A few weeks back, GROWINGGARDENS was mentioned in a great blog post by Elizabeth Madrigal discussing where apartment-culture fits in the with urban agriculture movement. There are also tons of examples floating around the web about how to grow food, no matter where you live. As a supplement to our recent post about building in-ground garden beds, we wanted to share our experiences with container gardening. For the many folks who don’t own their homes or live in apartments, container gardens may be the most manageable option for starting food gardening. Check out the information below!
Container gardening is a method of growing fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers in pots, hanging baskets, planters, and other containers. Container gardens are a great way for gardeners who don’t have lots of space to grow their own food!
To create a container garden, you will need:
- Potting soil
- Seeds and/or plant starts
- Water and a watering can or hose.
- A natural fertilizer (compost tea or fish emulsion)
Step 1: Survey for Sun and Shade
Look around your home for the best place to put your container garden. Which areas get the most sun? Which areas are shaded? Put your containers in the spot with the most sun! Vegetable plants need lots of sunshine to grow and produce food. For example:
- Tomatoes, peppers & eggplant need full sun. Leafy greens & root vegetables can live with a little shade.
- Patios, balconies, porches, and windowsills can all be good places for your garden.
- If you have a fence or railing, you can use it like a trellis for peas or beans.
Step 2: Find Your Containers.
For most vegetable plants, you will need five-gallon containers, or larger. The containers must have holes in the bottom so that water can drain out. Otherwise the soil can become waterlogged and plant roots won’t be able to get the air they need to survive!
Step 3: Pick out Your Soil
Soil in a container garden needs to be good at holding water and nutrients. Potting soil is usually made with this in mind. Do not use soil from the ground, because it will not hold water or nutrients very well. You can buy potting soil at any garden store, but make sure the soil package says that it can be used in a vegetable garden. We recommend using organic potting soil, because it holds nutrients better and does not have chemicals.
Step 4: Selecting the Right Plants
Choose varieties of plants that are well-suited for growing in containers. Plants in containers will have less space and less soil than they would if they were planted in the ground. For example: Smaller (dwarf) plant varieties grow better in containers than larger varieties (i.e. cherry tomatoes grow better in a container than large slicing tomatoes).
Step 5: Water Often!
Plants growing in containers need a lot more watering than plants growing in a backyard garden. This is because water drains out through the holes in bottom. You can put a tray underneath your containers to catch the water that drains out. The plant will then absorb the water later.
- During the summer, you will probably need to water your containers every day, especially if they are in full sun.
- Water in the early morning or evening. When the sun is less strong, the plants will be able to absorb more water, and you will lose less water to evaporation.
Step 6: Make the Most Out of a Small Space
- Grow Vertically! Use trellises, stakes, or a nearby fence to help your plants grow UP instead of across. This works with VINING PLANTS like squash, peas, beans, and tomatoes!
- Companion Planting: Instead of planting one type of vegetable in each container, mix and match different vegetables! Most vegetables have other plants that they grow well with. These are called ‘companion plants’.
Step 7: Fertilizing and Soil Care
Well-fed plants are happy plants! Plants in a container garden need to be fertilized often, because nutrients in the soil wash out of the container’s holes every time you water. We recommend that you fertilize your containers at least once a month! This will make a big difference in the amount of food that your garden produces.
Fish emulsion and compost tea are good organic (non-chemical) fertilizers. They are safe for food, people and pets to be around:
- Fish emulsion is a nutrient-rich natural fertilizer. You can buy it at any garden supply store. You will need to dilute it with water, then pour it on the soil around your plants. The bottle will tell you the proper mixture. It is actually made from fish parts—so it can be a little stinky!
- Compost tea: Compost tea is a natural liquid fertilizer made from finished compost and water. Put a few cups of finished compost in a bucket of water and let it sit for 5-10 days, or until the water turns the color of weak coffee. Use the finished mixture to water your containers!
- Worm composting is also great way to make your own fertilizer! Check out our blog in upcoming weeks for more information on worm composting.
Step 8: Preparing for Winter
You can use the same containers and soil for many years.
- Every winter, cover the soil with a layer of mulch to protect it from weeds and rain. Fallen leaves make a great mulch!
- Put the containers under cover if possible, to protect them from the rain.
- Add fresh compost to the containers in the spring.
For more information about container gardening, check out this article!
Whether you choose a container garden, an in-ground garden, or a little bit of both, it is definitely time to get started. Grow some tasty veggies for your friends and family this growing season!