Container gardening

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

When you know how many vegetables thrive in containers, you’ll realize you don’t need a garden to grow food. Try lettuce, radishes, green onions, zucchini, tomatoes and bush or pole beans in planters. Food plants need a maximum of 12 inches (30cm) of soil to grow in; those that are shallow-rooted require only six inches (15cm). Herbs, being mostly Mediterranean plants, are perfectly suited for planters in full sun. Imagine being able to pick sprigs of fresh mint, parsley, chives, oregano or basil from pots just outside your kitchen door.

I get best results from basil and pepper plants when I grow them in 2-gallon (9-L) black plastic pots because our summers are no longer reliably hot. I can harvest amazing yields of tomatoes, cucumbers, ground cherries and tomatillos from 5-gallon (23-L) pots. The secret is in the growing medium. I use a 50:50 blend of screened compost and coir (coconut fibre). This provides a nutrient-rich, biologically alive medium, with good aeration and moisture retention.

If you don’t have compost, you can incorporate granular, organic fertilizer into a potting medium or apply liquid fertilizer or compost tea throughout the season. Liquid seaweed boosts fruit and flower production; liquid fish fertilizer aids in the production of leafy greens. Both give plants extra resistance to the stress of being grown in confined conditions. I feed plants regularly as they are becoming established, and every three weeks thereafter.

Container tips

  • Plants in pots dry out quickly, especially in full sun. To be certain plants get enough water, test soil 2 inches (5 cm) below the surface.
  • Water daily in hot weather; apply until water runs from drainage holes below.
  • When you are planning to go away, place vulnerable plants on top of pebbles in shallow saucers and position in shaded places. Fill the saucers with water before you go.
  • Clay pots allow faster water loss; plants in terra cotta pots need more watering than those in plastic pots.
  • Choose containers large enough to prevent plants from getting root bound or they will dry out too fast.
  • Top-dress established planters with screened compost every year to provide nutrients throughout the season.

Fill a planter box with high quality compost and plant salad ingredients of your choice. From the salad box in the photo, I harvested two varieties of kale, three varieties of lettuce, cilantro, parsley and radicchio. You can grow mesclun mixes of mustards, endive, lettuce, spinach, coriander, cress, kale and chard. Sprinkle a mix of seeds into a 4-quart (4-L) bucket of sieved compost or coarse, washed sand and spread evenly over the top layer of the salad box. Using scissors, harvest with the ‘cut-and-come again’ method for baby salad greens.

Garden path perennial mix for containers and planters

In a wheelbarrow mix well:
1/3 screened topsoil
1/3 screened compost
1/3 aged horse manure

Add 10 percent of the above volume of perlite for drainage and aeration. Add a 1-gallon (4L) ice cream pail of a balanced granular, organic fertilizer (5:2:4) (with such ingredients as alfalfa meal, gypsum, rock phosphate, sul-po-mag, greensand, zeolite, kelp meal). Tip: It’s best not to use garden soil unless blended with organic matter because on its own it dries out quickly, compacts and deprives young plant roots of oxygen.

When plants are grown in containers, their roots are subject to freezing because they are exposed to two extra zones of coldness. In other words, a zone-5 plant in the ground becomes a zone-7 plant in a pot. A combination of heavy rain followed by a deep freeze will kill plants in containers by freezing their roots. Moving borderline plants under the eaves up against the house or into a greenhouse or garage prevents this from happening. Another way to protect roots is to place a pot inside a larger one and stuff the space in between with insulating material such as burlap or landscape fabric.

Carolyn’s new book The Zero Mile Diet – A Year-round Guide to Growing Great Organic Food (Harbour Publishing) is now

project abundance

Project Abundance

Transform the city into a modern day Garden of Eden by planting an abundance of naturally-growing, free food in public spaces and sharing it. 

We are the change we will see in the world. All we have to do is plant the seeds and give them a little attention. Just plant one plant and look after it. You are your plant’s caretaker so plant it somewhere you pass by everyday to be sure you watch over it. 

We can relearn how to respect our planet and plant life, strengthen communities and begin to replace greed with giving. We can radically reduce society’s dependence on synthetic medicine with a diet of mainly fresh, organic, real food that we can literally grow ourselves. 

Project Abundance is a simple and doable project that can co-exist with commercialism – wouldn’t you like to pick a few strawberries on your way to a downtown business meeting or a few lettuce leaves on your way home? 

Project Abundance is about giving a very small portion of your time and money each month to grow edible plants to share with others – not to sell or harvest for oneself. Our true nature is of selfless giving. We’re all in this together and we can end world hunger and save our planet one-person-one- plant at a time.


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