Gardening in a container can be easier than gardening in the ground. Container-grown vegetable plants have slightly smaller yields than those grown in the ground, but there are fewer, if any, weeds. Pests are also less likely if your container garden is in a location where pests don’t expect to find food, and diseases are easier to avoid because potting soil is less apt to harbor them than ground soil.
You need few tools beyond a trowel, and you don’t need to cultivate the soil. Containers, at least the smaller ones, can be moved around and brought indoors when frost threatens, and you can set your garden at whatever height is comfortable and convenient—you can even garden sitting down.
When it comes to containers, you have two options: “Traditional” containers consist of anything that can hold some soil and has a hole in the bottom to drain excess water. Self-watering containers, which hit the market a few years ago, provide a constant source of water from an attached reservoir.
You can plant vegetables in large flower pots or containers originally meant for another use: an old wash tub, a pail or sap bucket, half a wine barrel or a plastic bucket. Drill a hole in the bottom, and avoid containers that previously held chemicals.
Choose a container large enough for the plant you want to grow—the bigger the plant, the bigger the pot. A large tomato plant needs about 30 to 40 quarts of soil; a pepper or eggplant can make do with 15 to 20. You can grow large plants such as corn or squash in containers, but make sure they get full sun. (The same is true for tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. Spinach, lettuce, bok choy and other leafy greens can handle partial shade.)
Vegetable plants tend to be bigger and grow faster than flowers and herbs, so they need much more water. Even in large containers, the soil often can’t receive and hold as much water as many vegetable plants need daily. If you use traditional containers, plan to water at least once a day—more often for large plants or during hot, dry or windy weather. A mature tomato plant needs a gallon of water a day. Vegetable plants that can’t get water when they need it become stressed and don’t produce as well. Rain barrels are a great way to collect water without drawing from the municipal supply. Make your own rain barrel.
Soil provides plants with nutrients and holds and delivers water. No matter the type of container you use, water distribution is best accomplished by a soil containing peat moss and some perlite and/or vermiculite.
A 50-50 mix of good compost and sphagnum peat-based potting soil yields excellent results. Unless you are sure you are using high-quality compost, add about a cup of balanced organic fertilizer per 40 quarts of soil mix.
Find supplies at your local garden center.
1⁄3 cup green sand
1⁄3 cup rock phosphate or bone meal
1⁄3 cup nitrogen source
(alfalfa or soybean meal)
1 tablespoon Azomite (a rock dust that provides micro-nutrients and trace minerals)
B&T Grower Supply
Clean Air Gardening
self-watering planters and growing kits
The Garden Patch
growing boxes, staking kits
Gardener’s Supply Co.
indoor and outdoor planters
Home Harvest Garden Supply
pots, baskets, hangers and seed starters
Johnny’s Selected Seeds
planters and seeds
Seeds of Change
organic seeds and planters
Ed Smith writes books about vegetable gardening, including Incredible Vegetables from Self-Watering Containers and The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible. This article was reprinted with permission from Mother Earth News.