If you live in an apartment or town home, you probably think you don't have enough space to grow vegetables. Lack of space is no longer an excuse since many modern vegetable varieties are perfect for growing in containers on a sunny window ledge or patio.
You can grow salad vegetables and herbs in almost any sunny spot and enjoy fresh ingredients all year round. Snipping off a sprig of fresh herbs from the window ledge garden in the kitchen while you are cooking cannot be bettered.
Here are some tips for the perfect container vegetable garden.
Choice of container. The easiest choice is to go to your local garden center or home improvement store and pick any gardening container that takes your fancy. There's a wide variety available in plastic, ceramic, wood or clay. Before you pull out your credit card though, take a look around your home and see whatever containers you have lying around. Almost anything that will hold soil can be used for growing, whether it is an old bucket, an empty margarine container or an empty coffee can.
Any container you use must have sufficient drainage holes in the bottom. Make additional holes in containers that do not drain quickly after watering. Waterlogged soil will lead to soil-borne diseases and stunted plants. Stand the containers in a tray if these are indoors.
Using regular soil is not advisable for container plants, since soil is likely to have plant disease organisms and weed seeds. Soil less potting mixes are lighter, less likely to compact and hold moisture and plant nutrients well. These potting mixes can be purchased from any garden center.
Choice of plants. Almost any herb is suitable for a container vegetable garden. Basil, thyme, mint, parsley, chives and oregano are all good choices. Most salads can also be grown in containers. Consider lettuce, young salad carrots, radishes, and green onions, for smaller containers. Tomatoes, eggplant and peppers do well in a larger container on a sunny patio or balcony. Choose dwarf varieties where these are available.
Seeds can either be planted either directly into the container or started in a smaller pot and transplanted once large enough to handle. Always plant more seeds than you need in each container since there will seldom be 100% germination. During the winter, seeds can be encouraged to grow early when placed next to a water heater or other warm (not hot) place. Make sure that you move these to a sunny position as soon as they appear above the soil.
Ideally, containers should be placed where they receive at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. Plants that bear fruit, such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplants require the most sun. Many herbs and leafy vegetables will tolerate more shade. Plants growing in containers require frequent watering especially if outdoors. During the hot summer months many will require daily watering.
Plants will need fertilizer during the growing season. The easiest way to add fertilizer is to use a commercial mix such as Miracle-Gro. Follow the directions and do not over feed. Most potting soils will have sufficient nutrients for the first few weeks.
Harvest when the plants are mature but still young and tender. Small sprigs of most herbs can be clipped as needed and the plant will continue to grow.
Vince Apps is the editor of a number of gardening sites including Manual of Gardening and Home Vegetable Gardening.