Organic Container Gardening

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As I mentioned in a recent post, we purchased our home because of the property: we were so excited by the gardening potential of our sunny lot. As we got going in our gardening endeavors, however, we quickly learned that the soil here isn’t great… it contains so much heavy clay. So we built raised beds and we’ve trucked in a heck of a lot of good quality soil that we’ve amended in many different ways over the years. We’ve learned first hand that the success of a garden depends so very much on the quality of the soil.

In a future post, I will definitely talk more about how we amend the soil in our raised beds. But since not everyone has the space or inclination to garden in raised beds, today I want to focus on another form of gardening that’s potentially more “do-able”: organic container gardening.

Organic container gardening is great because the only thing you really need to get started is a bit of outdoor space (in the city, this could be a balcony or rooftop) and some sun (6-8 hours/day). Many people are accustomed to growing flowers and maybe herbs in containers, but you can absolutely grow organic vegetables in containers, too. The vegetables that do particularly well with organic container gardening include tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and zucchini (ratatouille, anyone?). Many types of greens including lettuce varieties and Swiss chard should also do well in containers.

A couple of things to keep in mind:

-Because plants such as tomato and eggplant can get quite large, look for varieties that are meant to go in containers. The names connote smaller stature such as “patio”, “pixie”, “dwarf”, and “compact”.

-Most herbs will be successful in containers, but I’ve read that dill and tarragon are two that prefer to be in-ground (unless you are able to use a very deep pot).

Choosing a Container

You can go with a standard plastic or terra-cotta pots for organic container gardening, or use your imagination: take your pick from gorgeous ceramic urns to food-grade plastic pails and buckets. I have heard of opening up a bag of potting soil and planting vegetables directly into it- you can’t get much simpler or less expensive than that. And I’ve seen some fantastic vertical container gardens made with upcycled pallets: I took this photo at a Sustainable Living Fair recently. (This pallet garden was made by a local company called Earth Designs and features flowers, succulents, herbs, and greens.) 

pallet garden | healthy green kitchen

Make sure you have holes at the bottom of your container for adequate water drainage; if you don’t, the roots of your plants may rot. It is often suggested that you line the bottom of your pots with something such as small pebbles to keep your potting soil from from escaping and to promote good drainage.

Note that tomatoes and eggplants need to be in large containers- figure about 5 gallons per plant. If you plant them in a smaller container, they may not be very happy. It is very tempting when the plants are small to want to put more than one plant into each pot, but for the most successful organic container gardening, refrain from doing this- your plants won’t do well if they are crowded.

Potting Your Plants

Do not use regular garden soil for container gardening. It compacts too much and dries out too quickly. A soil-free mix such as Organic Choice in a container is best.

Organic Potting Mix photo 72986510_2_zps4074cb63.jpg

(Container soil mixes are much lighter than regular soil and allow your plants to be adequately aerated and hydrated.)

It is a good idea to mix in some compost when you are putting in your potting mix (unless it already contains some- check the label) because compost provides nutrients, boosts soil fertility, and will improve the health of your plants and your harvest. (Moisture crystals added to your potting mix can help retain water, but they are a synthetic product, not a natural one, and I have no experience using them.)

After you have potted your plants, you should cover them with some sort of mulch to keep weeds down and conserve moisture. Newspaper, straw, wood chips, pine needles, rocks or pebbles all make good mulch.

Watering Your Container(s)

Water your plants well immediately after potting and frequently thereafter. Perhaps the only problem with container plants is how often they need to be watered. They will become thirsty much more often than comparable plants in the ground, so check them daily. Watering early in the morning and/or in the evening is best.

Fertilizing Your Container(s)

If your potting mix does not contain any fertilizer (check the label though, because the mixes usually do), it is a good idea to fertilize container plants the first week you plant them and again after a few weeks. An organic fertilizer is best.

I cannot wait to get my garden going…what about you? Are you a new or experienced gardener? Will you be growing some food this year? Will it be in the ground, in raised beds, or in containers?  Let me know!

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