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Farmers Almanac
The 2014 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

Grow Your Own Food in Small Spaces!

Grow Your Own Food in Small Spaces!

Spring is in the air — even if it is very, wet rainy air — and that means its time to get your hands in the dirt and get your vegetable garden started. What’s that you say? You have no backyard or green space to grow your own food? No worries! You can still raise fresh, nutritious, homegrown vegetables just about anywhere, as long as you can find yourself some sturdy, simple containers. Container gardening is an easy, enjoyable way to grow your own vegetables, and can be done on a windowsill, patio, balcony, doorstep, or any space that will provide sufficient sunlight and ease of care.

The best part is, almost any vegetable that will grow in a typical backyard garden can also do well in a container. Some vegetables that are well-suited for container gardening are tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, bush beans, lettuce, spinach, summer squash, radishes, and herbs. Other vegetables that can do well in containers if the conditions are right are cabbage, kale, broccoli and cauliflower.

When making the decision to container garden, you will want to think about many of the same things you’d be thinking about if you were gardening on a piece of land, such as healthy soil, adequate sunlight, enough water, good fertilizer, and thoughtful pest management. Of course, when container gardening, you will also have to think about what types of containers you will grow your vegetables in.

Almost any type of container can be used for growing vegetables. You can choose simple containers like buckets, baskets, tubs, or wooden boxes, or you can get creative and plant in shoes, recycled sinks and bathtubs, or even a kiddie pool. Whatever container you choose, you will want to make sure you match the type of plant you grow to the size of the container. (Big plant? Think big pot!)

For vegetables such as summer squash, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, you will find that five-gallon buckets, or something similar in size, are the best fit. For vegetables like Swiss chard, broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower, one to two gallon containers work better. Smaller containers — about 4-6 inches deep — can be used to grow vegetables like lettuce, spinach, and herbs.

You’ll also want to be careful about the material your container is made of. Containers are either porous or nonporous. Plastic, glazed ceramic, and dark glass containers are nonporous and hold water better. Wood, unglazed ceramic (like terracotta), or papier mache pots are all porous and lose moisture more quickly. You can plant in either porous or nonporous containers, but you will need to adjust how much, and how frequently, you water your plants, and pay special attention to drainage. To aid in good drainage flow, make sure any container you use has several drain holes along the bottom edge.

After you’ve chosen containers appropriate to the vegetables you plan to grow, and placed your containers in the warmest sunniest spot you can find, you will need to choose a suitable growing medium. A good growing medium will hold water and provide adequate nutrients and physical support to grow healthy plants. A good growing medium must also drain well, otherwise your plants could end up in a puddle and drown! A standard potting soil that you find in your garden store should work just fine. You can add some organic compost to your soil mix for heavy feeders like tomatoes and peppers. A good estimate is to fill your container with 2/3 potting soil to 1/3 organic compost.

Once you’ve got your containers filled with healthy soil, you can either direct seed or transplant healthy, strong, seedlings into your containers. What comes next is the usual care and attention you would pay to any of your plants — regular watering, feeding and some good old fashioned TLC.

Troubleshooting for Container Gardening
Be mindful of over watering. Make sure your soil is like a damp sponge. Once your plant is fully grown, it is OK to let it go a few days without watering. Be careful that plants in porous containers, like ceramic pots, don’t dry out too much, though. Wrapping a moist towel around the pot sometimes helps. Watch for poor drainage due to inadequate drain holes or compacted soil. It’s never too late to drill more holes. Finally, keep an eye out to make sure your plants aren’t outgrowing their pots. This is a sure sign that the pot may have been too small to begin with, which is why choosing the right container is so important.

Just like any other kind of gardening, container gardening is an adventure, with lots of unexpected twists and turns not always predicted on your road map. However, you can be successful at container gardening if you are attentive and observant. Most of all, don’t forget to take time to enjoy the fruits of your labor!

Until next time, keep growin’!

14 comments

1 Tomato How To Grow Your Own Food In Small Spaces { 09.02.14 at 8:51 am }

[…] Grow Your Own Food in Small Spaces! – Farmers’ Almanac – … Home » Home and Garden » Grow Your Own Food in Small Spaces! Tweet. Print. Related posts. Prepare Your Seeds for a … my husband grew some tomatoes one year that were as tall as our house. he was watering them heavily every afternoon. we got enough tomatoes from them but they were mostly … […]

2 Brenda Lingle { 05.09.14 at 2:08 am }

I love all you good ideas. You share so much helpful information. Thank you so much.

