Thursday, August 29, 2019

Growing Veg in Containers

A Facebook friend asked me about growing veggies in containers, so I said I'd write about it. Honestly, I feel like I do very little, because I am not a very hands-on person when it comes to gardening. I know that some people are as passionate about gardening, whether flowers, fruit and veg, or all of these, as I am about reading and making stuff. I love that--I am always happy when I see/read about someone doing something they love, especially something creative, which gardening is. Our friend/neighbour loves flowers and the garden here and the pots and hangers are a riot of colour--so beautiful. I could not do that and I am grateful for the work that she and another neighbour do, because I get to enjoy it every time I look out a window or walk outside. I say all that just to let readers know that I am not an expert or even someone with much (or any) technical knowledge. I'm a person who shoves stuff in dirt or water and waits to see what happens. I don't go out and buy a bunch of stuff or read about how things are supposed to happen. I wait, watch, remember and then use that experience if I am doing something similar in future. So with that long disclaimer, here are some of my container gardening experiences.

Deciding What to Plant
I've become a bit more discerning about this over the years. In the past, I've lived in places where it hasn't been much of an issue, as it was weather and not climate that was a factor in whether things would thrive. I grew some tomatoes in Fairbanks, for example, in a large pot. Thegrowing season was short, but intense, because it never got dark. Our neighbours had a large garden, but they had to try to protect it from moose who would trample and/or eat the plants. I've grown tomatoes in other places in containers and they've done quite well. I never have good luck with peppers--bell or chilli--but that's probably just me. Here the climate is such that some things grow better in a polytunnel or only grow in a polytunnel, so I did not plant anything like that (so no tomatoes). I stuck with things that I knew would do well outdoors and that do not require a lot of fussing, like greens--lettuces, chard, spinach, mustard greens. I bought a courgette plant, just to see how it would do. We've had a lot of rain this summer, so many of them have rotted, but we have had baby courgettes and will have more. Same with cucumber seeds--an experiment-- but the cukes are doing better than the courgettes. I knew beetroot would do well, because people planted it in their allotments when we were in Moville. I also knew I could use the greens as well as the beetroot itself. There are various herbs in pots and in the ground around the place. Fresh herbs are wonderful to grow, indoors and out. In the past, in a different climate, I have also grown various winter squashes in large pots. It depends on what you like, what your climate is, how much room you have, and what you'd really like to have/preserve. One reason we choose to plant chard is that we love it, it grows fast, does not require hot weather, it's perfect for freezing, and we cannot buy it here, except for baby chard in some bagged salad greens.

I have used various sorts of containers in different places. In the past, someone we knew was getting rid of several large containers that were filled with soil. She was going to bring them to the landfill if we didn't want them. We did, so she brought them to our house instead. I've also used various household receptacles--a waste paper bin, for instance, with holes poked in the bottom for drainage was great for growing spuds. I've seen that people use the large metal trash cans for growing spuds, too, although I have not tried this myself. A sort of basket that would go on a shelf or desk worked well for parsley (until a cat came and began using it for a litter box!). Rubbermaid totes with holes poked in the bottom also work. We check the charity shops for things we can use--sometimes they have ceramic planters and sometimes we re-purpose other things. Right now, I have rosemary and scallions growing (indoors) in buckets that held 1 kg of yogurt. I poked holes in the bottom and use the lid as a tray underneath. For the bulk of our stuff this year, we are using window boxes that sit on top of the stone wall in the back.
a second planting of beans with beetroot in the bit of container visible on the right

chard after regular harvesting and a couple of plantings
lettuces earlier in the season

mustard greens--I also had a pot of these inside
There are also some things in pots the neighbourhood flower gardener was not using. The boxes on the wall allow us to reach everything without bending or kneeling. As long as there is drainage, you can use a lot of different containers, depending on what you have, what is available to buy, and whether or not appearance is important to you.

