Last year, I dabbled in container vegetable gardening, due to shoulder surgery that prevented me from digging in the veggie garden. Results were excellent, with one notable failure, and I’m encouraged to do more this season.
First, the fiasco. Like many of you, I was intrigued by the upside-down tomato bags advertised on television, the Internet and in just about every magazine. I bought one; it came with two sheets of instructions on how to plant and care for the tomato. The method for inserting foam collars and pushing the tomato stem through them was so complicated that I broke off two plant stems while trying to position them. I managed to get a third plant inserted; although most of the leaves snapped off during the process.
Two weeks later the tomato died.
The fourth plant (Tumbling Tom) in the pack I purchased wasn’t going to be sacrificed to the “As Seen on TV” gods. I planted it in a 10-inch pot, which I stacked on another one so the stems could drape over the sides. I picked plenty of cherry tomatoes from that container plant, and it set fruit up until the first hard freeze. I brought it indoors so the green tomatoes could ripen. Success!
I also purchased a number of grow bags including two huge ones designed for potatoes. Each potato bag was filled with two cubic feet of potting mix, one cup of bone meal and one quart of composted cow manure. The smaller bags were packed with the same mixture.
Potato plants exploded with growth in bags. This is at 10 weeks after planting. Photo by Doreen G. Howard
Russian Banana Fingerling seed potatoes went in one bag and All Red went in the other. As plants grew tall, I mulched the stems with straw. You can also cover stems with more potting mixture, but I prefer straw, as it’s easier and cleaner to harvest potatoes that form along the stems. Each bag produced about 20 pounds of potatoes.
In smaller bags, I grew a ‘Purple Bell’ pepper plant, ‘Thumbelina’ ball-type carrots and various herbs. I always have a couple bowls and boxes of various lettuces on my back kitchen step. All plants produced sizable crops, tasted wonderful and were relatively pest free. Only the lettuces were a problem, as rabbits love to nibble on them. I solved that obstacle by elevating the bowls on plant stands and window boxes on bricks. No nibbles.
By elevating bowls of salad greens with plant stands and piled bricks, rabbits and other munching critters couldn't nibble on plants. Photo by Doreen G. Howard
New this season
I’m not the only one who is doing more potted vegetable gardening. Plant and seed producers recognize the trend and are coming out with a number of vegetables bred for small spaces. One I’m excited about is ‘Astia’ zucchini from Renee’s Garden. The usually sprawling vines have been tamed and reduced to a small bush plant, perfect for 14-inch pots.
I'm excited about growing 'Astia' bush zucchini this year. Look how tidy and productive plants are! Photo courtesy of Renee's Garden Seed.
Another I’ll be planting is ‘Chocolate Mini Belle’ pepper; it grows 18-24 inches high and produces an abundant number of sweet miniature peppers.
See the Almanac's list of best vegetable varieties to grow in containers.
Do you plan on growing edibles in containers this year? If so, what varieties do you like?
Doreen Howard has written for The Old Farmer's Almanac All-Seasons Garden Guide for 15 years and is the former garden editor at Woman’s Day as well as a photographer. She has grown more than 300 varieties of heirloom edibles and flowers in the last two decades.
In stores now!
Look for Doreen's newest book, Heirloom Flavor: Yesterday's Best-Tasting Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs for Today's Cook. Find in stores everywhere including Walmart and on the Web including amazon.com.