No yard for even a little garden space? Container vegetable gardening is the solution to any gardening obstacles.
You can be a backyard gardener and harvest your own crops even if you don't have a backyard.
Land is optional. All you really need is a doorstep, a balcony, or a patio.
Grow mums, violas, chives, eggplant, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes on a deck.
The only requirements are light, water, fertilizer, good soil, and attention. Potting soil can be purchased at your local gardening center.
Just about anything can be grown in containers, and just about anything can be used as a container. Pots, wicker baskets, tubs, pails, laundry baskets, wooden crates, planter boxes, hanging baskets, and even plastic bags of all sizes are acceptable container gardens.
Some people get very creative and use old leather boots, a colander, jars of all sizes, old wash tubs (wooden or metal) — just about any container will work.
Whatever container you choose, make sure it's big enough to hold a full-grown plant. Patio tomatoes grow just fine in a ten-inch pot. A half-bushel basket is great for squash or potatoes.
Generally speaking, the larger the container, the better the results you can expect when growing vegetables, because deeper soil means less chance of the soil drying out.
If the container doesn't have drainage holes, add a 1-2 inch layer of gravel at the bottom of the container.
Container vegetable gardening has different needs than yard gardening. The soil in your containers must provide better drainage than your regular garden dirt. No matter what the size or shape of your container, make sure you start with a good commercial planting mix, available in most garden centers.
These soils have the right proportions of sterile soil, organic matter, and fertilizer already mixed, providing all the nutrients needed for initial plant growth. They are free of disease organisms, weed seeds, and insects and are ready for immediate planting. It works just as well for outdoor containers as for indoor containers.
Another advantage of planting mixes is their weight. Planting mix weighs less than half as much as garden soil when both are soaked. This is important when you want to move containers from one spot to another, or if your "garden" is a large number of containers on a roof or balcony.
A garden out in the yard may need to be watered once or twice a week, but your container garden will need watering much more often than that. Since all sides of the container are exposed to the air, the water evaporates off substantially faster than in the ground.
You will need to water well when the top inch of soil in the container is dry. But containers may need watering every two to three days. Small containers may need water daily. Hanging baskets could even require twice-daily waterings in hot weather. On the other hand, over watering will kill a plant as easily as under watering. Wait till the top inch of soil is dry (1/2 inch in small containers).
A vital part of growing vegetables in containers is fertilizing regularly. It's not enough to add fertilizer at the beginning of the plant's growth and then forget about it. Generous feeding results in generous crops. I suggest a weak nutrient solution weekly, added to the soil in liquid form, mixed in with the regular watering. Keep a large watering can or gallon jug filled and ready to use close by your containers. Then it's just a matter of a few minutes' work to feed all of them weekly.
Technically, any plant that will grow in your yard will grow in a container, provided the container is big enough.
There are vegetables, however, that are bred specifically for small-space gardening. Patio tomatoes, bush squash and beans, miniature cucumbers, even pumpkins and watermelons have been developed to grow in compact form, just perfect for container gardens. Ask at your local nursery for the miniature and bush varieties, both as seeds and as plant starts.
If you're ambitious, you can even grow dwarf fruit trees, grapes, and berries in containers.
With care and proper fertilizing and watering, your container crops could feed your family well. Four five-gallon-sized tomato plants should produce eighty to a hundred tomatoes over the course of a growing season.
Four cucumber plants trained on a trellis will produce about 120 cucumbers. A 2-by-3-foot box with Swiss chard growing in it will allow 15-25 pickings. These may sound like optimistic numbers, but assuming decent growing conditions and regular care, it's possible to achieve these amounts.
Container vegetable gardening has the potential to be a contributing factor to reducing your grocery bill.
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