Melissa and Mary of Skillin's Falmouth have spent a great deal of time last fall and through this past winter growing container vegetables. And of course in Maine that means mostly growing container vegetables both indoors and outdoors! They have been very pleased by their experience and have learned a lot! Now we are ready to pass on what they have learned to you. The following has been written by Melissa and serves as the basis for our gardening class "Container Edibles". From Melissa:
"If you do not have space for a vegetable garden, or if you live in an apartment with no yard space of your own, consider growing your vegetables in containers. A windowsill, a patio, balcony, or doorstep can provide sufficient space for a productive garden. Problems with soil-borne disease, nematodes, or poor soil can also be overcome by switching to container gardening.
With increasing interest in container gardening, plant breeders and seed companies are working on vegetables specifically bred for container culture. One prime example of this is Peas ‘N-A-Pot, developed by Burpee seed company specifically for containers. They grow to only 10 inches high and said to give high yields of peas. They also taste very good – I know I have eaten some that I grew this winter!
The amount of sunlight in the area you plan to put your container garden may determine which crops can be grown. Vegetables grown for their fruits generally require at least 6 hours of full sunlight every day – they do better with 8-10 hours. You can increase available light with the use of reflective materials around the plants, e.g., aluminum foil, white painted surfaces, white rocks…. Root crops and green leafy crops can tolerate partial shade. Container gardening lends itself to creating some very attractive plantscapes . You can easily brighten your patio area with baskets of tomatoes or colorful herb mix. Container gardening offers many opportunities for innovative and creative ideas. “Think outside the box”.
1- big enough to support plants when they are fully grown
2- hold soil without spilling
3- have adequate drainage
4- never have held products that would be toxic to plants or people
Some examples of containers you could use: bushel baskets, decorative pots, gallon cans, tubs or wooden boxes, or recycle bags (the kind they sell in the grocery store). The size of the container will vary according to the crop selection and space available.
Soil – Good garden soil may be good “in the ground”, it is not a good choice for your containers – it can become hard and compact. You should use a good commercial potting mix (I prefer Coast of Maine soils) as your growing medium. These soils are rich in nutrients and allow for good drainage.
Watering – Vegetables grown in containers (outside) require frequent watering because they can dry out quickly from sun and wind. Some of your plants you may find need daily watering. You should give each plant pot enough water so that it reaches the bottom of the pot – you should see water coming out of the drainage holes. Always keep you container plants evenly moist, never allowing them to dry out completely. By the same token do not overwater your crops – this will slowly kill plants because the roots will not receive enough oxygen. When watering avoid getting the leaves wet , especially if you are watering late in the day. Wet leaves encourage the development of plant diseases. Experienced tomato growers know that if watering is not consistently maintained, tomato plants are unable to take up calcium, a vital nutrient to healthy plants. The result will be tomatoes with a dark leathering spot on the blossom end. This doesn’t signal disease and there is no magic spray to fix it – you just need to pay attention to your crops.
Fertilizer – Container grown vegetables need to be fertilized more frequently than field grown vegetables because they have less soil from which to draw nutrients. As a general rule, add an all purpose dry fertilizer – organic or chemical – according to package directions when you plant This can be applied while watering, or in a powder form that you scratch into the soil and then water.
Light – Nearly all vegetable plants will grow better under full sun. However, leafy crops such as lettuce, spinach, cabbage and parsley are more tolerant of shady conditions. Fruit bearing plants need the most sun – at least 6-8 hours a day. Remember – you can always move that container!
Harvesting – Harvest your vegetables at the peak of their maturity – when they will be the most flavorful. At the end of the growing season, discard the plant and soil from the pot. Do not reuse the same soil for a second season.
What to plant
Most any vegetable that will grow in a backyard veggie garden will grow in a container – you have to be sure and get the correct container size. Some of the best vegetables for container growing include tomatoes, pepper, eggplant, green onions, beans, Peas ‘N-A-Pot, lettuce, radishes, parsley. If you choose to plant snap peas or pole beans you need to be sure and give them plenty of support and plenty of room for their vines.
Seeds should be started in a warm area that will receive sufficient sunlight about 4-8 weeks before you want to put them in their final container and out in the yard. Most vegetables should be transplanted into their outdoor containers when they develop their first 2-3 true leaves. When transplanting be careful with the plants as they are still quite fragile at this time.
Container Gardening Success
Container gardening can be very successful and rewarding. Plant growth and vigor can vary depending on pot location, and the amount of attention and care you give the plants. The following is a list of golden rules of any vegetable garden:
1- Inspect your plants daily, and if necessary water, trim, train or prune
2- Check your plants daily and remove pests and weeds – treat disease and insects if needed
3- Sit down and enjoy the fruits of your labor!
Some varieties to try in your container garden
Beets (5 gallons, 5-6 plants) Scarlet Prince, Burpee’s Golden
Carrots (1 gallon, 2-3 plants. Use pots 2” deeper than the carrot length) Short & Sweet, Petite & Sweet
Cucumber (1 gallon, 1 plant) Pickle Bush
Peas (5 gallons, 1 plant);
Peas ‘N-A-Pot (5 gallons, 8plants) Sugar snap peas, shelling peas
Leaf Lettuce (1 gallon, 2 plants) Butter crunch, Salad Bowl, Romaine, Mesculin etc.
Pepper (5 gallons, 1-2 plants) Most any
Tomato ( 5 gallons, 1 plant) Patio, Pixie, Tiny Tim, Cherry
Spinach (1 gallon, 2 plants)
Broccoli (2 gallons; 1 plant) Packman, Bonanza & others
Kale (1 gallon; 2 plants) Any variety
Melissa M for Skillin's Greenhouses
April 23, 2010