Green-Up Your Diet with Vegetables from Your Own Container Garden
By Jamie Harrison
Red and green peppers dancing up a lattice in a wooden box. A terra cotta pot bursting with ripe, juicy tomatoes. Small clay pots sprinkled with budding pole bean plants. All of these and more are examples of the wonderful art known as vegetable container gardening. And the diversity and simplicity of this much loved practice is what makes it enticing to everyone from master gardeners to those with just a hint of a green thumb.
Why Container Gardening?
There are countless reasons that make container gardening a sensible option for a wide range of vegetables. The first question many people have when they begin to investigate creating a vegetable garden in pots is what type of plants can I use? There are many options, but some of the best choices are arugula, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, peas, beans, zucchini, squash and peppers.
One of the greatest benefits to container gardening is mobility. Instead of carefully scouting the location of the sun in your garden, you can easily move potted plants to certain sunny or shady spots depending on what light they require.
Container gardening can also help extend the life of your plants. If your climate offers a shorter growing season than your plants require, you can easily transfer potted plants into a protective area so that they can continue growing and producing. During hot summer months, because pots can dry out faster, it’s important to give container plants a part shade condition—even those that grow in the sun. Containers can be moved during the heat of the day to a spot with more shade, where they won’t roast in the sun before you get a chance to roast them in the oven. Frost-sensitive plants will flourish inside during fall and even into winter months, extending your plant life.
Perhaps the most common reason people choose to start a container garden is due to space restrictions. It doesn’t require sprawling acres of land to produce great vegetables. You are no longer limited by the space you have—only your imagination. Small backyards, apartment stoops and front porches can now boast enough vegetables to keep your family eating healthy all year long.
Choosing the proper container based upon what you desire to grow is a key step to beginning your vegetable container garden. Craving some greens for a nice crisp salad? Opt for a spacious clay pot. Looking forward to making a BLT with your very own tomatoes? A hanging basket might be your best bet. Dreaming of cooking some of grandma’s old-fashioned squash casserole? Then maybe an oversized terra cotta pot is a good choice. Elevated soil temperatures can stop growth by reducing the plant’s ability to absorb nutrients. Use light, reflective containers, if possible, to avoid over heating your plant from the roots up.
It’s often fun to get creative with your container by reusing or upcycling items you might normally throw away, like old basins, washtubs or kiddie pools. Whether you opt for a standard pot, a homemade garden box or something more out-of-the-ordinary as your container choice, be sure it has an ample amount of holes for drainage.
Starting your vegetable garden adventure with nursery-grown plants is an easy approach. However, some vegetables flourish from seeds planted straight into the pot.
Providing your container plants with proper soil is crucial to their success. Invest in a good quality soilless potting mix. Soilless mixes are made up of mostly peat moss and perlite. Some mixes are designed for seed starting, but are suitable for all types of plants.
Caring For Your Plants
It is also vital to keep a close eye on your plant’s soil moisture and to water your plants when the soil appears dry. You should either water by hand or an automatic drip system. In summer months in our area, pots will dry out quicker than you might expect. Water until the soil is completely moistened and begins to pour out the bottom of the container.
Be sure to fertilize on a weekly basis with fish emulsion or Osmocote plant food. Osmocote (available at The Greenery) is an all-in-one solution for all your vegetable plant needs. Its specially designed technology delivers 11 essential nutrients with a slow release fertilizer formulation. This ensures that nutrients are distributed evenly in all directions allowing your plants to continue flourishing despite growing conditions. Fish emulsion is liquid, organic fertilizer made from the byproducts of fish oil and fishmeal.
Enjoying Your Harvest
You will need to be very watchful of your garden and recognize when vegetables reach their proper size to ensure they don’t pass their peak for the picking. After you have harvested your vegetables, wash them thoroughly, invite your friends over and enjoy an evening of delectable veggie creations straight from your own backyard.
Jamie Harrison is the Garden Center Manager at The Greenery and a South Carolina Master Gardener.
The Greenery Garden Center is located on Hilton Head Island at 960 William Hilton Parkway, 843-785-3848 www.thegreeneryinc.com