If you want to grow vegetables but live in an apartment or condo where your gardening space is limited to a balcony or patio, you’ll want to get a copy of “The Vertical Veg Guide to Container Gardening” (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2022).
I’ve read a good chunk of gardening books, and while most of them contain useful information, they don’t turn the page. It is.
The writing style is personal and every word bears the imprint of someone whose expertise and credibility are beyond doubt. Truly, there’s plenty of material in this book that will benefit gardeners of all kinds, whether you’ve been growing in containers or in the ground, whether you’ve been gardening for years or have recently picked up a trowel for the first time. A caveat: the author is English, so some words may be foreign to American readers.
In a chapter titled “The Best Herbs, Fruits and Vegetables for Containers,” author Mark Ridsdill Smith weighs decisions about what to plant based on harvest time and edibility of more than one part of a plant. That is to say, he is always concerned about how much crop he can extract from each square foot of grow space.
For example, he urges us to keep in mind that “carrots, beets (beets) and other root vegetables can only be picked once (so take up a lot of space and effort compared to to the size of the crop)”. On the other hand, “tomatoes and peppers can be picked over several months, chard and kale over a year or more (if the outer leaves are picked), and herbs such as thyme, sage and rosemary all the year.
“Some crops have the added benefit of multiple edible parts,” he continues. “Beets and turnips have edible leaves as well as roots; nasturtiums have edible leaves, flowers and seeds; radishes and cilantro (cilantro) have edible leaves, flowers, seeds and roots.
His argument for growing herbs is hard to refute.
“Herbs are perfectly suited to growing in containers and small spaces, and they have more potential to change the food you eat than anything that grows easily in a small space. Just a few pots can provide fresh herbs every day, bringing flavor to every meal, smelling great, looking beautiful, and supporting beneficial insects.There are also great culinary herbs that are easy to grow but nearly impossible to buy, including lovage, chervil, and savory.
Additionally, “Most herbs can also be grown from cuttings. If you have a friend or community garden nearby with an herb garden, ask. Most gardeners like to share (my company mint, oregano and garlic plants have been distributed throughout Newcastle Upon Tyne).
Rosemary, scented geraniums, sage, lemon verbena, thyme, savory and lavender are cited as herbs that multiply easily by cuttings. Note that parlor garlic and chives multiply easily and are divided by division (cutting off their tufts) and that mint and oregano multiply both by cuttings and by division.
Once the herbs are divisible, fill a pot, they should ideally be divided in the spring. With our year-round growing conditions, you can do this almost any time, but you’d want to pay special attention to hot-weather watering needs. Mint, a creeping grower, requires repotting once a year.
As for keeping potted herbs healthy, Smith offers three tips:
Feed liquid seaweed once a week or two; pick regularly, simply pinching the tips of the shoots where the leaves meet the stems; repot every one to three years depending on grass growth rate. Detailed cultivation instructions for 22 different herbs are included. Among these, the myrtle (Myrtus communis), a plant very resistant to drought, whose leaves can be used as a seasoning to replace bay leaves.
Smith’s suggestions for fruits to grow in containers include apple, blackberry, blueberry, cranberry, fig, kiwi, raspberry, and strawberry. In our climate, I would add a few citrus fruits to this list: kumquat, limequat and calamondin.
As for vegetables, the easiest to grow in containers, according to Smith, include green and pole beans, Chinese cabbage, baby carrots, Swiss chard, zucchini, garlic, kale, leeks, spring onions, snow peas. , potatoes, radishes, tomatoes and turnips.
Crops that can get away with 2-3 hours of sunlight include blackberry, blueberry, raspberry, sorrel, kale, mint, parsley, cilantro, and wasabi.
As for watering, use a bottle waterer as a kind of primitive drip system. “A bottle waterer is simply a (plastic) bottle with two small holes drilled in the screw-on lid and placed upside down in the ground so that it slowly drips water. Cut the base of the bottle so that it can be filled easily.
Smith recommends certain ingredients that will make your potting soil more water-retentive. Vermiculite, perlite, biochar (finely ground charcoal), or vermicompost, making up up to 30% of a soil mix, can have a significant impact on watering frequency.
The easiest way to reduce watering frequency is to select large pots for your container garden. The bigger the pot, the longer you can wait between one soak and the next.
If you have had success growing vegetables in containers, you are invited to share your experience with the readers of this column by sending details of your practices and techniques to the email address below.
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