Container Gardening

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I have been getting a lot of questions about container gardening specifically. It doesn’t surprise me that more and more people are beginning to realize that they can grow food practically anywhere they live– even if they don’t have a yard!

The questions I have received have varied from “What is container gardening?” all the way to specifics on watering and fertilization techniques. I’m going to start by talking a little about what container gardening is and why it’s such a great idea.

The beauty of container gardening

Container gardening is just one part of a system well-known as Urban Gardening. The beauty of container gardening specifically is that you can control exactly what grows where (and keep the weeds out!), and you can keep things like garlic and mint from taking over your entire yard (trust me… they WILL take over). Container gardening is also good for someone who moves frequently– you can take your garden with you! Container gardening is great for people who live in extremely hot places, or really cold places. Since your plants are mobile, you have the option to bring them inside if it’s too hot or too cold outside; you’ll be able to grow things that you normally wouldn’t. Container gardening is also amazing for people who live in apartments, condos, etc in urban areas where there is no dirt to plot a garden. If you get creative, you can plant quite a lot of produce on one little balcony or patio. If sunlight is a problem, you can always supplement with a UV plant/grow light. Most patios have a place for a lightbulb already; you can start by replacing the bulb that’s there with a strong UV light and place the plants that need more “sun” under it. Actually, some people are able to grow an entire aquaponics system in their basements by hanging strong UV lights above the system (how cool is that!?). The great thing about container gardening is that you can control what seeds you use for growing your produce (keep reading to find out why I highly recommend using SeedsNow.com, but it you’re antsy and want to click to their page now, make sure to use coupon code ORGANICLIFE10 to save 10% off of your entire order. You’ll also get free shipping if you spend over $40).

You can grow GMO-free, organic, healthy, and delicious produce in your yard, on your patio, or even in your basement. With the rising cost of… well, everything… this is a great way for you to be able to eat healthy foods on a daily basis while actually saving money on your grocery bill. With container gardening being a very realistic option for almost anyone to grow some produce, there is absolutely no excuse for anyone anymore.

Recap: Benefits of Container Gardening

  • Control what grows where
  • Keep certain plants from taking over your entire garden (or yard!)
  • Grow fresh produce year round pretty much anywhere
  • Grow plants that normally wouldn’t thrive in your climate
  • You don’t have to pull weeds like in a normal in-ground garden
  • Your garden is mobile– if you move, take it with you!
  • Have healthy, organic, GMO-free foods available to you on a daily basis.
  • Save money on your grocery bill by growing your own food!

Specifics of container gardening

Let’s start with containers…

This section of the post could probably go on for DAYS. There are so many options in container gardening that it is impossible for me to cover all of them. There is everything from the typical terracotta pot, to the wool grow-bag, to the plastic containers, to the cardboard box. You can grow almost anything IN almost anything. The only things I will strongly caution you about is that you want to make sure you’re not using PVC to grow your edible food in. This can leach toxins into the soil, and your plants my become contaminated. Aside from that, your options are endless. This is why so many people get confused and discouraged. They end up not having a garden because they can’t get past the initial step of deciding what to grow their produce in. I’m going to cover a few options for you, and I’ll tell you a few “Pros & Cons” to each. You also need to keep in mind that some produce grows really well in a shallow container (lettuce, arugula, spinach, etc.), but other, like carrots, need a deep container (twice the length of the carrot. 12″ carrots need to grow in a 24″ deep container. For this reason, I suggest growing a smaller variety of carrots, like “Little Finger Carrots,” that only grow to 4-6 inches long).
Personally, I like to grow things in a variety of containers. I use everything from a shoe box to the awesome “Smart Pots.”

I like “UpCycling” old items, and I love repurposing things. I am growing a small salad garden in used, but cleaned out, Coconut Milk container, and I’m growing another salad garden in a TOM’s shoe box. Well, I WAS growing a salad garden in a TOM’s box until the little neighbor kids decided to pick my red leaf lettuce, kale, and butter lettuce out of it. Interestingly enough, they left the arugula. Go figure. Maybe they were really hungry? Probably not, but I’m not going to sweat the small stuff. This would be one reason I generally grow multiples of each plant.

