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Containers Offer Up Bountiful Harvests
by Liesbeth Leatherbarrow
by Liesbeth Leatherbarrow



Liesbeth has written for several western gardening publications, including Gardens West and The Gardener for the Prairies. She has also co-authored three gardening books: The Calgary Gardener (with the Calgary Horticultural Society), The Calgary Gardener, Volume Two: Beyond the Basics (with Lesley Reynolds), and 101 Best Plants for the Prairies (with Lesley Reynolds).


November 19, 2000


Have you been yearning for the incomparable taste of freshly harvested produce from the garden, with no vegetable plot to call your own? If so, be adventuresome and try growing vegetables and herbs in containers, just as you would annuals and perennials. It's easy, fun, and a great way to experience the pleasures of vegetable gardening in positively tiny spaces.
There are several advantages to container gardening. Because pots are portable and can be protected or whisked out of Jack Frost's way, they can be planted earlier and harvested later than regular gardens. This prolongs the growing season, making it possible to reap successive harvests or to plant long-season crops such as cucumber, peppers, and cantaloupe. Containers can be moved to follow the sun, ensuring good results, even if you don't have the ideal exposure for growing vegetables. Veggie containers also serve a decorative function on balconies, patios, and decks, especially if they have been planted with a bit of creativity and imagination. Finally, containers can be regrouped at will to create different effects, which lets you design and redesign your mini-landscape at the drop of a hat.
Half the fun of planting containers is planning what to grow and how to grow it. Check out the seed racks at local garden centres or place an order with a reputable mail order company, for the newest, tastiest, or most unusual varieties of your favourite vegetables. Purple beans, golden beets and tomatoes, white radishes, and rainbow-coloured chard are not only delicious to eat, they also look great in their pots. You can choose to plant single crops in small, individual containers, or you can use your creativity to come up with a pleasing arrangement of several different crops in one larger container. Placed at the base of a trellis, containers can even support vining crops such as scarlet runner beans, and cucumbers or squash, which are happy to clamber upwards with a bit of support. Use these climbers to screen an ugly fence or wall, or to give you some privacy from your neighbours.
It's fun to experiment with foliage shapes, textures, and colours to create the most dramatic effect possible. Herbs are particularly suited for interplanting with vegetables, but don't forget, the flowers of some annuals such as nasturtiums and calendulas are edible too, and would make a colourful addition to a container planting.
Food crops as diverse as carrots, salad greens, radishes, zucchini, tomatoes, peas, dill, basil, and rosemary will thrive in a collection of assorted pots, half-barrels, wooden planters, baskets, and window boxes. Make sure that your chosen containers are at least 20 cm deep, although 30 cm or more would be better.
To prepare containers for planting, fill them with a good-quality container soil mix, available at most garden centres, and add a handful of organic fertilizer, such as compost, before sowing seeds. Although you might want to use garden soil to fill your planters, resist the temptation, as it has a tendency to compact like concrete and damage plant roots.
Most vegetables and herbs need at least six to eight hours of sunshine a day to mature on schedule, so choose your spot accordingly. However, be prepared to provide trellises or screening on concrete patios and balconies for protection from intense, reflected mid-day heat.
Container-grown crops need to be watered at least once a day, and sometimes more often, depending on the temperature and size of container. Such frequent watering leaches valuable nutrients from the soil so it's a good idea to use a balanced fertilizer (20-20-20) every two weeks to promote healthy and rapid growth. An organic mulch on the soil's surface will help replace some nutrients and will also help conserve soil moisture.
Although growing edibles is considered to be a purely practical pastime by most gardeners, you will be delighted at the creative opportunities presented by container gardening, not to mention the luxury of the sensational flavours of home-grown produce.

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