GrowCookEat – Container Gardening

Tons of you are planning on container gardening or only have enough space for containers. Just because you don’t have a big backyard, or a backyard at all, doesn’t disqualify you from growing your own vegetables. I am so happy that I found this new-to-me blog called Life on The Balcony! It is all about gardening tips for apartment and condo dwellers. Allow me to introduce you to the blog’s author, Fern…

Fern Richardson is currently training to become a certified Master Gardener. She has been gardening since she was in elementary school, and specifically on apartment and condo balconies for the past decade.

Fern writes a highly regarded gardening blog called Life on the Balcony that covers container gardening on balconies and patios. She also occasionally accepts commissions to design container gardens for homeowners and commercial properties.

Edible Container Gardening Basics

by Fern

The most important things you can do to get your edible container garden off to a good start and keep it on the right path are buying good quality potting soil and learning how to water your plants properly.

You should never use dirt from the garden in your pots. Do yourself a favor and buy good quality potting mix, it will drain better and won’t compact like garden soil. You will not find anything that I would call “good quality” at the big box places. If you’re in California, I really like E.B. Stone potting mix, sold at Armstrong Garden Centers. But if you don’t have access to that, look for something that is fluffy and smells good (like a forest after the rain). Here are some ingredients commonly found in good quality potting mixes:
  • Sphagnum peat moss, sedge peat, or coconut coir (coconut coir is an environmentally friendly alternative to peat)
  • Composted, aged forest products
  • Sand
  • Vermiculite
  • Perlite
  • Charcoal
  • Wetting agent and water-holding polymer
  • Lime for balancing the pH

Potted Salad Greens

As far as watering correctly, err on the side of under-watering. The majority of new gardeners that kill their plants do it by watering too much.

It is hard to give general advice about how much to water edibles, but you need to stick your finger all the way down into the soil and feel it to decide whether to water. If the potting soil you can reach with your finger is still moist, do not water. Wait until the top few inches have dried out. Of course, if you see the leaves starting to wilt, then water. When you do water, give the plants enough water so that you see excess water flowing out of the pots’ drainage holes.
Choosing the Right Plant

Basket of Chard

You can grow nearly anything in a pot, even the most vigorous, ginormous tomato. The trick is to have a large enough pot. That being said, large pots are expensive, and can be too heavy for balconies with weight restrictions. Not to mention that large pots need tons of potting soil, and if you’re buying the good stuff, that can get pricey. Though all this shouldn’t stop you from growing growing the fruits and vegetables you like to eat. You simply need to select dwarf varieties of your favorite edibles.

Dwarf Tomato Plant

For example, check out ‘Tumbling Tom’ tomatoes. It is the perfect size for a hanging basket, and produces tons of fruit that are a little bigger than cherry tomatoes. Other small varieties of tomato to look for are ‘Tiny Tim,’ ‘Patio,’ and ‘Small Fry.’ There are also dwarf varieties of eggplants (‘Little Prince’), cucumbers (‘Bush Slicer’ or ‘Spacemaster’), and many more. When buying fruit trees, be sure to buy plants that say they have dwarf rootstock.

Maximizing Your Space

Tiny Tim Tomatoes in hanging basket

When you’re trying to fit as many edible plants as you can onto a patio or balcony, using all of your space in a creative way is definitely the name of the game. This means using your vertical space, and your railings, in addition to putting containers on the ground.
There are several products that will allow you to grow things from a container attached to your railing. For example, Park Seed sells “Growin’ Bags” which are durable plastic pouches that you can hang from your railings. You can plant things like straw
berries or herbs in each of the pouch’s 5 holes. Another interesting product is the “Hang-A-Pot.” It allows you to hang a pot from virtually any vertical surface. Simply use zip ties to affix the Hang-A-Pot to your railings so that you don’t have to drill any holes.

To make the best use out of your floor space, look for opportunities to stack plants on top of each other. By this I mean using plant stands or benches where a small plant can sit directly on the ground, allowing a larger plant to be placed on the bench or stand above it. Tiered plant stands also accomplish the same thing.

One idea for maximizing garden space that I am really excited about is using a wooden arbor to take advantage of vertical space. From the top of the arbor, hang grow bags or hanging baskets. Then, on the ground underneath those hanging plants, you can place large plants, like tomatoes or eggplants. On the ground outside the arbor, take advantage of the side trellises to grow vining plants, such as beans or cucumbers.

More links on container gardening:

Next Friday I’ll post a little bit about what we’ve done in our garden so far this year, but mostly I’ll be sharing a fabulous Edible Garden themed Mother’s Day gift guide and have several products up for giveaway as well. You won’t want to miss it!

Got your GrowCookEat post up?:

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I also wanted to let you know that I’ve set up a GrowCookEat flickr group for those of you who want to upload and share all the photos of your gardens with each other. You can join the group here.