Planting Medium
This is always some form of soil (called compost here) and nutrients. When we were given the containers with dirt years ago, I mixed in some compost. This was another experiment. We could not have a traditional compost heap, but we had several totes, because we had mailed stuff to ourselves when we moved there and used those to ship stuff in. So we poked holes in the bottom (I see a trend here of poking holes in things--LOL) and just started putting food scraps, leaves, coffee grounds, grass clippings, etc in the tote. This worked beautifully. Worms entered through the holes in the bottom, which also provided drainage. The worms must've helped with the decomposition and the tight-fitting lid meant that no big critters got in. There was no smell, even in very hot weather (and it did get horribly hot in summer). When we were given the containers, we had the compost ready and mixed it in. At that time, I was growing beans in regular large plant pots and they were doing quite well. Someone told me the leaves were too yellow and needed nitrogen. She then proceeded to list the various things I could go buy. I thanked her and began putting a coffee ground/used tea bag mulch on top of the soil instead. Next time she saw the beans, she asked what I'd used, because the beans were green and doing great. When we got to Maine, we learned about worm bins and had one of those. They are excellent and can be used indoors. This year, I did not fill the containers prior to planting, but I'm told they were filled with a mix of soil, compost, and time-release organic fertiliser. I mixed in coffee grounds and tea leaves before I planted. As the season has gone on, I have saved used coffee grounds and tea leaves and spread those on top of the soil and I've chopped up banana skins and buried them. These could have gone in whole at the beginning, but I hadn't saved any.

I pretty much leave things to grow once they're planted. I water when necessary, of course, but this summer I've only had to do that a couple of times, because there has been ample heavy rainfall as well as a lot of mizzle. I do the coffee grounds and tea leaves as I said above. And for some things, like radishes and chard, I plant more seeds when I have a space after harvesting. This ensures that there will be an ongoing supply. In the case of the chard, I can plant more even into September and expect to have a crop through October, barring any freak cold weather.

Indoor Growing
I also grow in pots indoors. I mentioned the rosemary and scallions above. I always keep those on the windowsill. Scallions regrow and regrow, so they're nice. When I get a bunch at the store, I put them in a glass of water. When I use one, I stick the root end back in the glass or in a pot of dirt. All of the scallions and their roots keep on growing as they sit in the water. I've just planted some of these in a pot of dirt today. I have lots of scallions growing outside, but as autumn approaches, I want to make sure I have some inside as well. I also have lemon balm in the house--it's nice for 'tea.' Rosemary also makes a nice infusion. Garlic chives are easy to grow inside. Just stick garlic cloves in some soil, pointy side up. You'll see the green shoots coming up after a while. Scallions and garlic chives are easy to grow indoors all year and in the winter, some snips of each in mashed potatoes, on sandwiches and wraps, on top of soup, or sprinkled on hummus really add a lovely bright, fresh flavour. Mustard greens grow well indoors all year, too. This winter, I think I'm going to try to grow some chard indoors. It can be used at all stages of growth, so the leaves can be used in place of lettuce, if picked when small. I'm going to bring some oregano inside and stick a pot of that on the kitchen windowsill. You can also plant various seeds in a shallow tray of dirt and when they sprout, you have microgreens that can be used in various ways--radish sprouts have a nice, peppery flavour. Oh yes, I almost forgot the celery. I don't have one going at the moment, but there have been times in the past when I always had a pot or two of regrown celery in the house. It never grew huge, but it was perfect for snipping a bit off for soup or chicken salad or whatever. When I was done with a bunch of celery, or brought one home from a shift at the food bank, I'd stick the end in a shallow container with a bit of water in it. New bright green growth would start right away and roots would form eventually, at which point, I stuck it in dirt, let it grow, and snip some when I needed it. I'll have to start one soon.

That's pretty much it--poke holes, fill with dirt and coffee 😉 stick in some plants or seeds, wait, water if necessary, pick, eat/freeze. Happy eating!

1 comment:

Vicki said...

Lots of information here that will come in handy when I try my hand at growing some herbs and veggies. Thanks!