05 October 2010

What I learned about container gardening thus far

The growing season for most fruits and veggies is almost over, and I learned quite a bit from my first venture into container gardening. Here's the rundown:
  • Don't overcrowd your container. -- I got overly ambitious with some containers. For example, I tried to plant 6 bush bean plants in a single 18" container, and, as a result, all I got were a few limp, tiny beans. Next time, I'll stick with one plant.

(The dill and chives started thriving once I removed the cucumbers and carrots that previously shared their containers.)
  • Less is more when it comes to herbs. -- With the exception of parsley and cilantro, I don't use a large quantity of herbs. Hence, a lot of my basil, thyme, and oregano ended up in the compost bin. I'll grow less herbs next time.
  • Composting is easy and can be done in the smallest of spaces. -- I use 5 gallon buckets, into which I drilled a bunch of holes. In each bucket, I include an equal volume of green (veggie/fruit scraps) and brown (shredded newspaper, old organic potting mix, dried leaves) materials.

(A close-up of one of my compost bins. Strange little sprouts have started appearing. I have no idea what kind of plant they are.)
  • Onions are not worth growing in small spaces. -- They take forever to mature, and you only get one per set. For a container garden, they just take up too much space.
  • On the other hand, onion sets can be used to grow scallions, which grow quickly.
  • Bell peppers take forever to grow. -- But once they do, it's really cool to watch them turn from green to scarlet.

(The first photo is from early September -- look how pretty! The second is from early October. I'm hoping that it will stay just warm enough for the rest of the peppers to turn red.)
  • Strawberries are easy to grow and need little room. -- I'll grow more plants next year, so I can have more than 2 or 3 fruits at a time.

(I'm still getting strawberries!)
  • Tomatoes can be finicky. -- You have to be careful about under-watering but also over-watering. I had limited success with tomatoes this year, but I love the fruit too much to give up.
  • Get used to bugs. -- I'm pretty much a sissy when it comes to insects, but I'm slowly getting over it. I was quite surprised about how many new bugs I encountered in my concrete "yard."
  • Speaking of bugs, cucumbers attract flies. At least, mine did. -- Gross.
  • Fertilize regularly. -- I didn't do it enough, and I think some of my plants suffered for it. Of course, you should use organic fertilizer or compost!
This post is part of Simple Lives Thursdays


  1. I tried again this year to grow tomatoes in containers. But my experience says that they're really only happy in unfettered dirt.

    Then again, I've not been fertilizing except for the initial use of compost.

    re: cucumbers
    I haven't tried growing them, but I'm guessing those won't be what I try to grow in my friend's yard next year.

    Strawberries! I've always thought they'd be way too fussy, but I think I'm interested in trying them next year, too.

  2. I hope to grow tomatoes in raised beds next year, if we can pull off a new community garden in South Philly. For now, I grow determinates, but I didn't get a whole lot of fruit.

    You should definitely try strawberries. They're surprisingly easy to maintain!

  3. I really enjoyed your lessons learned! I had the same luck with beans ... too many in the pot and not much of a harvest. Our tomatoes did amazingly well this year. And interestingly enough ... I didn't fertilize ... just used compost. I think the trick is sun ... they need a lot of it! We had a ton of herbs but we love them and I use them in everything. Here's a trick with basil ... you can make pesto and freeze it. It can also be dried for use throughout the winter.

    BTW ... thanks for dropping by Reduce Footprints ... I answered your questions over there. Hope it helps:


    Really like your blog ... I'm following! :)

  4. Out of curiosity, did you use the milk/soap solution to keep aphids and mildew down? I noticed my plants were swarming with flies, too, and I never noticed that particular oddity before. I also noticed that sparrow-sized flies appeared right after I'd gone on the aphid warpath -- so I wondered if it wasn't the milk/soap?

    -- plantsondeck.com

  5. POD:
    I didn't use any milk or soap solution. I pretty much left the cukes alone, actually. I have a dog, and he does use our back area as a toilet. I thought maybe doggie poo was the issue, but we always clean up his poo immediately, and no other plants seemed to be affected by the fly swarms. It was very peculiar and completely grossed me out.

  6. Well, there goes that theory, then! Looks like we have a mystery to look into for next year.

  7. Container gardening is definitely a skill. I learned that no more tomatoes in containers, unless they are cherry or grape tomatoes. I tried to grow Romas in pots and it was a miserable failure.

  8. meemsnyc - I'm going to grow tomatoes in a raised bed next year. But I may try cherry tomatoes in a pot - maybe just a bigger one.
    btw, I'm a big fan of your gardening in the boroughs of nyc blog!

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  10. Re: strawberries, I have found that if I put holes in a ground cover (with the strawberry plants coming up out of the holes), I have gotten more fruit and less leaves. That might be something to try next season.
    Additionally, if you try cucumbers again, to make the best use of your space, try to vine them vertically; I've seen loosely-woven fabric netting used for this. I was recently told this works well in small spaces.

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