Container vegetable gardening can provide fresh homegrown produce in small spaces

Container vegetable gardening
CC BY 3.0 Brianna Privett

If you've got the urge to grow at least some of your own food, but don't have the yard space for a vegetable garden outside, or have a landlord that won't allow you to dig up part of the lawn for a garden plot, you may be still be able to produce fresh homegrown food with container vegetable gardening.

Container vegetable gardening is a great alternative

As an alternative to a traditional garden bed, container vegetable gardening can work for apartment and condo dwellers, urban gardens in small spaces, or for those with poor garden soil (or soil of questionable quality due to contamination from toxins and pollutants).

The advantages of growing veggies in containers are many, including the ability to use high quality potting soil in the containers (which would be prohibitively expensive to do in a conventional garden), the fact that the plants can be placed in the best sunny (or part shade) location and moved if needed, and because you aren't restricted to planting in the ground, more vegetables can be grown in a small space by planting in containers that can be stacked or hung.

Container vegetable gardening can also give a second life to all sorts of items, including buckets, baskets, barrels, and other things that might otherwise end up in the recycle bin or trash.

Virtually any container can be used to grow vegetables and herbs

As long as they are big enough to support a healthy root system and have adequate drainage, almost any container can be used to grow veggies. As a rule of thumb, the bigger the plant, the bigger the container needs to be, and while shallow-rooted vegetables such as lettuce and other salad greens can be grown in a smaller container with just a couple of inches of soil, larger plants such as tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, peas, and beans will require larger containers.

For drainage, each container will need holes punched or drilled in the bottom or along the bottom edge, because just as plants don't often grow well in dry soil, most of them also don't tolerate overly-soggy soil either.

One caveat for choosing or building containers is to steer clear of those used for non-food items that may have potentially toxic residue in them, and never use treated wood for containers to grow vegetables in. A great source for food-grade plastic buckets can be restaurants or institutions with cafeterias such as schools.

Choose the best location for your container vegetable garden

Finding the right location for placing your container vegetable garden is important, because even with the best soil and the best seed, plants won't thrive without adequate sunlight. You'll want to choose a location with at least 6 hours or more of direct sunlight every day, so if you don't have a spot that gets that much sun, you may have to move the pots once or twice throughout the day to keep them in the light.

Patios, balconies, doorsteps, roofs, and even windowsills can be great locations for container vegetable gardening, either on the ground or by hanging baskets or pots from walls or railings.

Potting soil makes a big difference

A good quality potting soil can make all the difference in container vegetable gardening, as it will be loose and friable enough for optimal root growth, will hold water for longer periods of time than plain ol' dirt from the yard, and will also dry quickly enough (and maintain air spaces within it) to allow the plant's roots to get oxygen.

Because of the relatively small amount of soil available to the plant's roots when compared to those in a garden bed, the addition of compost or worm castings to the potting soil will help supply the necessary nutrients to the plants. In most locations, adding a layer of mulch on top of the soil of your containers will not only keep the soil cooler in the heat of summer, but will also slow down evaporation and keep the plants from drying out as quickly.

Container gardening is not just for small spaces

While container vegetable gardening is well suited to growing food in small spaces, it can also be a great addition to any home, as the plants can be located where they will look and grow best (and where they will be the most convenient for care and harvest), and can be used to extend the growing season as the containers can be brought inside on cold nights or during a storm.

For the beginner, it's often best to start your container gardening journey with easy to grow and smaller varieties of vegetables, such as lettuce, spinach, peas, radishes, bush beans, dwarf tomatoes, or carrots, and then try your hand at larger plants as you learn what works.

Tags: Gardening

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