Thursday, June 28, 2012

Crops in Pots: Lessons from the Demonstration Garden by Patti O'Neal

Space – or the lack of it – often prevents people from even considering growing their own food.  But that need not be the case.  What you may perceive as a lack of space may be an opportunity to “think outside of the box” and enable you to grow at the very least, your two or three favorite edibles to use in your kitchen.  And it is not too late to begin even this year!

Container gardening with edibles is not only easy, but brings gardening to apartment dwellers, or those living in patio homes, condos or on small lots or even in community living situations.  About the only limiting factor is the orientation to the sun.  Vegetables, with very few exceptions, require minimum of 6 hours of full sun a day.  Obviously, some will plants will perform better with the optimum 8 hours, but 6 are doable and spring and fall crops of greens can even perform well with 4.

 So what can you plant in a container and be successful?  Surprisingly just about anything.  And you do not need a half barrel to do it.  Everyone’s favorite, the tomato, can easily be grown in a container, spinach, lettuces, carrots, beets, squash, beans, both bush and vining types, or any type of herb just to name a few. 

  In the Horticulture demonstration garden at the Jefferson County Extension Office, we have several container vegetable gardens going to illustrate the wide variety of edibles possible to grow in containers.  In addition, we have three very large containers with entire gardens going in #95 tree sized plastic pots.  These were a recycled gift from Timberline Gardens and are a wonderful idea for those who do not have the resources to build a 4 x 4 raised bed.  These used pots sell for about $45.00 and you would be hard pressed to build a 24” tall raised bed this size for that amount.  We filled the bottom of the container with weed free straw to keep from having to spend so much on soil (much more sustainable than plastic bottles).   This straw will eventually decompose and become a soil amendment that can be mixed with the container soil to refresh the planting medium in later seasons.  You have to add a fair amount because it “sinks” when it is wet and then decomposes, lowering the level in the container more that you think when first prepared.  Then we mixed outdoor planting mix with a little compost before planting our transplants and seeds. 

We have three of these going.  One is a Three Sisters Garden.  We planted corn seeds and will add the beans and squashes once the corn is about 10 inches tall.   Another is a mixed garden to illustrate that you can plant an entire garden in this space.  It has a tomato, several herbs, carrots, beets and spinach from seeds and will plant lettuces and kale and cilantro again in late August for harvest in the fall.  A container this size offers also the opportunity to succession plant and get three seasons of gardening from it with a little season protection.  The third is a tomato garden with 4 different indeterminate cherry tomatoes which we will illustrate a vertical system which will allow us to plant cool season crops in the center with the tomatoes shading them to see if we can get it to grow successfully in this heat this early in the season.  We also have planted nasturtiums around the edge to trail over the edge.
Currently we are hand watering the containers, but plant to add drip irrigation in the next few weeks. 
These gardens were planted the first week of June.  We will keep you posted on the progress of each garden and the level of success we achieve.  I am very excited about the prospect. 

But you do not need containers of that size to grow vegetables.  For a fact sheet outlining the size container that is adequate for a specific vegetable, go to the following link

This publication will tell you not only the size of the container, but the recommended hours of sun a specific vegetable requires and give you some valuable cultural information.  And don’t forget you can call your county extension office and speak to a Master Gardener if you need a little more help or clarification.

So do not be discouraged by what you think is an impossible gardening situation.  Try one plant – your favorite – at first and add different varieties each season until you build your skill and confidence.  Fresh clean food is only a container away!

If you would like additional information on container gardening, the Jefferson County Master Gardeners are presenting a symposium,  "Wrapping Up the Vegetable Gardening Year" on August 4, 2012 at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds.  Topics include Season Extending, Growing Garlic, Saving Seed, How to Know When Your Veggies Are Ready to Harvest, Insects and Diseases in the Colorado Vegetable Garden, and a session on Food Preservation emphasizing safe practices for canning and freezing.   A tour of the Horticulture Demonstration Garden is included as well as demonstrations in tool sharpening and care, green manuring and more.   For additional information please call the Master Gardener Hotline at 303-271-6632.  For registration please go to: