Vegetables can safely, easily and efficiently be grown in almost any container or plant pot that will hold the soil needed to grow the plant. I have successfully grown vegetables in “pots” for several years. I love to garden the “traditional way” but frankly I work many, many hours, I have a family and all of life’s errands to run. I do not have time to maintain a successful large vegetable garden at this point in my life.
BUT I want to grow vegetables because I love and value the fresh taste of my favorite home grown veggies, I love “local” pursuits and you can’t get any more local than growing your own food, I love to be outdoors in the summer and finally I do love to do something that connects me with my own childhood AND some of the activities my parents and grandparents did because they really kind of needed to grow some of their own food
The first and absolute most important need for successful vegetable container gardening is clearly sun. Most vegetables need FULL SUN to grow well and by full sun I mean at least 6 hours (preferably more) of full sun each day. One of the benefits of container gardening is that you can generally easily move your containers from one spot to another so that they get their full day of sun.
The second need is SPACE. Less (plants) will mean more (harvest)! By the end of the growing season one plant of many of the vegetable varieties will have grown thoroughly into all most any pot you can conceive. For best growth for instance one tomato plant of almost any variety should be given a home in about a 12” or more pot. By the end of the season the roots of the plant will almost fill the pot.
Space is also needed to counter overcrowding that inhibits light and air circulation. Many vegetables are prone to disease and leaf spotting if their foliage does not get enough air circulation. To compound problems, rain or overhead watering of crowded plants means the leaves can stay too wet too long in a sunny hot environment and this “rain forest scenario” can be a perfect incubator for leaf and fruit spot and disease. So, good space that allows for light and air circulation is important.
I would definitely recommend Bar Harbor Blend Potting Soil by Coast of Maine as THE SOIL of choice for containers. It is locally produced and we need to use all the local products we can BUT good news--it is not expensive AND it is the BEST quality potting soil I have ever used. I highly recommend it. Also I highly recommend aggressively using the Fish and Seaweed fertilizer (Neptune’s Harvest brand is my favorite—produced in northern Massachusetts, only 100 miles from here) when you water the containers early on in the season. This gets your plants off to a fast start NATURALLY and strengthens the roots for a good flowering or vegetable season. This is still Maine and still a short season so I don't think you can fertilize your containers too much as long as you do it naturally. Finally, I deposit at least two Plant Tablets by Organica into each container every month. Once I stop using the Fish and Seaweed food (after the first month) the broken down Plant Tablets give the roots of the plant all kinds of food and good natural bacteria.I grew some very nice vegetables this season in my containers. Full sun is needed and I was able to place some on the top of my paved driveway so my fall (or second) plantings still stayed warm for awhile. I would make sure your FALL CONTAINERS (use peas, even beans, carrots really try anything) should be planted by seed by the first week of August. The air gets pretty cold in September even when the containers are on the warm pavement so it is nice to have the plants pretty well grown by then.
DRAINAGE is very important; make sure your containers have at least one hole in the bottom (if one hole about 1” in diameter) to let excess water out. By the middle to end of the season your containers may need daily waterings to accommodate all the root growth. When you do water really soak your containers so the roots get plenty of water; but at this point there should be all kinds of water gushing out of the bottom of the pot.
How about vegetables that like to “run” or send vines out? I grew some great pickle sized cucumbers last summer by planting just one seedling in a 16” pot and then plunging a metal 6’ trellis behind my pot. For a few weeks, we got some nice pickle sized cukes (which I think make a great size for eating!). Want more cukes? Plant another pot and set up another trellis! Twice as many pots gives you twice as many cukes! Easy math and easy to do!
For tomatoes try the Topsy Turvy Tomato planter and hang your tomatoes upside down off a Shepherd’s Hook in the sun! Check out http://www.topsyturvys.com/ for how this neat product works! (We sell the Topsy Turvy right here at Skillin’s!) Or plant a patio tomato or something yummy like a Sun Gold tomato in a large pot with a tomato spiral hammered through the soil and through the hole in the bottom of the pot down into the ground. Your pot is anchored by the Tomato Spiral AND you don’t have to tie tomatoes to the Tomato Spiral. Just keep the tomato coming up straight through the spiral!
As I write this it is still early Spring. Almost all vegetables can be started indoors now ( I love the biodegradable Cow Pots that we sell here at Skillin’s for early starting of plants. The Cow Pots are EASILY transplantable into large summer pots). This early start will mean bigger plants and a better harvest earlier. Have some favorites? Start some now indoors and THEN grow a second crop in a few weeks to “stage” or “time” a longer harvest.
One of our favorite products is the Earth Box! The Earth Box is a growing system within a wide pot. They are easy to move (with wheels) and optional custom staking systems can be purchased. For more great information on the Earth Box go to http://www.earthbox.com/. We sell the Earth Box here at Skillin’s!
Drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment at the Comment area below IF you have any more to add about Vegetable Container Gardening!
Mike Skillin (with assistance from David K)
April 15, 2009