You don’t need a yard to grow your own food, you can grow fresh vegetables right on your apartment patio! With a little knowledge, great soil, sunshine and the right container you are well on your way to being a container gardening guru.
Finding the right container
The bigger the better for vegetables. If you don’t want to be a slave to watering, make sure you are buying larger containers. Vegetables will not work well in anything under 8in across and 8in deep. The larger the vegetable plant the larger the container you will need. Many people can’t believe that the little tiny tomato plant you purchased is going to need a pot no less than 14in across.
You can use most types of containers just make sure you are not using treated wood or items like old tires. Glazed ceramic, clay and untreated wood all work very well; you can use plastic too but if all possible try to use a “repurposed” plastic container or pot. The containers must have good drainage holes. If your container does not have good enough drainage make sure you drill extra holes in the bottom. If you have a ceramic container that needs more holes you can use a masonry bit to drill the extra holes.
Once you’re ready to plant you can put a rock over the drainage hole or coffee filters also work well so the soil does not fall out.
The right soil
There are specific soils for containers, they are formulated differently, drain faster and have the right combination of products in them. Most of your container mixes are “soilless” so they contain items like peat moss, coco fiber, vermiculite, perlite and compost. If you use garden soil in your container it will not drain well enough and your plants could drown and the roots will not be healthy.
I always add more organic matter to my container mix and sometimes add pumice for added drainage if the soil doesn’t drain as well as I like. First I purchase a good quality planter box mix and then add ¼ to 1/3 organic matter such as Sea Soil or compost. Do not add mushroom, steer or any other animal waste as it will be too strong and burn your plants tender roots.
The right location
Hopefully you have plenty of sunshine. Afternoon sun is the strongest so if you have sun from noon onwards or all day you can grow crops that are sun loving. If you only have morning sun what you can successfully grow is greatly reduced.
Consider these vegetable plants for morning sun or late afternoon sun from 5:00pm and on: spinach, lettuce, chard, parsley, pac choi, radish, mesculin mix and arugula. My theory with growing vegetable plants in shade is if the days to harvest are 45 days or less than you will be successful.
Everything else is sun loving and needs hot afternoon sun to produce abundant and tasty vegetables.
This is the most important thing you need to know how to do properly. I always tell people that watering is the most important job and it really is!
Think about the roots of the plant and how much space they are taking up in the container. A small seedling or transplant has a small amount of roots, need frequent watering but it doesn’t have to soak the entire depth of the pot. If the top of the soil is dry to the touch water the plants. As your plants grow the roots grow taking up more and more room in the pot increasing the amount of water needed. When the roots fill half the depth of the pot water until the water drains out the holes in the bottom of the pot, at this stage you can let the top inch or two of soil go dry between watering. This is how you will water until you harvest the last bit of vegetables from your plants.
If you can’t tell how wet the soil is use a paint stir stick and put it in the soil 6 inches down, pull it out to see the moisture level on the stick and water if needed and put your stick back in the same spot.
Watch and feel your plants. These two methods are great indicators if the plants are becoming water stressed. Touch your plant when it’s happy and has sufficient water, it should feel similar to a piece of paper. Now touch a plant that’s water stressed and the leaves will feel like a piece of toilet paper or Kleenex. Look at your plant when it’s happy the leaves are perky and bright in colour, when its water stressed the leaves are dull and may droop if it’s really dry. I always check my plants using all three methods; you will always find me walking along touching all my plants to see how they’re feeling.
I always use a good balanced organic fertilizer like 4-4-4 in my containers I throw a handful into the soil when mixing it up. Some vegetables like tomatoes and peppers are heavy feeders and require a liquid fertilizer as well. For this I use an organic water soluble fertilizer or compost tea once a week for an added bonus.
For container vegetable gardening you will need support for vineing plants like pole beans or peas and stakes for larger growing plants like tomatoes, eggplants and peppers. I make a teepee out of natural bamboo stakes and tie them with some jute twine at the top. I use bamboo or cedar stakes for tomatoes and peppers.
Your reward is ready! This is the best part the harvest, keep your plants picked on a continuous basis; no one wants the zucchini that’s the size of a newborn baby! Over mature vegetables lose their peak flavour and they often become tougher. By harvesting continuously more flowers will be produced resulting in greater yields.
Questions about container gardening? Ask below. Happy planting!