Monday, May 4, 2015

Container Vegetable Gardening

Growing food in containers is becoming commonplace. From a collection of potted herbs decorating a patio to hydroponic indoor gardens under artificial light, container food production offers several benefits over traditional, in-ground gardening. But first, consider the drawbacks.

Plants in containers need more attention than those in the ground. Containers dry out rapidly, and frequent watering washes out nutrients that plants need to grow. Thus, container vegetable gardens need daily watering and bi-weekly fertilization. Weekly fertilization may be needed for fast-growing greens that are harvested more than once.

The size of any container limits the root space available to the plants. For vegetables with vigorous root systems, containers of at least five gallons capacity are needed for reasonable production.

Despite these issues, container gardens flourish on patios, kitchen counters and decks. Container gardens are mobile. They can be moved indoors or out to take advantage of weather conditions. They can also be moved around during the season to accommodate changing patterns of sun and shadow.

Container-grown vegetables remain cleaner and seldom require as much effort to wash as soil-grown crops do. The image shows the arugula harvest from one 4-inch square container grown under LED lights.

Well-tended container gardens rarely have pests, as the plants are under minimal stress.

Because container vegetables are typically grown in a soil-less sterile potting mix, soil borne diseases and insects are eliminated.

Once you start looking, you will find that numerous compact or dwarf varieties of vegetables exist, and more seem to be appearing every year. A few examples: Tom Thumb snow peas, Tiny Tim tomato, Tumblin' Tom tomato, Cayenetta hot pepper, Atlas carrots, Cherry Belle radish, Tom Thumb lettuce, Bush Spicy Globe basil, Boxwood basil, Patio tomato, On Deck sweet corn, Rougette de Montpelier lettuce, and many more. Add these to the various herbs and veggies that are normally small enough for pots, such as corn salad, scallions, and curly parsley, and you have the makings of a sensational vegetable garden that can be accommodated on a table top.

Growing in containers also means that plants will likely be close at hand when you are cooking. Including perfectly grown vegetables and herbs in your kitchen creations becomes almost effortless, and it does not get any fresher than "picked five minutes ago."

This year, we are trying something different with our indoor garden. During winter and early spring, we grew a variety of greens and herbs in plastic planters illuminated with a high-output LED light. It recently occurred to us, as the cool spring season is beginning to wind down, that we could use this growing system during hot weather to produce cool season veggies indoors. We already have planters with basil, parsley, cilantro and miniature tomatoes sitting under the lights. We plan to try radishes, carrots, corn salad, spinach, and lettuce later in the season, when these crops would do poorly outdoors.

We will keep you posted on our efforts to produce cool season veggies in our indoor garden space.

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