Who says a garden can’t be as useful as it is beautiful?
Over the past 10 to 15 years, fruit and vegetable gardening has shot up in popularity as more and more Americans try their hands at growing their own food. And why not? The flavor of a homegrown tomato just can’t be matched by their pale grocery store sisters. But starting plants from seed is an inexpensive way to enjoy the health benefits of organic produce, without paying a premium for it.
Growing your own produce is also a great way to live a more sustainable lifestyle, as you are truly eating as locally as possible. That means cutting down on your carbon footprint since you aren’t participating in shipping food thousands of miles to eat it out of season. If you use organic methods, you’ll also help cut down on the number of chemicals you consume — and the amount added to the earth and groundwater in your area.
Growing Food in Small Spaces
Best of all, you don’t need acres of land to get in on the trend of growing your own food — just a sunny corner of a patio or deck will do. Container gardening isn’t just for colorful annual flowers any more. You can also plant plenty of edibles in pots both large and small to enjoy good eats all summer long. (For some additional creative planter ideas, see this article here.)
Not sure where to start? Choosing the right fruits and vegetables is key. Check out this list of sure-fire winners for edible container plantings:
Top Hat Blueberries
Like a bonsai version of your favorite blueberry bush, Top Hat blueberries are perfect for trying your hand at growing fruit, even if you live in a tiny apartment. This variety was bred for container planting, and it remains under two feet high for its lifespan.
For a successful blueberry planting, be sure to choose a container with great drainage. Fill with good quality soil that you’ve amended with agricultural sulfur to maintain a pH of about 4.0. Keep your blueberries in full sun and provide about two inches of water per week during the summer.
Basil is a great choice for container planting since it will grow in a medium-size pot and is fairly easy to start from seed or transplants. For gardeners with short growing seasons, having basil in a pot allows you to bring it in the house overnight to avoid early frosts and keep your garden going for longer. For something truly different, try Purple Ruffles basil alone or interplanted with annual flowers for a stunning show.
Basil isn’t too picky about soil, so you can fill your container with any traditional potting soil. Add a layer of pebbles to the bottom of the pot for good drainage, then fill the container with soil and add seeds or your transplant from the store. Provide about an inch of water per week and pinch off new leaves to encourage a bushier look, if your plant gets leggy.
Bush tomatoes — also known as determinate tomatoes — grow to a certain size and stay there instead of putting out endless vines like their indeterminate cousins. Many compact bush varieties are perfect for containers if you make sure there’s plenty of room for their roots to grow. Look for varieties that have the word “patio” in their name: best bets include Patio Princess, Sweetheart of the Patio, Balcony and Bushsteak.
Tomatoes need full sunlight to set fruit, which means a good eight hours of sun per day. You can always move the pot around to make that happen; consider placing your pot on a small plant scooter to make wheeling it around easy. You should also add a pot-sized cage or stakes for support as the plant grows.
Because lettuce plants have fairly shallow roots, they’re ideal for container planting. To maximize your harvest, try growing mesclun — a mixture of many lettuce varieties — for constant clipping instead of waiting for heads of lettuce to mature. You can find a range of mesclun or salad mix seed packets at your local nursery, and many have multicolored varieties for extra appeal. Lettuce can typically tolerate partial shade if you have limited choices.
To plant lettuce, prepare your container with standard potting soil, making sure to include pebbles for drainage. Sprinkle mesclun seeds lightly over the surface of the soil and gently press them down. Then, sift a bit more soil over the seeds so they are covered by about a quarter-inch of soil. Water well and add a nitrogen-roc fertilizer every six weeks. You can snip lettuce for salads once plants have four to six mature leaves.
You don’t need a patch of land to grow strawberries — in fact, a strawberry jar is specifically designed for raising delicious strawberries on your patio. Strawberries need only about one square foot of space in any other kind of container, so you can plant more than one in a large, decorative planter or keep a collection of 10- to 12-inch pots instead. Strawberries also look beautiful in hanging baskets. Any variety of strawberry will do!
Strawberries need good drainage and rich soil to thrive. Also, keep the containers in full sun for fruiting. Strawberries will set out runners — long stems with a small leaf that wants to root itself in soil — that should be removed to keep plants tidy and their energy aimed at producing fruit.