7 December 2007

Growing food in containers

Many vegetables can be grown successfully in pots or containers. I am currently growing a couple of heirloom tomatoes in large pots and I also have a selection of potted herbs. The tomatoes don’t look wonderful but we’ll get a few kilos of tomatoes from them. If you're new to gardening, start off with a couple of potted herbs. They're be a great introduction to gardening for you and what you learn from them will help later if you grow vegetables.

There are a few factors you need to be mindful of
when growing vegetables and herbs in pots:
  • Generally the size and health of the root ball will determine the amount of vegetables harvested, so if you want to grow large vegetables look for large containers that will allow the roots to spread a little.
  • You’ll need a good quality potting mix, or an ordinary potting mix with compost and old manure added. Do NOT use garden soil. It doesn’t drain well and the roots will suffocate.
  • It is better to grow your vegetables in potting mix that’s been enriched with compost or old manure rather than planting in poor quality mix and then applying fertiliser.
    There is an old gardeners idiom: feed the soil, not the plant. This is wise advice.
  • Look for dwarf varieties of the large vegetables you wish to grow. You can get heirloom dwarf tomatoes, short carrots and golden nugget pumpkin is a bush rather than a vine. Do a bit of research about the smaller varieties you like to eat.
  • Think about growing up a trellis, it will maximise your space. One cucumber seedling in a pot with a trellis will give you more than enough cucumbers for two people.
  • Consistent watering is essential. When a plant is in the ground, its roots will go looking for moisture. This can’t happen in a pot so the plant will totally rely on you for water.
  • Make sure all your containers have a lot of drainage holes. If you’re planting in buckets or polystyrene boxes, drill drainage holes in the base. The long polystyrene boxes are good for planting a row of lettuce or short carrots.
  • Try to stand you container up on bricks off the soil. That will assist drainage and help reduce the number of worms in your pots. The worms will still get in, but not as many. While worms are a wonderful addition to your soil garden, you don’t want worms in your pots. They turn the mix into sludge and water tends to drain out too fast through their burrowing holes.
  • If you’re in a hot climate, locate your containers where they will get sun up till about 2pm, then shade.
  • When the plants have grown a bit, add mulch to help keep the moisture in.
  • Water every second day, depending on your location.
  • Apply seaweed tea when you plant.
  • If you have worm tea, add that every week but make sure it is a weak brew.
  • Apply weak liquid fertiliser to the green leafy vegetables every week.
  • Apply a spoon full of sulphate of potash when you plant to the flowering vegetables like tomatoes, pumpkins and cucumbers.
  • Don't over fertilise your fruiting vegetables, like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers. It will cause your plants to produce lush green leaves at the expense of fruit.
  • Don’t sit your containers in drip trays. They must drain freely. If you have the containers indoors, stand them on bricks or pebbles over the tray so the pot is out of the collecting water.

You’ll be able to produce good vegetables in containers but you’ll have to look after your plants well. They’ll require more care than vegetables in the ground, as they’re reliant on you for all their needs. But if you can give them some time and effort they will reward you with fresh food. Good crops don’t just come from great gardens, they also can be produced in containers with a little extra care.
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