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I have found that growing things in a cardboard box can be extremely gratifying, or extremely maddening. If your box is solid, you provide proper drainage, and you’re not planning to use the container for more than a growing season, container gardening in a cardboard box might be for you! HOWEVER, if you tend to over water things, you have a flimsy box, or you are trying to grow a plant that will last more than one growing season, I wouldn’t recommend growing in a cardboard box.
with that said, growing containers for small things (like a head of lettuce or some arugula) can be easily made from a used (and cleaned) coconut or almond milk container. You know, the boxed milk in the refrigerated section of the grocery store? Yep, that’s the stuff. These containers were already made to hold liquid so they function quite well for growing plants! I just cut the top off of the box and poke holes in the bottom. It makes for a nice little “UpCycled” project. Instead of throwing that container in a land fill, why not utilize it to grow new life?

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I also use some typical plastic planting pots because they’re cheap and easily accessible. I’m not really going to spend much time on this because they are so common and most people already know what they are. My only suggestions here is that you need really know what size you need for what plants you’re growing. I have all different sizes, and I usually end up playing musical pots. I start seeds in one pot until they’re strong enough to move to a more permanent place.

Another type of container for your container garden is a Smart Pot. I absolutely LOVE my Smart Pots. I currently use three different sizes. I have a 5 gallon, a 10 gallon, and a 30 gallon. These come in all sizes. They even make a 100 gallon “Big Bed Bag” that has a 50 inch diameter! It is perfect for a ready-made raised bed! These are completely re-usable and can last for years. As far as price is concerned, they are more expensive than cheap plastic planters, but they’re not THAT expensive. The Big Bed Bag is currently only priced at $39.95. If you have a yard, or a large patio with a lot of sun, one or two of these would probably give you enough space to have a very nice vegetable garden!

Okay now you’re probably wondering why I’m even talking about these. What’s so great about them? Why NOT just use plastic containers for everything all of the time? The great thing about Smart Pots and any other similar containers (I am only naming Smart Pots because these are the ones I have personal experience with) is that they encourage the roots to grow better by “air pruning” them. Instead of the plastic containers where the roots constantly hit hard walls and eventually become root-bound if they run out of room, the Smart Pots encourage the roots to be more efficient with the space they’re given. They also get oxygen from all directions because it’s not a hard plastic container. The way the Smart Pot is constructed, it even keeps the soil warmer in the cooler weather, and cooler in the hotter weather. It’s really a pretty nifty invention. These types of containers are also what a lot of tree growers/tree nurseries use because of the way they encourage the roots of the plant.

Smart Pots
smart pot garlic and onion

The next growing container is just one type of “Vertical Gardening.”
My next big project is to utilize a hanging shoe rack to have a greens and herbs garden. I haven’t done this myself, yet, but I have seen it done, and it makes perfect sense as to why it should work. Basically, take a canvas hanging shoe organizer, poke holes in the bottom of each slot, hang it in its location (a fairly sunny side of your house or your apartment), fill each slot with your soil (leaving a couple of inches of room at the top), and transplant herbs, lettuce, arugula, etc, into each slot. You’ll want to water it from the top to the bottom, and water slowly. This will allow for proper drainage and not over watering. The excess water from the top plants will trickle down into the plants below and so on. You can actually put a long planter box on the ground below the hanging garden to maximize the system. All excess water will trickle down until there’s nothing for it to trickle down to (either to the floor beneath, or into the planter box beneath).

Other types of vertical containers include everything from home-made towers, store-bought towers, shelves that are converted to vertical planter boxes, and so many more options. I’m not going to get into each option because I could literally write for days and still not be done! If there’s a specific vertical gardening option that you’re curious about, leave a comment, and I will do my best to get back to you with the information I have.

