Container Gardening Basics

From avoiding pride to caring for others, the Bible is full of lessons applicable to modern day life. These lessons can be transferred to almost any experience or activity. Take gardening, for example. You might wish for a rural homestead with enough land for a large vegetable garden, yet your homestead is an urban plot with barely a scratch of earth in the back.

One option would be to become discouraged and give up on your desire to grow vegetables. A better choice would be to consider the resources you have and discover new solutions. When the Philistines came against the Israelites, David alone believed he could defeat the giant Goliath with nothing more than his faith in God and a sling and stone. Moses’ mother, fearing for her child’s life, sent him down the Nile River in a papyrus basket lined with tar. Her heart must have been heavy with worry, yet how much better her choice than simply accepting the Egyptians’ tyranny.

So what does this have to do with your urban plot? Don’t just give up—find a way to address the problem. One simple way to increase your growing space is through container culture. Almost any vegetable that grows well in your region can be grown in a pot. In some cases, container culture can have decided advantages over an in-ground garden.

• A container is less likely to become contaminated with disease, especially if you sanitize used pots with a solution of one part chlorine bleach to ten parts water prior to planting. Containers rarely need weeding, too.

• Containers can be moved to take advantage of weather patterns. If the sun gets too hot in the afternoon, slide the container to a shady location. Does your area experience those unpredictable June hailstorms? Move containers into the garage until the weather clears.

• Containers are easier to care for. They typically sit near an entryway and there’s less bending involved to reach them.

• Containers offer better soil if your native soil is heavy clay or sand.

If you’d like to try container vegetable gardening, the first step is choosing the right containers. Every type has potential benefits and drawbacks. Select the one that works best for your gardening style and budget. Plastic containers, for example, are inexpensive and lightweight. They crack with age, though, and tend to dry out quickly. Terracotta pots look charming and are also inexpensive. However, they break easily and also dry out. Glazed pottery is among the most expensive options, but these pots are heavy, durable, and retain moisture better than most. Wooden whiskey barrels cost more than plastic or terracotta, but they last longer and don’t dry out as quickly. Buy containers that hold at least five gallons of potting soil. For large plants such as tomatoes and squash, ten-gallon pots are even better.

Don’t use ordinary garden soil in your pots. This soil is too heavy and often contains pathogens. Instead, buy a commercial potting mix or make your own by blending one part pasteurized garden soil with one part peat moss and one part sand, perlite, or vermiculite. To pasteurize garden soil, spread it on a tray and bake it in an oven set at 250 degrees for thirty minutes. Alternatively, buy a product labeled “garden soil” at your local garden center.

Finally, select compact plants for your containers. There are many varieties out there, so look for ones that have been cultivated for small spaces. Check the containers daily and water as needed because containers dry out quickly. Nutrients leach out of containers more quickly as well. Fertilize your container plants every two weeks with a water-soluble, all-purpose plant food.

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