Do you savor the taste of home grown vegetables but the work involved in a large garden seems daunting? Is your yard space limited or do time constraints prevent you from delving into a long summer chore? Container gardening is a wonderful alternative providing a maintenance free growing experience to enjoy throughout the season.
The first step in planning your garden is to decide which vegetable plants you would like to grow. Selecting the appropriate size container for your plants is the key to a successful harvest. Some plants have small root systems (12 – 16 cm) such as lettuce, spinach and arugula that grow quite well in shallow pots. On the other hand, tomatoes, artichokes and eggplant have deeper roots that require large containers, typically a minimum of 50 cm in diameter.
Additionally, the planning stage should incorporate pot placement in your yard taking into consideration the amount of sunlight each plant will receive during the day. Sun worshipping plants such as tomatoes, beans and peppers require at least 8 – 10 hours of sunlight each day. Other vegetables such as lettuce, radishes and broccoli will actually ‘bolt’ (produce seeds) in hot conditions, reducing the flavor to a bitter, unpleasant taste. Choose a cool, shady spot for these plants out of direct sunlight for optimal growth during summer months.
The next step in container gardening is choosing the best soil for your planters. There are many products to choose from on the market so read the labels carefully before purchase. A soil that will drain well with a pH close to neutral is ideal. Potting mixes filled with organic material such as compost and bark chips will provide good aeration while supplying important nutrients to your plants. Look for mixes with perlite or vermiculite which retain water but allow for good aeration. Most commercial potting mixes have been heated during process, ensuring they are free from weed seeds, pests and disease.
The final consideration before planting is to establish a beneficial watering system. Setting up a drip irrigation line with an inexpensive timer attached to the water source is ultimately the best means to water your plants. Constructing the system is relatively simple utilizing a 1.25cm main line and attaching .63cm tubing to each pot. The drip system is ideal, watering the plants’ root system without spraying the delicate foliage. Setting the timer to come on for 15 minutes each morning will not only conserve water but will also save you precious time.
Many vegetables can be planted early in the spring including lettuce, spinach, peas, cauliflower and broccoli. Other plants such as tomatoes, beans and peppers should wait to be planted after the last frost. A benefit to early container planting is the ability to either cover the planter with a sheet or bring it indoors overnight if a late frost occurs.
Container gardening not only reduces the exertion of constant weeding, it also provides easy harvesting without the heavy labor involved with an in-ground garden. For urban communities, it is an ideal method to grow fresh vegetables where space is limited. Whether you want to grow a few tomato plants or experiment with an herb garden, container gardening offers a stress-free means to cultivate your green thumb.