Thursday, May 19, 2011

Growing Big Yeilds In Small Spaces

Growing big yields in small spaces

Even if you only have a windowsill or a doorstep, you can enjoy the “fruitful” experience of growing your own food. Container gardening is simple and easier to maintain then a full vegetable garden. It’s a wonderful experience for kids, and it’s a baby step if you’re intimidated by a full vegetable garden.

The most important element in starting a container garden begins with your potting soil. This is so important - it cannot be stressed enough - you can’t use regular garden dirt, even beautiful, compost-rich dirt. It’s too heavy for container gardening. You want to start with what is called a soil-less mix or potting soil. We carry an Espoma product that is organic, lightweight, and drains well. Most important, potting mix is disease and weed free. If you have old potting mix in a container, replace it. You will get better results.

Almost any type of container will do, as long as it allows proper drainage. And whether you start your own vegetables from seed or whether you buy plants already started (don’t worry, we will have locally gown, organic, heirloom vegetable starts again this year), here’s a quick summary of what size containers you will need to grow your favorite fruits and vegetables.

Small 8” pots are perfect for growing a single herb, like parsley, basil, dill or cilantro, chives or small leaf lettuces, like ‘Tom Thumb’ Buttercrunch lettuce. If you have a lager container plant several varieties for a mini herb garden or a live salad bowl, right outside your kitchen door.

In 10’ to 12’ pots you can grow almost any type of greens: ‘Red Sails’ Leaf Lettuce, a buttery-tasting leaf lettuce with ruffled burgundy-tinged leaves. ‘Gourmet Baby Greens’ an heirloom mesclun mix of greens with beautiful colors, rich flavors, and diverse textures. Or grow your own baby spinach by seeding ‘Tyee’ spinach and pick the leaves, while they are still small. Grow a bumper crop of ‘Easter Egg’ radishes, and enjoy the festive color blend of red, white, rose-pink, purple, and bi-color. We also love the ‘Bush Slicer’ cucumber. You will have juicy slicing cucumbers in record time on disease resistant, dwarf bushes, perfect for small space or container gardens.

To grow larger plants like tomatoes, squash, peppers and green beans, you will need a container that can hold approximately five gallons (16” to 20” pot). For growing indeterminate (vine) tomato varieties and climbing bean varieties, a trellis or a cage is also necessary. We have found a great space saver, perfect for containers, a spiraled tomato trellis. We grew tomatoes and tomatillos on them last year, and they were perfect. If you do have a small amount of garden space to growing vegetables, using trellises to grow cucumbers, tomatoes or beans is an efficient and ornamental way to produce more per square foot. We have beautiful 6’ to 8’ tall metal trellises and bamboo, 4’ and 6’ tall expandable, tee-pee trellises that will work well in the garden or in a container.

We also highly recommend fertilizing all of your containers (except herbs, which don’t need nutrient rich soil). We like Earth Juice Grow for all greens, lettuce and spinach, and Earth Juice Bloom for everything that produces flowers and fruit. Specifically for tomatoes, some of our clients swear by Neptune Harvest Fish & Seaweed fertilizer. We haven’t done a head to head taste test between Earth Juice and the Neptune Harvest (maybe we’ll do it this year), but we have had spectacular results with all three organic products.

Here's a list of the heirloom, organic, locally-grown vegetable starts we have in packs now.

We also have a full selection of herbs (our grower follows organic practices, but has not gotten certified yet - but no chemicals, no pesticides, and he uses an organic fertilizer) including Summer Savory, French Terragon, Lemon Grass, Fernleaf Dill, Chamomile, and more!

What about my sweet tooth?

You are not restricted to growing only vegetables in your container garden. You can grow your own fruit as well. How would you like to eat fresh figs right off your own tree? Figs are not cold hardy, but can be grown in a 14” to 18” pot and can easily be moved inside for the winter.

If you need to leave your containers out all winter, we have plenty of cold hardy options. We have very cool columnar apple trees in stock. Malus ‘Northpole’ and ‘Scarlet Sentinel’ are apple varieties that grow 8’ to 10’ tall, and only 1’ to 2’ wide! So they produce fruit on a tree that resembles a tall, narrow column. For this size tree, a seven to ten gallon pot would be best (24” to 30” pot).

Another compact choice is Prunus ‘Golden Glory,’ a dwarf peach variety. Often called a patio peach, ‘Golden Glory’ grows only to 5’to 6’ tall and wide. Blueberries can also be grown in containers. We recommend using the smaller varieties like ‘Lowbush’ and ‘Earliblue’ for the best results. If you plant one of each, ‘Earliblue’ will ripen in June and ‘Lowbush’ will ripen in July. And don’t forget strawberries! Grow alpine strawberries in hanging baskets, and you’ll not only have cascading sweet, ripe fruit, but you’ll also be able to better protect them from the chipmunks, birds and squirrels too.

What do I do if I don’t live on the sunny side of the street?

Another common question we are asked is what can be grown in a container in partial shade? All vegetables grow best in full sun, but lettuce, onions, parsley, mint, and radishes can all be grown in partial shade.

Another great option for a partial-shade to full sun container plant is the Currant. Ribes ‘Red Lake’ and Ribes ‘Pink Champagne’ produce glossy clusters of beautiful, tart fruit. Often used for jams and jellies, currants have made resurgence at local farmers markets and are ripe for reinvention. See the mouth-watering recipe for Red Current Sorbet from

Good Neighbors

Container combinations

Companion plants are plants that benefit each other when planted in close proximity. Some companions attract beneficial insects, while others repel damaging pests. Onions repel slugs and aphids, and therefore is a perfect companion for cabbage, carrots, and lettuce. Other times one companion will affect the surrounding soil, for example peas and beans release nitrogen into the soil, while spinach, strawberries, and radish will use the extra nitrogen as they grow.

Companion planting naturally (without chemicals, and who wants to spray chemicals on food!) benefits productivity, and reduces the damage caused by garden pests. A perfect example of companion plants are “the three sisters”, a combination planted by native Americans of beans, corn and squash. The beans release extra nitrogen into the soil, the corn provides a vertical support, which the beans grow up, like a trellis, and the squash shades the roots of the other plants.

Click here for a full list of good companion combos!