Vegetable Container Gardening: Growing Food in Containers

Organic vegetable container gardening appeals to many home gardeners because it means growing something that you can literally put in the table. Maybe you’ve grown some herbs and flowering plants, but until you’ve grown your own food, organic home gardening success doesn’t taste as sweet. So if you’re prepared to take on the challenge, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of growing vegetables in containers.

Growing food, such as vegetables, in convenient and flexible planters is much like growing anything in containers. You will need soil, sun, water, fertilizer and of course, containers and plants to get you started. (See my post on Organic Container Gardening). But vegetables are often planted in the ground and standard varieties are mostly suitable to sizeable land areas. It may be possible to grow them in limiting pots, but is it easy?

The answer is yes on most points. Here are some tips on how to succeed in vegetable container gardening:

Choose your vegetable plant wisely. Although dwarf vegetable varieties are highly recommended for container organic gardening, some growers complain that these do not yield as much and the produce are not as good-tasting as their regular counterparts. With container organic gardening on the rise, seed and plant breeders are coming up with breeds that are meant for container culture. But even without these breeds, there are still standard vegetable varieties that can adapt well in potted environment. To begin with, choose the ones that don’t grow too big and bear small to medium-sized fruits.

Choose containers that suit the needs of your vegetable. Picking out the right container is crucial to the growth of your vegetables. If you have herbs flourishing in cute, little pots, the same may not apply to your vegetables. Some vegetables grow expansive root systems that require space and depth, and will only grow abundantly in deep and large pots. Some do well in wide and shallow planters.

Aside from determining their space requirement, knowing their moisture and nutrient needs is also important. Vegetables that love moisture must be planted in containers that hold water well. This makes large, non-porous pots ideal, but you can also line the inside of porous containers with plastic or¬† mix water-holding gel to improve moisture retention in the soil. Large pots are also good for heavy feeders because soil nutrients in big containers are not easily depleted and can minimize frequent applications of fertilizer. But this doesn’t mean that vegetable can only be planted in big, bulky planters. It all boils down to choosing the right container for the right vegetable plant.

Choose the appropriate soil. Garden soil is deemed too heavy for any container gardening because it is more compact which doesn’t provide good circulation for air and water. A sterile and lightweight potting mix offers good water retention and air flow but can be too ‘thin’ in terms of organic nutrients and too light that it might not be able to support the roots effectively. Adding compost can increase the nutrient content of potting soil and even improve it’s ability to hold water. And a little coarse sand in the mixture can provide the weight needed.

If you intend to have a very large container, you might find that store-bought potting soil is quite expensive. You may very well make your own mix. One part peat moss, one part coarse sand, one part perlite and one part compost can be a good combination. Other alternative organic ingredients are vermicullite, alfalfa and composted pine bark. Soil is also an option but is often disregarded to prevent soil-borne diseases and pests from infecting your vegetables.

Choose proper watering method. We already know that vegetables in containers need more water than those in the ground. And that small pot and porous containers dry out quickly while dark colored containers absorb more heat. These all translate to more frequent watering. But there is also such a thing as too much water, so water your vegetables only when they need it and ensure proper drainage in their containers. Soggy soil becomes too compact to let the air to pass through and roots won’t be able to breathe and will rot eventually.

On the other hand, if you often let your vegetables to wilt before watering, their roots will shrink, diminishing the size of the entire root system. When you finally water them, they will put more energy into growing back bigger roots instead than growing leaves and fruits. Irregular watering can cause blossoms to rot and drop, leaves to wither, and crops to shrivel and stop developing.

Choose organic garden fertilizers. Before you can eat them, you must feed them first. Aside from adding compost to the potting soil during planting, vegetables in containers will need regular nourishment of organic matters and trace elements from the soil. Slow-release fertilizers are good for the growing period. But once your vegetables start to produce, use liquid fertilizers that are easily absorbed into the soil to give them the extra boost they need for bigger and healthier yield. Just make sure that you don’t apply too much to prevent fertilizer burn. Excessive watering also drains some nutrients from the soil.

And lastly, if you’re really serious about vegetable container gardening, there are lots of useful information you can find in this ebook that will help you successfully grow vegetables in containers.