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Container gardening: how to grow vegetables easily in containers

Short on space? Renting? Living in an apartment? Answer yes to one of these questions and container gardening might be for you. But container gardening doesn't necessarily mean you can only grow flowers. There is an incredible variety of vegetables you can grow in pots. Interested? Keep reading.

We discovered container gardening when we were still renting at Norman Park. We didn't want to go through the pain of ripping up a full blown vegetable patch again. So we decided on growing in polystyrene boxes. We picked them up from the local green grocer and snazzed them up a bit with some spray paint. They're ideal because they're light, easy to move and reasonably deep enough for some root crops. Of course you can really use just about anything. The conventional - terra cotta (or fake terra cotta) to the unusual - old wine barrels, 44 gallon drums cut in half, bath tubs, kid's wading pools, even old boots. You just need to make sure your container has adequate drainage.

Once you've got your containers its time to fill them up. Use quality potting mix as its designed for good drainage. Ordinary garden soil will compact too heavily. So avoid the temptation to use it. Mix in some compost. This helps improve the organic quality of the potting mix. Unless you're growing root crops or onions you can also add some old manure and blood and bone to the container. If you're growing onions, legumes or brassicas add some lime or dolomite to sweeten the soil. Throw in a smidgeon of sulphate of potash if you're growing vegies which flower, like tomatoes, capsicums, chilli, eggplants, pumpkins, cucumbers, zucchinis, melons, sweet corn (you get the drift!) But for all your containers you should add perlite and vermiculture (or peatmoss). This should help the mix drain freely but still retain moisture.

When you're choosing your containers there are a couple of things you should keep in mind. Use light rather than dark coloured containers in warm climates (like Queensland) to reduce heat absorption. This will put less stress on your vegetables. If you want your pots to have an attractive terra cotta look you should consider plastic fake terra cotta. Its lighter and the pot won't dry out quickly like real terra cotta. Remember whatever type of container you choose, water will be used quicker in potting mix compared to soil. So you'll need to water your containers regularly. During summer heat waves they'll need watering twice a day.

But watering containers regularly creates a problem. Nutrients in the enriched potting mix are gradually leached out. So to keep your plants healthy you should water them weekly with liquid fertiliser. The easiest way to make some liquid fertilizer is to put a couple of handfuls of old manure into a bucket and then fill it with water. Let it steep for a week. Then get out your watering can and fill about 20% of it with the pure liquid fertiliser. Then dilute it by adding water to fill the remaining 80% of the watering can. If you don't dilute the liquid manure it will "burn" the roots and you'll do severe damage to your vegetables. One warning though. The stuff stinks. It really pongs. So be prepared for a disgusting smell. All of your vegetables, except root crops and the onion tribe, will benefit from weekly waterings. You can still give the root crops and onions a bit of a kick though, but don't do it too often.

The next big question, what vegetables can you grow in containers? Almost all of them. There's only one things that determines what vegies you can grow in containers. And thats the size of the container. Basically, the deeper the container, the greater the variety of vegetables you can grow. Deep containers let you grow a greater variety of root crops like carrots and parsnips. However, you should still be able to grow baby carrots in shallower containers. Deep containers also let you drive down big stakes to support 6 feet tall tomato plants and should also accommodate sweet corn. You can still get around these problems even with a container depth of only 20cm (about 8 inches). Its all about choosing the right variety of vegetable. For example grow low bush cherry tomatoes like Tiny Tim or tomatoes that don't need a large stake like First Prize (only grows to 60cm or 2 feet). Have a look through seed catalogues or do a bit of reading to find the variety best suited to your containers. Here's a list of vegetables you can easily grow in containers with links to vegetables I'm currently growing in containers. As you can see there's almost no limits!


Last Updated 23 October, 2008

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