3 Basics of Container Vegetable Gardening
Use the same guidelines as when gardening outside in the ground: plan/map, plant, water, provide sunlight, and prune according to each plant’s requirements.
If ample sunlight is scarce, invest in long fluorescent tube lighting ($10 and up).
Use any container imaginable. Just be sure the container allows for drainage of water. If needed, drill holes in the bottom of the container.
Starting Your Garden
According to my friend – Richard Clayton, You should begin your container vegetable garden with a plan. Your success in container vegetable gardening relies on careful planning, tailored to the needs of your plant. Once a plant(s) and its prospective container(s) are decided upon, you can obtain the desired potting soil and begin your garden. It is not a bad idea to take notes of your garden so you have solid observations of the progress of the plant.
If the container you have chosen is large and will be difficult to move once filled with soil, you will want to place the container where you will keep it. Again, think ahead: take into account the sunlight, air flow, and convenience of maintenance when deciding where to keep your container vegetable garden. When working with smaller containers, it may be helpful to work on a table top spread with newspaper or a table cloth to help ease clean up. Start by filling the container with soil. Your soil should be moist and workable.
If you decide to start with seeds instead of seedlings, simply place several seeds about one inch apart and about one half inch below the soil’s surface. Some plants will require deeper placement in the soil or more distance between each seed, so keep in mind the needs of the plants you choose when planning your container vegetable garden. Seedlings are planted in the same way as seeds, just be careful not to damage too many roots when transplanting the seedling to your desired container. Always water a seedling after transplanting to encourage the soil to settle around the roots.
Label each plant or row of plants with the given seed packet, marker, or popsicle stick. Keeping the seed packet (or general instructions on growing your particular plant) in or near the container may be helpful. If journaling, note the day your seeds/seedlings were planted and if you fertilized.
While it is not necessary to fertilize your seeds yet, some planters will add a small amount of fertilizer to soil that has been used several times and lacks sufficient nutrients. It is important to not over-fertilize your plants at any stage of growth, so make sure you are familiar with the fertilizing process. See the page titled Plant Food for further details. Once the seeds or seedlings are planted in moist soil with adequate drainage and sunlight, you simply need to maintain your garden.
Maintaining Your Garden
Maintenance of your container vegetable garden will be simple if you keep a close eye on the garden. Regularly check the soil for moistness, and water if necessary. Reduce the amount of sunlight your plant gets if you notice the leaves dry up or lose color. If you decide to fertilize your plant regularly (about every other week), check the suggested guidelines for your plant and take note of when you last fertilized.
Pruning your plant will encourage healthy, recurring growth. Specific pruning procedures and times will vary among plants, but general pruning tips include trimming lifeless leaves, trimming buds, and even trimming roots occasionally. Trimmings of healthy, young leaves for the purpose of boosting robust growth can be useful. For example, spinach trimmings can be eaten in salads while you wait for more spinach leaves to mature.
Part of the planning process involves choosing containers that will house your plant until it has reached full growth, and as your plant grows, you may eventually need to transplant to a larger container or into the ground (providing the weather is ideal for plant growth). In this event, repeat the process of sowing seeds or seedlings, only filling the new container partially to allow ample space for the maturing plant to grow. Gently include as many roots as possible, and take this time to prune roots just a bit. Fill the remaining space around your plant with soil, and water generously.
Always keep in mind that growing indoors versus outdoors, in the ground/in a bed versus in containers will vary the needed water, sunlight,etc. For example, you may notice your plant needs more water when in a container. Also, spacing your vegetables closer together may not always provide more produce, as disease spreads more easily among closely growing plants. Simply keeping a close eye on your garden(s) as you begin the indoor gardening process will allow for the best possible outcome for your garden vegetables. Some of the warm-weather crops may do better indoors than the cool-weather crops, so be sure to take necessary steps when deciding on the plant you want to grow (for example, whether you plan to transplant the seedling for proper growth). A wide range (days to harvest in eggplants, for example) may be due to the variety of plant chosen or even to the resilience/adaptability of the plant (as in carrots’ PH preferences).
In any form of container vegetable gardening, it is always good to follow package guidelines and consult your nearest home improvement or garden stand when needed.