Vegetable Container Gardening
VEGETABLE CONTAINER GARDENING: NOW WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT?!
By Master Gardener Stephanie Wrightson
Photos by Master Gardeners Cie Cary and Electra de Peyster
Every gardener is drawn to beautiful pots, and we let our imagination and creativity take off with our plant selections. But, how about the container? Can you imagine and create a container? Recently, the project leaders of the Food Gardening Specialists (FGS) issued a challenge to the group: Create an edible container garden that makes us say, “Now why didn’t I think of that!”
“Show and tell” follows with the first and second entries below coming in…well, first and second place. Judges considered creativity and potential effectiveness of growing food in small spaces with bonus points for recycled, repurposed, inexpensive materials. And, because we are Master Gardeners, we are very taken with projects that have an educational component.
|Master Gardener Kathy Matonak, project leader for the Youth Garden Project, presented the 1st place containers. A plastic juice bottle on its side serves as a container for various herbs. A flower (of recycled plastic) holds information about the herbs. This is a great project for children because they can view the root development of the plants as well as the watering depth.|
|Kathy showed us small water bottles with holes poked in the top that children use to irrigate their herb gardens in a water-efficient manner. She also shared a recycled baking pan in which “favorite herbs around the world” were planted along with nutrient-dense peas, watercress, etc. The flower/heart marker records the plants’ geographic regions with plant tags serving as the “leaves” of the marker.
Look closely to see bee and insect art included in these containers. And, check out the trellis—it is repurposed umbrella ribs.
|Master Gardener Sue Lovelace (aka “Sunday with Sue” on UC Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County Facebook page) recycled an old ice cream parlor chair creating a magical gnome food forest where trees are kale and curly-leaved parsley, the shrubs are edible greens and the woods are filled with vining peas. The seat of the chair is replaced by a coir pot liner filled with potting soil. This 2nd place container is a wonderful project for those who love fairy gardens.|
|What you can’t see is the light plastic dollar store pail (with added drainage) planted with veggies that is nestled in a larger pail that just fits in the shopping bag being held by Master Gardeners Elaine Walter and Susan Roth. Containers are the epitome of small space gardening. And, depending on the angle of the sun, the container might need to be hung on a fence or from the eaves to catch enough light. This is where a recycled shopping bag comes in handy. Elaine reminded us that containers are good for what you haven’t grown before or for something that is tasty but invasive like ‘Golden’ Purslane. Even a tomato—if dwarf like ‘Jade’ that grows to 4 feet—will be happy in a container this size. ‘Lizzano’ is a semi-determinate cherry tomato that will thrive in as little as two quarts of soil.|
|Master Gardener Betsy Karrer used a blueberry clamshell for a windowsill garden. Here, she planted lettuce. Berry and fruit containers often have holes pre-cut into them – the drainage is perfect. The lid makes a great “saucer” under the clamshell planter. The containers are perfect for a cook’s herb garden in a sunny kitchen window…close enough to enjoy the spicy aroma as well as to snip fresh, flavorful leaves to add to your favorite recipes. Also, using clamshells to seed veggies to later transplant to your food garden is a great way to repurpose them.|
|A role of corrugated cardboard and garden twine found in her garage provided inspiration for Master Gardener Susan Shaw. The heavy cardboard is doubled so that it will last for the entire growing season. It is very stable when filled with potting soil. You can put this directly on the ground or on a cardboard base. Want a shorter container? Use a utility knife to cut down the cardboard before rolling it. Check out your garage or shed—you may be surprised what you can use as a plant container.|
|Master Gardener Janet Thorp (right) assists Master Gardener Susan Shaw who also demonstrated the use of burlap coffee bags (doubled with sides rolled down) as containers. The bags are free from her local coffee shop. Once she fills them with soil, Susan has a biodegradable planter. This is an inexpensive solution for gardeners with little space or problem soils.|
|Master Gardener Janet Thorp showed the group a “pinot and potatoes” solution to grow potatoes. The “pinot” component was a wine box (it could be any heavy cardboard box) lined with a very inexpensive (about $2) plastic grow bag found at most nurseries. Or, alternatively, punch some holes in a plastic bag and put it in a box. The box tops can be folded down for protection in the event frost is forecasted.|
|Handy, dandy Master Gardener Steve Hart built a miniature version of a raised bed complete with a PVC pipe handle and row cover supports. And, leave it to Steve, it demonstrated every best practice when building a full-sized raised bed (gopher wire which is stronger than chicken wire; redwood; type 3 waterproof glue on the cut ends to ensure long life; etc.). You can place this planter on the ground. Once the roots develop, they will hold most of the soil in place and you’ll be able to relocate the planter as dictated by the weather, light and convenience.|
Not pictured were a two containers that were just too large and/or heavy to haul from home. Master Gardeners Jennifer Dornbush and Jan Bryant brought in pictures. Jennifer’s containers, a present from her husband, were two large redwood planter boxes that he constructed. What makes them special are large hidden wheels for mobility since they contain citrus that must be moved for protection during the winter. Jan used an old strawberry pot for plants “rescued” from her chickens: aloe vera, lettuce, violets and rosemary. The plants now happily reside on her porch—away from the chickens.
You can create a container out of most anything—as long as the container allows for adequate drainage and sufficient soil (to feed and anchor the plant). I’ll have a new perspective at the next estate sale in the neighborhood, when I clean out my garage and when I sort through the recyclables.