A cool option for you, if you don’t have a lot of ground space, could be a hanging container garden! I love these, and am in the midst of building one for myself. You can grow a lot more plants in a hanging basket than you might image. A great way to do it is to actually grow the plant up-side-down. You can buy things like the “Topsy Turvy,” but you can also make your own. Take a plastic hanging basket planter, cut a hole out of the bottom (usually around 4 inches in diameter), and use a piece of foam that has a slit in it to cover the hole from inside the pot (I would make the foam circle 6 inches in diameter, and slit it half way across). The only real catch here is that you’ll need to use plants and not seeds. Of course you could sprout seeds first, and wait for the seedlings to grow nice and strong, but you’ll need to do that in another container first. After you’ve selected a strong seedling, insert it into your into your piece of foam, and then put it into the pot with the roots facing the inside of the pot, and the plant hanging out of the bottom. Next, carefully fill your pot with your soil and fertilizer. Hang it in a nice sunny location. Be sure to water SLOWLY from the top of the hanging basket! A few things that I know will grow well like this are: tomatoes, cucumbers, jalapeno peppers, bell peppers, egg plant, and scallop squash. I’d add a little organic fertilizer to the soil every couple of weeks.

Let’s move on to Seeds.

Choosing the seeds for your garden is extremely important. After all, it’s the seeds that are going to grow into the food that you will eventually be eating! Starting with quality (and safe) seeds is the most important thing you can do. Make sure that your seeds are non-GMO seeds, and make sure they’re not hybrid seeds. Choosing seeds from either of these types can lead to sterility of your future crops. You want to be able to save the seeds from your harvest for next year, and continue to grow healthy crops year after year in your little container garden, right?  I thought so! I could probably write a novel on the dangers of what GMO seeds are doing to our land, to our pollinators, and to our bodies, but I am not going to get into that today. All I WILL get into is that is incredibly important to make sure your seeds are OPEN-pollinated (not hybrid), heirloom (not GMO), and organic. These seeds will give you a nice quality crop, and you’ll be able to re-plant year after year as long as you harvest some of the seeds for saving. This way is better for the land, better for your body, AND better for your bank account! Winning all around!

Where do I get my seeds?

SeedsNow
I get my seeds from SeedsNow. They can be 100% trusted! All of their seeds are up to my standards, and they are all amazing quality. Every seed of theirs that I have sown has sprouted. That’s amazing! I am thrilled! I have recommended them to many people, and everyone is happy with their results.
I love that they offer 99cent deals on most of their vegetables and herbs. Depending on the heirloom variety (some are more rare than others), you will get anywhere from 10-280+ seeds for less than a dollar each! I know when you see that a certain variety might only come with 10 or 20 seeds for that price, you might think that it isn’t enough. Unless you’re a farmer with a plot of land, I promise you it’s enough. Usually the small amount of seeds is applied towards things that will produce a large yield from one seed. However, you’ll get a lot more seeds for things like carrots and onions that only produce one vegetable per seed (I got over 280 carrot seeds for 99cents). Does this make sense? You also have the option to buy larger packages of seeds if you really want to. Make sure to utilize my coupon code ORGANICLIFE10 to save 10% off of your entire purchase, plus an additional free shipping on orders over $40!
They offer more than just individual seed packages, they also offer medley varieties, starter kits, tools, books, seed banking systems and even small hydroponic systems!

Seed banks? WHAT!? As I touched on above, it is absolutely important that you grow safe seeds. As time goes by, safe seeds are becoming harder to come by, so it’s of the utmost importance that you continue saving your seeds from your harvests. A really cool thing that SeedsNow offers are their Seed Bank systems. Instead of “survival readiness kids” that are just a bunch of pre-packaged junk food, these Seed Banks contain safe, organic, heirloom seeds for you to plant and grow. They range in price from $19.99 (for the Culinary Herb Seed Bank) all the way to $119.99 (for the Mega Seed Bank). The way that they’re packaged, the seeds are guaranteed to grow for at least 5-7 years, and maybe even longer if you store the Seed Bank in your freezer. Their “Mega” Seed Bank actually comes with 55 different types of seeds amounting to ver 58,000 seeds in all! Along with the seeds and the Bank, it includes their expanding seed starting soil. You also have the option to include a hard copy of their Seed Saving and Grow Guide for only $19 extra (you can purchase this book separately for $22.99). You can also purchase an empty Seed Vault from them to store and save the seeds you purchase and the seeds you harvest from your little crops. The vaults have a vacuum-seal top making them airtight, water, pest, and rodent resistant, and freezer safe! You can keep you seeds inside the vault in your freezer, and your seeds will last even longer!
Don’t forget to utilize the coupon code ORGANICLIFE10!!!

