Sunday, May 22, 2011

My first container garden

Long ago and far away, a lonely young wife sat at the shores of the Euphrates with tears in her eyes. She longed for her homeland; a land rich in mountains and lush green forests. King Nebuchadnezzar saw that his lovely wife could not see the beauty of the flat, sun-drenched desert of Mesopotamia and set out to create a garden reminiscent of her home.

What a grand undertaking it was. King Nebuchadnezzar created a mountainous oasis in the dessert filled with trees and flowers contained in planter boxes cut from stone. The result was the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The Hanging Gardens were created around 600 BC and were destroyed by an earthquake sometime during the 2nd century BC. Legend describes outer walls that were 56 miles long and 320 feet high. But, archaeological finds discovered outer walls measuring 10 miles long and no where near as high.
Visit the Hanging Gardens of Babylon
at the Museum of UnNatural History
If you are new to gardening, starting a garden may seem as complex and insurmountable as the building of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. There's so much to do... Deciding where to put the garden, making sure there's a water source, digging beds, starting a compost pile and sprouting seeds. Whew! But, there is a lesson to be learned from the Hanging Gardens… Grow your garden in containers. 

Getting Started with Container Gardening 

A container garden can be located any place that has at least 6 hours of sun every day. This can be a deck, patio, rooftop, stairway or a south-facing window ledge. Plants grown in containers can be moved if they are not getting the right amount of sunlight or taken with you when you move to a new home.

Here’s the fast and easy of container gardening. Start with a few large pots, buy some good quality organic potting mix and pick up a few vegetable transplants. Put it all together and you have a small garden.
Here’s a way to grow vegetables in plastic bottles…
Growing plants in difficult conditions, using different gardening types
Choosing Transplants 

A quick way to kickstart your first garden is to buy vegetable transplants. Your local garden center will have a selection of seasonally appropriate plants. Each plant should have a tag or label that tells you the name of the cultivar, how to transplant the plant, how to care for the plant and when to harvest the vegetables.

Select plants that look healthy. The plant should be full and standing upright. Wilted plants have not received adequate care and will not get off to a healthy start. Purchase plants before they begin to flower. Small plants that have begun flowering will become stressed when transplanted and may not survive.

Selecting the Right Pot

Vegetables can be planted in most any type of container. It isn’t necessary to go out and buy new pots. This is your chance to recycle old  pots, repurpose buckets, decorate an old wheelbarrow or revive an antique washtub. Just make sure that whatever container you use has drainage holes in the bottom.

When pairing a container with vegetable transplants, the size of the container depends on the size of the plant. Here are some guidelines:
  • Shallow-rooted crops such as lettuce, salad greens, basil, chives and radishes can be grown in pots that are 4 to 5 inches deep.
  • Bush beans, garlic, kohlrabi, onions, Asian greens, peas, mint and thyme do well in pots that are at least 6 to 7 inches deep.
  • Deep-rooted plants such as pole beans, carrots, chard, cucumber, eggplant, fennel, leeks, peppers, spinach, parsley and rosemary should be planted in 8 to 9 inch deep pots.
  • Tall and heavy vegetables such as beets, broccoli, okra, potatoes, sweet corn, summer squash, dill and lemongrass need pots that are 10 to 12 inches deep.
Purchasing an Organic Potting Mix 

To give your plants the best possible start, choose a quality organic potting mix. Avoid using garden soil. Soil from your yard becomes compacted and heavy when used in a container. Roots cannot grow in this environment. Garden soil stays soggy during wet weather and dries out quickly during hot periods.

A quality organic potting mix is worth the investment. When purchasing potting soil, read the label for the list of ingredients and for directions on what types of plants grow best in the mixture.
Do you have some yard space that you’d like to turn into garden beds some day? Try this method to get a quick start on a garden without all the digging and tilling:
By Barbara Pleasant
Published by Mother Earth News
Putting it all Together 

Once you have picked out your favorite vegetable transplants, selected an appropriate container and purchased an organic potting mix, it’s time to put it all together.

Before you begin, make sure that the container is clean. This ensures that the container is free of diseases and insect eggs. A little soap and water will do the trick. If you want to be extra careful, soak the container is a solution of one part bleach to 10 parts water for a few minutes.

Before placing the transplant in the container, partially fill the container with the potting mix. Put enough soil in the bottom of the container so that when you set the plant on top, the top of the plant’s soil level is one inch below the rim of the container. Then, take the transplant out of its container, gently loosen the root ball if necessary, place it in the new container and add more potting mix around the plant’s roots.

With the plant now in place, lightly compact the soil around the plant and water. Add a small amount of liquid organic fertilizer, fish emulsion, compost tea or kelp extract to reduce transplant shock.

Now you’re ready to watch your garden grow! The secret to a successful garden is to inspect your plants every day. When they show sign of wilt, give them water. If you see pesky bugs, pick them off the plants. This daily routine will reward you with healthy and flavorful vegetables. 

Happy Gardening!


  1. You are right, container gardening is one of easiest ways of getting started. I always had trouble with root crops like potatoes, or carrots. I used to use old wash tubs with holes poked in the bottom for drainage.

  2. Hi Cal! Container gardening does make it easier to grow veggies. I like to grow veggies in pots because there are fewer weeds to pull. Also, you save time and energy because there are no garden beds to dig.

    I like your use of old wash tubs. Old tubs are roomy enough for several plants, deep enough for good root growth and just look cool! Plus, anytime you can reuse or recycle, it's a good thing.