It’s the up-and-coming, makes-perfect-sense, new trend of the times: growing your own food. And, while many of us would like to do so, we feel deterred by a lack of space, an absence of yard and the need for know-how. Well, to those folks, today is the day to remedy this situation and get yourself hip to the gardening scene.
It all starts with containers. And, from there, things get funky. There are all sorts of planters, from the ubiquitous terracotta pot to old toilet bowls, in which to grow edible plants. Furthermore, there are all sorts of food, from the classic indoor herb garden to upside down tomatoes, that can happen in small spaces without an actual garden bed.
Choosing the Container
While containers are vast and varied, it doesn’t mean that all containers work well for all plants. Some plants, like beets or lemongrass, need a little soil depth for their roots. Others—chives, lettuce, basil—are perfectly happy with just a few inches. So, when choosing a container, it’s important to match it well with the food you are growing.
There is also the weight and watering factors to consider. A big plant with a lot of wet soil in a hefty pot will weigh quite a lot, so make sure to put such plants in appropriate spots. On the other hand, little pots require more frequent watering because less soil dries out quickly, so these types of plants might work best where you’ll see them and remember to water them.
This can get really fun if you want to be imaginative. I’ve seen old toilets sprouting kale, plastic soda bottles exploding with onions and shelves redesigned to hold nothing but plants. Then again, if you are short on time, it can be as easy and cheap as buying decorative buckets, wash basins and whatever else: cookie jars, salad bowls, old tin cans…The point is you needn’t limit yourself to store-bought planters only.
Another important thing to realize with containers is that they don’t all have to be on the ground or a shelf. Vertical gardening—using containers in vertical levels—is all the rage for space-saving, and there are some amazing ideas for doing it. Or, you can grow a hanging garden, or make elaborate displays out of an eclectic collection of found containers, or mix and match.
Filling the Containers
Before you put plants in them, it’s a good idea to put some sort of soil or compost or mix thereof into your containers. Theories are different for what is best, but the general consensus, i.e. my opinion, is that a good airy mixture is what works best. I use homemade quick-leaf compost with manure included, a little soil and coconut coir (I live in Panama, where coconuts are plentiful). But, there are loads of recipes to try.
Know this: Dense soil will get heavy and might eventually be too compacted for young roots. Decomposed organic matter will do the same in a pot. When it breaks down, the soil will grow very dense in such an enclosed space. So, look for good mixes that have lots of organic material that decomposes slowly, such as renewable peat or coconut coir.
And, the Plants
Some plants do better than others with pots, and some plants — tomatoes and potatoes — can do well with very curious growing methods. Herbs, which add great flavor and a boosted medicinal component to meals, are famously easy to grow in little pots on windowsills. Leafy salad greens are also easy, well-producing plants that work inside containers. Check out this list of others.
Then, by all means, do not forget your balcony or patio. Small outdoor spaces can take on a bit more of a rustic feel and can do with trellises for climbing plants like beans and cucumbers, as well as edible flowers. There are possibilities for those hanging tomato baskets or dwarf fruit trees. And, railings are great places for rectangular pots to sit or for window boxes to be attached.
And, gardens are really nice: Beautiful to look at, therapeutic to care for, economical to eat from and beneficial for the air around you. Frankly, big yard or not, growing food plants around the house, the patio, the garage, the balcony and even bathroom seems a fantastic idea, a great way to spruce the place up and be productive as well.
Image source: Lizard10979 / Flickr