It’s early summer here in the South, and the weather may finally be settling in. Although the warm 70-plus-degree days started as early as February this year, we’ve only been out in the garden for a little over a month now. We usually don’t plant until tax day, so we’re not really too far behind where we usually are at this time of the year. We were delayed a bit by the flu this year, but it worked out okay since we ended up with some 40-degree nights in late April and early May.
This is our third year with container gardening. We started our first year with an old kiddie pool lined with landscape fabric and filled with garden soil. Our only successful plant grown was pickling cucumbers, but it was still a wonderful learning experience and great fun for the kids. They loved to watch the seeds they planted sprout and grow, and they learned there is a lot of work in growing and collecting the vegetables we eat.
Last year, we branched out into a wider range. We visited all the local groceries and either purchased or obtained for free the old icing containers from the bakery. They are food quality and work wonderfully to grow in. And, best of all, we only spent about $12 for around 24 three to five-gallon containers.
We used the fencing from an old dog lot that we had to create a “caged” garden. Where we live there are more groundhogs than squirrels (with rabbits not far behind in numbers), so we thought that having a physical means to keep them out might be a helpful thing. Even though the groundhog population was mysteriously lower last year than any year that we’ve lived here before, the fencing still proved useful to trail our cucumbers, green beans, and sugar snap peas on. We’re using the same idea this year as well.
Another way to control for pests is to use marigolds. We plant these in the containers with the plants outside the fenced lot. This works well to deter groundhogs and bunnies from getting overzealous with the munching of garden veggies… at least it has the last two year! We’ll hope it does this year, too. Just be sure that the plants you grow together work well together since marigolds aren’t said to get along with beans too well.
What We Grow in Containers
This year we’re growing more pickling cucumbers, banana peppers, eggplant, sugar snap peas, green beans, yellow squash, and zucchini. Of those, all are grown from seed except the eggplant. We purchased that one since they are very tricky to grow from seed.
We grew bell peppers and tomatoes from seed last year and had great success with the bell peppers. The tomatoes died or might as well have died: they are very tricky to grow from seed! This year, we bought a single tomato plant and a single bell pepper plant. So far, both are are doing horribly. We must not have the right soil for tomatoes, or we may just must be doomed to not grow them since the one we purchased has died now. The bell pepper is slowly dying as well, although we’re not really sure why. It could be the huge amount of rain we’ve had this year, as peppers seem to do better with drier soil.
This doesn’t mean tomatoes and peppers cannot be grown in containers. Our peppers did wonderfully last year. It just means that gardening is a throw of the dice every year, and what works one year may not work the next. Don’t get discouraged if you can’t grow something. Keep trying.
Advantages of Container Gardening
The best thing about container gardening is the lack of tilling and preparation that an in-ground garden takes. While there is still weeding and prep that has to be done, it is not nearly as labor intensive as traditional gardening is. It also makes gardening a possibility for people without enough yard space for a traditional garden.
Another advantage of container gardening is its mobility since smaller containers can be moved to accommodate your lighting situation, weather, and space. This is great if you live in an apartment or have a yard with limited space. It also works well if you have extremely hot weather since you can move containers to shaded areas or even indoors if needed.
Similarly, the versatility of a container garden is a wonderful thing. They are a great way to grow vine plants since you can place the container near a fence or trellis, allowing the plant to climb instead of sprawl along the ground. Containers work well for bush beans, most peppers, and various types of squash. In fall and early spring, they are perfect for leaf lettuce. In winter months, they work well to grow broccoli and small-head cabbage. While containers are not always suited for growing larger fruit like melons, it has been done. I would not suggest growing corn, pumpkins, or plants that need more room in containers, though.
If you’re looking into container gardening and want to give it a try, I think you could easily get started for less than $10. Go by your local grocery store’s bakery and ask about old icing containers (many will give them to you for free or for a dollar or two). Drill a few holes in the bottom to allow drainage of excess water. Purchase a bag of soil. You can purchase one for garden vegetables, but we’ve used regular topsoil mixed with potting soil about half and half. You can usually find seeds at Walmart, but you can also find them at the Dollar Tree in the spring and summer. And then plant!
You will need to keep in mind that you have to water more frequently with containers since the containers dry out more easily. However, many garden soils that contain compost may feel dry on the surface but not really need water. Be sure to check below the top layer of soil before watering to keep from over-watering.
Best wishes with your container garden!