Honestly, I gave up trying to contain all this close to a decade ago, but that is not the topic of this blog. Today, we continue on the theme of #FoodSecurity during these turbulent times with a look at…
Yes, the indoor gardening that we looked at yesterday is container gardening. So, everything that we said in that post also applies to this one. In fact, to be most successful to will often need to combine the two, beginning some plants especially tropical ones like tomatoes and peppers inside long before you can bring them out of doors. The only other alternative is a greenhouse.
Today, though, we move outside. Whether that is a small balcony even three feet by five or six, or a patio that is more spread out, you would be surprised at just how much you can grow in such a limited space. When combined with those windowsills, you will be able to make a serious dent in your family’s fresh fruit and vegetable needs.
I have a confession to make here.
I have been doing container gardening wrong for years.
Surprisingly, I still managed to get some crops. But I look forward to applying all that I am learning and doing better this year.
So, what have I been doing wrong?
1) You MUST feed your container grown fruits and vegetables.
Trying to be sustainable, organic, and all-natural, I mistakenly believed that just occasionally enriching the soil with organic matter from my kitchen such as egg-shells, peelings, tea bags, and coffee grounds was enough. While that is all well and good, the stress that plants come under from having their roots confined to such a small space means that they need far more nutrients than they can receive from the compost in which you planted them. In fact, within four to six weeks your plants have depleted all of those.
If, like me, you want to remain chemical-free (well, man-made chemicals anyway), there are all-natural alternatives, such as ripe manure, comfrey, and seaweed-based products. You can make many of these by soaking those things in a barrel of water. Then once a week water your plants with a half-and-half solution of that mix and freshwater.
But having messed up so badly before, I am going with the prepared solutions of those, this year at least. Partly, this is because I want to see which of those works best. Then, I will learn to prepare them myself in the future.
Of course, I do respect that my vegan friend does not wish to use any animal product on her plants. But she can still use comfrey or seaweed-based ones.
Most plants need feeding once a week, though a few only need it every other week. And once they bloom, fruiting ones like tomatoes and strawberries need special ones with potash added.
2) Stack’em, pack’em, and rack’em!
Another confession, I am a huge Die Hard fan. In fact, the much-maligned Die Hard 2 is one of my favorites. And one of my favorite scenes in that movie is this line from Fred Dalton Thompson.
When it comes to container gardening, everything you ever heard about spacing does not apply. At least in terms of the pot spacing. In terms of the number of plants you place in each pot, well even that is not quite what you read on the package, especially if you companion plant.
The truth is the more, the merrier.
Even this view of my container garden on our back patio is not packed tightly enough. One of my biggest mistakes was not using my vertical space well enough. I had no hanging baskets, no trellises, not even tables nor shelves. Not this year. I am going to employ all those techniques.
So, why? A couple of reasons:
1) Containers mean your plants are much less able to capture rainwater. But by placing them closer together, you minimize the run-off and maximize the amount of water they capture.
2) Companion planting means that plants can repel insects and other pests that might otherwise attack a single species. Don’t forget to intersperse some flowers in there too. Not only do they attract bees to pollinate your plants, but some of them may even ward off pests. Good options include marigold, nasturtium, and viola, the last two of which have edible flowers for your salads.
3) Taller sun-loving plants can shade more delicate ones. Plant climbers such as beans and cucumbers in such a way that they will shade your lettuces, spinach, kales, and other plants that prefer less-light.
3) You need to water your plants A LOT!
As I said, pots are not designed to make use of rainwater as well as the ground or raised beds. In fact, most of the rain will either miss the pot or run off the leaves and never make it to the roots. So, this means that for most things you still need to water. Even when it rains.
Boy, did I get this one wrong? I live in Wales, an extremely wet climate. So, I just assumed that the rain was enough for my plants. And honestly, it does rain so much here that on the days where it rains all day, that may truly be the case. But I would assume that my plants could go two or three days after the rain before they needed watering. Wrong!
This year, I will monitor the situation more closely. How? By my finger. If sticking my finger into the soil does not feel wet, then I water, especially for thirsty plants like tomatoes and cucumbers.
Another myth that my step-father taught me which is not true is:
Water only at night. Otherwise, you may scorch your plants.
Not true. In fact, for many plants watering in the morning is the best option. And for those delicate ones like your lettuce that wilt on hot days, there is nothing wrong with watering them more than once a day.
4) You can grow almost anything in containers.
These days with special breeds it is possible to grow almost any plant in a container. Yes, some like potatoes won’t produce the same yield. But if your only available space is a patio, then don’t allow yourself to be limited to just a few common container options. Do a bit of research – find the right varieties for containers and experiment. But you do need to be aware of…
5) Size Does Matter!
At least when it comes to the size of your pots/containers. You need to do a bit of research and make sure that you are using the right size of container to produce the highest yield.
But if you did not read yesterday‘s blog on growing food inside, then let me say it again:
You don’t need to go out and buy expensive pots.
In fact, before you do, go through your recycle bins looking for reusable plastic containers and for those larger plants like potatoes and tomatoes considering using old plastic tubs, garbage bins, or laundry baskets. Heck, we repurposed our old chimneys and they made an excellent home for our leeks last year.
That above all else is the message of this series of blogs:
The ultimate food security of your family depends on you using every square inch that you have to grow your own food.
Whether that is inside your studio flat, your two-bed towerblock, on your patio, or in your posh-a$$ neighborhood where all your neighbors have perfectly manicured lawns, trees, and flowers. We all need to be growing as much as we can be.
This crisis is highlighting that. But even beyond it, grow your own is more sustainable for the planet and your family. You may be able to stock your pantry, in the closets, or under the bed with canned foods and staples like rice, beans, sugar, and flour, but your family still needs access to fresh fruits and vegetables to remain healthy – whether they are fighting off zombies or viruses.
So, I hope that like our @HomeCrazzyHome you will get out there. Now is the perfect time for planning and planting your garden. The sun is out this morning and while it is too cold to do much just yet, I am heading out there to water my seedlings and check to see what else has sprouted overnight.
The more that I read and learn, the more amazed that I am that I got the yield I did last year as many things as I did wrong. I am looking forward to doing better this year and enjoying the fruits (and vegetables) of my labors. That is the thing about life and gardening:
We live and learn!
Tomorrow, we will look at raised bed gardening for those of us lucky enough to have land. But remember, if you don’t, you can still do some things to ensure greater food security for your family in times of crisis and every day. And if you do have land, don’t ignore the opportunity to grow inside or containers. Every inch is valuable as I am learning.
Goddess bless and provide for you and yours,
From our @HomeCrazzyHome to yours.