need a container that is deep enough to give the carrot space to grow, while leaf lettuce will be fine in a shallower container. 

If you are repurposing your container, make sure it is clean, did not contain harmful substances and is made of safe material. You don’t want to grow food in a container made from chemically treated lumber or metal that may contain lead. 

Another consideration is drainage. Your container should have a hole in the bottom to allow excess water to drain out. If the water can’t escape, your pot will be supersaturated after a rainstorm that will cause the plants to rot. If the container you want to use does not have holes, you can drill some with a regular household drill. Drill a number of small holes or a large hole that you cover with a piece of screen to hold in the soil.

Adding soil to your containers

Fill your containers with a good quality potting soil. Don’t use soil from your backyard as it will be too heavy and will compact in a pot resulting in poor results. If you can, use an organic mixture of potting soil and add fertilizer if it isn’t already in the mix. During the growing season, you can supplement with a good liquid fertilizer to make sure your plants have enough nutrients to produce a bountiful crop of organic herbs and vegetables.

Watering your containers

radish growing in salad container

You will need to water at least once a day during the summer and possibly twice if it is very hot. There are pots available that have a water reservoir that will maintain the moisture level as long as you keep the reservoir full. If you have a lot of containers, you might want to consider a drip irrigation system. 

Location for your containers

The most critical factor in deciding the location of your container garden is exposure to the sun. Plants need a minimum of six hours of sunlight each day. Without enough sun, your plants will be leggy and have little or no fruit set. Other factors include access to water–and the closer to your kitchen, the more often you will check for things that are ready to pick. 

Deciding on seeds or plants for your containers

eggplants growing out of large pot

If you can grow your own plants from seed, you will have a much greater choice of plants. You will easily be able to grow organic vegetable seeds or heirloom varieties. You will be able to plant only the varieties that are the right size for containers. If you decide to start your plants indoors, a good guide on how to start seeds indoors will be invaluable. If you are going to purchase the plants, look for words like compact or patio in the description. These help to indicate that the variety will be appropriate for a container garden.

A vegetable planting guide is also very helpful, especially for a new or first-time gardener. These guides give information on how long the plant will need to produce fruit as well as how much space each plant will need.

Even if you can’t grow all of the vegetables for your family, everything you do grow will be of the highest quality. You will know that it is as clean and chemical-free as possible. The first taste of a tomato freshly picked from the plant will convince any skeptic that growing your own food is worth the small amount of effort needed.

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