Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Container vegetable gardening

I have been getting my containers ready for our summer vegetables and as I am going about it I have had some thoughts. Here are my container vegetable growing hints. If you have any, please add them in the comments section below!

Using containers is all about growing the right vegetables in the right container in the right season. Containers are a whole lot less work than large vegetable beds and if you are new to gardening it is the best way to start.

Containers you can use:

Normal concrete garden pots in all shapes and sizes
Wine barrels sawn in half
Hanging baskets
Half moon baskets
2 liter cool drink bottles
5 liter buckets
Black plastic bins (BPA free)
Grow bags
Potato sacks

While I have grown potatoes in tyres, I never got the promised yield and have read that there is leeching of potentially harmful toxins into the soil thus into the spuds.

**guttering can only be used for shallow rooted vegetables and should not be in all day sun. It is normally mounted against a wall and sunburn on the leaves or fruits in the case of  strawberries can be a huge problem.

Strawberries around the outside and new cucumber seedlings to grow up

What can you grow in various containers?

Strawberries grow very well in hanging baskets as the fruit can be trained to drape over the sides and not lie on the soil. However in hanging baskets we have found that the berries are attacked by birdies more and you will need to have some sort of deterrent. An old CD tied in the middle of the basket is a good choice! The half moon baskets dry out very quickly and need to be watered twice a day in summer.

Wine barrels are like mini beds and you can grow a variety of things in them. In my barrels I have permanent plants like the blueberries or asparagus and around the base I have quick growing plants like spring onions, coriander and spinach. I also grow climbing vegetables like cucumber and beans in the centre of the barrel and then other quick growing plants around the outside.

Yes...these are my blueberries :)
Normal pots are great for cut and come again herbs like thyme, rosemary, bay and many others. These herbs grow all year here in the Western Cape so they can stay in the pots for many years.

Salads grow well in troughs that are about 25cm deep. Watch for slugs and snails if they are on the ground. Salad leaves picked from the outside edges will keep the inside producing for a long time. At the end of the season, or when they start to bolt in hot weather, I like to tip the whole contents, solid and all, into the chicken coup. It keeps our chickens busy for ages scratching through the soil and eating the bugs and worms.

There was a trend a while back to grow tomatoes upside down in 5 liter buckets suspended from a structure. We never tried this so if you are keen do take a look here.

Barrels and drums can be used as you would for a mini garden bed. I have used mine for two of our 8 asparagus plants and two blueberry plants. It is nice to maximise the root growing area by planting something tall in the centre (cucumbers, beans, blueberries or asparagus) and then something quick and love growing around the edges. As the barrels are quite deep you can do this quite easily without crowding roots or leaves.

As you can see in this photo below, my asparagus is sharing with strawberries and borage. The borage was self seeded via compost but borage is a great companion for strawberries and the asparagus seems to be doing fine.

I have not used grow bags or potato sacks but a friend has and you can read her in depth post here on growing potatoes in sacks.

How to prepare containers

Bay tree in square pot, empty strawberry frames waiting for lining, the herb tower now in sun waiting for plants 
Think water and nutrients and then you are fine.

Water = do not let them dry out and provide adequate drainage. At the bottom of each pot I put gravel or broken pots. As for watering, we water daily in summer, baskets in morning and evening if it has been particularly hot. In the baskets we add a water retainer which you buy in a sachet at any garden store.

Nutrients = I don't use pure potting soil but rather after the gravel I add in garden sand and compost from our own heap and then a layer of potting soil on the top. Then plant up.

Ongoing care of vegetables grown in containers

Besides for watering daily in summer (and as you need in winter) for perennial veg you need only feed it with liquid seaweed or worm tea every three months. For those permanent plants, like Bay trees or herbs, you may need to repot them every year if you want them to grow bigger. If not, then you can just continue to feed in the pot with liquid feeds or a well watered in layer of bounce back.

Hope this is helpful and inspiring. I have a large backyard pool area which is almost completely paved where I have my containers. I hope over time to add more and more so that this too will be a highly productive area that will produce food for my family. 

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