Do I have to have a large yard?
No, definitely not. You can have a small garden on the patio of an inner city apartment. It helps if the small space gets some direct sunshine. However, there are some shade plants that will grow with indirect sunlight. You’ll be successful with lettuce and spinach, but not with tomatoes or melons. Or get into flowers. While my goal is to teach people how to grow food out of containers, the joy is in the gardening. And if you grow flowers, at least you’re getting the connection back to the soil.
Do I have to use containers?
No, not everything is suitable for containers. For an example, asparagus grows better in the ground. Since it survives for 15-20 years, you need to find a really good spot for it to thrive. Also, I think the plants like being near to other asparagus. I do have artichokes in containers, and one is doing well, but the others did not. I’m still testing. I tried potatoes in containers, but the space limitation negatively impacted the yeild. Plus, I wasn’t able to keep burying the plant with soil, and so it grew lots of leaves and flowers but didn’t do well with the potatoes. I’ve also had bad luck with onions both in the ground and in containers. So the lesson is to try different things to see what works best in your area. Start small and test.
Is it true that containers provide smaller results?
I think for some things, it does. I had smaller cantaloupes and spaghetti squash from the container plants, but the cucumbers, summer squash and tomatoes were definitely full size. The first year I did cauliflower in containers, it was about the size of my fist. The second year, they were smaller. I’m not sure if I goofed with feeding them, or if it was because I had to hurry and harvest since we had a warm “snap” and I wanted to harvest before they bolted and turned bitter.
What is “bolting?”
When cool loving plants get into warm weather, they think it’s time to go to seed. Bolting is when they stop producing what we eat, and put all of their energy into producing seeds. It’s really wild seeing lettuce send up a stalk with seeds. Often the vegetable turns very bitter and is inedible.
UPDATE: Ok, I went on the gardening tour at Love Apple Farms and am eating my words. Bolted plants can be delicious! The pods on bolted radishes were delightful, and would be a great addition to a salad. It didn’t taste anything like a radish in that it wasn’t sharp but it was crisp. So, don’t be afraid if it bolts….find a way to use it.
Is it cheaper to grow my own food?
Overall, yes, but you need to look at initial costs and long term investments.
I spend money on new soil and seeds and plants every year. I spent $1,000 on my containers. But I had room, and when I get a head full of steam, I run with it. Smarter heads than mine might have a slower roll out strategy. Also, if you don’t have much room, you won’t have a large initial cost.
So why do I need more soil every year? When I pull out my tomato plants, they have a dense root structure that holds on tightly to the soil, and I lose a pretty big chunk. Of course, they go into the compost pile and get integrated back in at some point.
As for the actual vegetables? A seed packet can cost anywhere from $2-15. And you can get quite a lot of vegetables out of those seeds. Plants can cost $2-6 per plant depending upon if they’re organic or heirloom. Sometimes you can find a good deal with multiple plant packs.
So, if you pay $2.50 for a tomato plant and $5 for a container and $6 for the soil, and you get 30 tomatoes (assume you’d usually pay $1/tomato), you definitely saved money. More importantly, the tomato tastes so much better. You know exactly how it was grown. And you had a zen opportunity with playing in the soil. To me, that’s priceless. Additionally you could spend $2 on lettuce or carrot seeds, and plant them around the tomato plant base and harvest them before the tomato plant gets too big.
What is companion planting?
Companion planting is putting two things together that grow well together. An example is carrots planted around tomatoes. Another is the Three Sisters which are corn, squash and pole beans. Some people feel companion planting can also include putting marigolds around your garden since it keeps some bugs away from your precious vegetables. I don’t put them in my containers since I want to maximize my vegetable gardens. Plus, it’s not really that much area, and I’m out there daily squishing bugs when I find them.
What is succession planting?
Succession planting is knowing how to plant so you can get continuous crops. One example is only sowing enough squash or cucumbers for your initial use, and then planting additional seeds 2-4 weeks later to keep the crops coming at a steady pace. Another example is having your spring crops (peas, lettuce) be followed with your fall crops (broccoli, brussels sprouts) and your summer crops (tomatoes, peppers) be followed by your winter crops (carrots, kale).
What questions do you have that you’d like answered?