3 Phyllis Adelle Sherer { 05.08.14 at 4:37 pm }
4 Lee { 05.05.13 at 11:15 pm }

I bought some “Mexibells” at Lowes in Dallas. Does anyone know their origin or do they have another name I’m not aware of. They are great if you like spicy bell peppers.

5 Rebecca { 04.26.13 at 5:19 am }

When placing rocks in the bottom of your containers wrap them in landscaping cloth and tie with a zip tie. This way you aren’t sorting rocks out of your soil at the end of the growing season and you just rinse them off and store for next year.

6 Karen { 04.24.13 at 2:04 pm }

I am doing the straw bale gardening this year— looks very promising!!!!

7 Teresa { 05.21.12 at 10:01 am }

Chris, you could be watering your radishes too much if all you are getting is tall greens. my parents always had a garden and never watered it unless it was really hot and dry. if you have them where they are getting plenty of sun then they should be getting enough water too depending on where you live. this is just a guess but maybe it will help.
my husband grew some tomatoes one year that were as tall as our house. he was watering them heavily every afternoon. we got enough tomatoes from them but they were mostly just tall. they were just planted beside the house, not in containers though. Teresa

8 bearsbaby { 06.19.11 at 12:32 pm }

Hello all. Thanks for the post on container gardening. Our soil here is not suitable for gardens so this is something to consider. I would like to put out a few things so we can have something of a garden this year. I will give this a try.

9 Chris { 06.15.11 at 9:47 am }

I was hoping for some advice. I planted radishes in a container garden, spaced properly and kept moist but I’m getting just leaves About 10 inches tall but no bulbs. Can anyone tell me what I’m doing wrong? Thanks.

10 Cyn { 06.02.11 at 12:16 pm }

Container gardening is the only way to go for me. My home soil is unworkable. :(

I caution all “newbies” to container gardening to know the history of their containers. Never use containers that have housed chemicals, or that are painted with lead-based paint (as these leach into the container, and can leach into your veggies). If you don’t know what kind of paint it’s painted with, or what it was used to contain before, don’t use it for growing your food.

11 Jini { 06.02.11 at 11:04 am }

Hi, I love to use old styrafoam ice chests ( just the cheap ones) to plant in. Just punch a few holes in the bottom, fill with potting soil and plant. The beauty is , they are light, hold water, and keep the plants’ roots cool. Although they are not pretty to look at, you could spray paint them, or set them in another more decorative container.

12 Michelle { 06.02.11 at 7:02 am }

I have two in-ground garden beds, but can’t resist having my container garden every year. I can and do grow about anything in containers on my front deck, where they get plenty of sun. Sometimes I include flowers, but mostly I focus on veggies. I grow all my herbs in containers, and this year, I grew rutabagas and kohlrabi in containers. I have to say, I hadn’t tried collards in containers yet, but I will this fall! Great idea! Sherrye, it definitely is a learning experience, and a great challenge at times to grow a container garden. Have you tried a bowl of French Breakfast radishes? It won’t be long before I can’t do in-ground gardening any more, but I won’t give up container gardening until they pry the trowel from my cold dead hand! LoL!

13 Frutero { 06.01.11 at 12:17 pm }

Styrofoam peanuts added to the bottom of the container make good drainage material. You can try growing collards, one to a pot, for cut- and- come- again greens taken from the bottom of the rosette. The plant will live two or three years and develop a long stalk, and at least until it develops the telltale yellow flowers, will, when taken inside for winter, be mistaken for a Dracaena.

14 Sherrye { 06.01.11 at 9:15 am }

We are container gardening for the first time this year. I have always been good at growing things in the earth, but never in containers, so I’ve shied away from that. Age and health issues dictated simplifying our gardening, and it has been an “adventure”. Because of cost, we opted for plastic containers (and homemade wooden ones). I almost drowned several plants before we realized that they were “floating”. Back to the drawing board!! We drilled more holes and added rock on the bottom. I had put pine bark mulch on top, so it wasn’t evident. We did manage to save them in time, and so far I’ve had peas (too hot now). The beans, tomatoes, cukes, peppers and onions are coming along. I also added a lot of perennials and annuals for color………everything is on the deck. It had been a challenge and we’ve learned several things that will help us do a better job next year.

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