You can also save seeds from heirloom vegetables/fruits that you purchase from your local farmer’s market. Do not save seeds from non-heirloom varieties. The seeds in hybrid varieties are mostly sterile, and do not produce a crop worth your time (if any crop at all!).

Let’s talk fertilization

One of the most common questions I get about container gardening always has to do how/when/what to fertilize your container garden. I wish I could say that the answer is really simple, but it’s not. The one thing that IS simple is that you HAVE to fertilize your container garden. Remember, your plants are growing in a confined area! They aren’t growing in open, living soil where nutrients are always coming and going. Eventually, the nutrients in the container start to run out, and you’re going to need to add more. I don’t like to use anything artificial or lab created. I utilize banana peels, egg shells, and sometimes citrus peels for a lot of my fertilization needs in my garden. Obviously your best bet is to start out with a really good quality growing mix that has natural fertilizers in it already. This way you’ll just need to add more fertilization as time on. As for how MUCH and how OFTEN, it really depends on the plant that you’re growing. Some plants, like tomatoes, need to be fertilized a lot more often than plants like carrots. As a matter of fact, in order to grow nice straight carrots, you don’t want to fertilize much. They like loose, airy soil that’s not overly fertilized, and they don’t like to compete with other plants for space. Tomatoes, on the other hand, want to be fertilized every week or two! I know this is really confusing, but once you start to get to know your garden, you’ll start to know what to do. Your plants can give you signs of what they might need by how they’re growing. You can also experiment a little bit. If you find that giving a little bit of ripe banana peel to your plant really perks it up, you’ll know that plant needs and likes that as fertilizer. Banans and egg shells are usually safe to give to any of your plants. Sometimes I’ll bury cut up banana peels in the soil, or sometimes I’ll blend them in a blender with rinsed egg shells and water. I’ll use this to “water” my plants every couple of weeks as a fertilizer.

 What about watering?

Watering is the next questions I always get asked. The main rules for watering are usually that no matter what, you want to water your plants in the coolest part of the day, and you want to water SLOWLY. If you water really quickly, one of two things will happen. Either you plants will get water logged, or all of the water will drain out of the planter, and the actual plant won’t be able to soak up the water that it needs. By watering really slowly, you’ll be able to saturate the soil nicely. You also need to do your best to water the soil and not the plant. What I mean by this, is when you’re watering, try to pour the water directly in the soil instead of all over the plant leaves and stem. Your plant will be much happier this way.
In order to sprout seeds and grow strong seedlings, they need to stay nice and moist. You will want to water them lightly every day if possible. Beyond this, it really depends on the plant. Some plants like to stay more moist than others. Spinach, for instance, likes lightly moist soil, but HATES soggy soil. Your spinach sprouts/seedlings will start to wilt quickly if they get too dry or too wet. Finding the perfect balace is key, and part of finding it is practice and getting to know your plants.
As a general rule, I try to make sure that all of my plant soil stay moist, but not dripping wet. In order to achieve this, I have to check the soil every day. If it seems too dry, I slowly add water to the container. If the soil is still fairly wet, it can wait another day to be watered. I find that I pretty much have to water every day or every other day depending on the plant, the weather, and the type and size of container.

Conclusion

The basic knowledge that you now have on what type of containers to use, what seeds to use (don’t forget to use coupon code ORGANICLIFE10 for a discount!), how you should fertilize, and how to water, should get your new container garden off to a great start. Hopefully, you’ll get started right away! I bet you can’t wait to enjoy some nice home grow produce straight from your patio.
Be sure to send me pictures of YOUR container gardens, especially if you decide to use some seed varieties from SeedsNow! Who knows, maybe you’ll get featured in an upcoming post!
Please leave comments with any further questions you have, and I will be happy to answer them to the best of my ability.
Happy Growing!
Amber
Organic Uprising
Organic Garden Life

 

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Jess says:

    Thank you thank you thank you for all the amazing information! I live in south central PA and though I know it’s a little late in the season to get started, I’m hoping I can still get at least a little garden going within the next week or two. I’ve been learning by trial and error with flowers for the past two years, but am ready to take on veggies gardening. Thanks again! I hope to have pictures to share with you very soon! 🙂

    1. Glad to hear, Jess!!! Good luck and happy gardening 🙂 Please send us pictures! We’d love to see what you get going!

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