Make Container Gardening Your New Thing and Unleash Your Gardening Potential.

For us gardening purists, there is only one way to garden. At least their was. You dug up a patch of lawn and planted stuff in rows. Then some forward thinking person, probably with terrible soil and /or back issues, thought there had to be a better way. So they made a tall box and filled it with better soil, planted some rows of stuff and relished in just how easy it was to garden that way. But that wasn’t good enough. An engineer named Mel thought traditional row gardening was a waste of valuable growing space. He went on to utilize every square foot of his raised beds and set the standard for easy to achieve, high-yield gardening. Today, the world of gardening continues to evolve.

Along the way, a small part of gardening that many of us were already doing got overlooked: containers. Maybe we had an herb or two, a patio tomato, or some cute miniature pepper plant but that was it. Never anything serious. Well I am here to tell you different. Container gardening may just be the next big thing. Why? With the rise in urban gardening and homesteading, containers are a great way to make up for a lack of space. City and condo dwellers have been doing that for a long time. There are several reasons why you should jump into container gardening or consider adding containers to your existing setup. So instead of looking down on those who choose to grow stuff in pots, I say add it to your arsenal.

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Containers are a Great Beginning

If you are a budding novice gardener, or on your first gardening baby step, containers are a great way to get started. You can start slowly with just a few pots and easy to grow stuff and then add to it as you get more proficient. And should gardening suddenly not be the thing for you, then you won’t have the regret of all the time and money spent on raised beds. And you won’t have the added labor of trying to turn garden back to lawn.

I recommend starting with something easy, like lettuce or another fast-sprouting leafy vegetable. They are easy to grow and can handle a variety of conditions and it will help you gain proficiency and confidence as a gardener. Then as you get bolder, you can move on to tomatoes, peppers, even potatoes.

Containers Eliminate a lot of Problems

When you plan a garden or where to put a raised bed, you need to consider what you will be growing and how much direct sun it likes. Lettuce bolts easy in the heat, so having partial shade will help counter that and result in bigger leaves, but then what about the others that want that full sun? Now stuff is getting complicated…..not with containers though. Put them wherever you want and move them when you need to. Right now my patio lettuce is doing great in full sun. Once we get into July though, I will move it to a spot that gets a lot of afternoon shade. I can’t move my raised beds.

If water conservation is important to you, containers use far less water than even raised beds. Water your containers directly with a can or a wand and you avoid all that wasted water that just leaches into the water table. Some types of containers such as thin walled plastic ones, can dry out a little faster, so be aware of what you are growing in. The thicker the better. And a saucer to catch the excess helps as well especially with clay pots. The same rules apply to fertilizing containers. You need a lot less so you will save money there as well.

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You can get creative in your watering methods if you are imaginative and handy.

Weeding, even in raised beds is tough. No one likes doing it. In containers it’s a lot easier. Your not weeding the empty space in between rows, and if you want, put your pots on a higher surface to make it even easier. I have six pots and a planter so I just run through them quick. I pull a lot less weeds from my containers than from my beds. You don’t have to worry about tilling containers in the spring. You can either work the soil around with a trowel, or dump it out into a larger container such as a wheelbarrow, mix and re-fill.

Containers make it economically feasible to use a higher quality soil. If you want to use a high end  garden soil it can get costly to buy enough to fill your raised beds, or till into your garden in a quantity enough to make a difference.  Not so with containers. You will need a significantly lesser quantity of soil, so you can spend that savings on quality. Ideally you want something high in organic matter, maybe a little perlite and some peat. Even using this, it’s best to mix in a handful of native soil. What you want are those beneficial microbes that sterilized bagged soils won’t have.

Container Gardening for Kids

Growing stuff in containers is a great way to introduce your kids to growing their own food. How many of us grew stuff in cups or small pots as a project in school? We did beans. A decent sized pot, some soil, and a seed or two is all you need. You can’t tell me they won’t anxiously be checking every day to see if the seed sprouted, or measuring how much taller their pepper plant is today than yesterday. Children learn to care for things, it teaches responsibility and patience and is a great way to teach them a little biology and love of nature along the way. Your children get to see where food comes from, to a lesser extent.

Keeping Furry Pests Away

Growing things in containers can put them out of the feeding range of may smaller pests. Bigger pots ensure that further still. I had my lettuce ravaged last year, along with my spinach. If I wasn’t such a fan of Watership Down, I might have taken steps. Since I switched to pots and moved them to the deck, nothing has bothered the rather abundant lettuce crop I have growing. Not even the deer.

Are there downsides? Sure. Containers can dry out fast, or drain poorly. Large plants will need large pots and that can get heavy. High winds can knock stuff over. But the good outweighs the bad as long as you use quality pots, know the peculiarities of what you are growing, and manage your risks. Enjoy and explore the possibilities of this option. It can expand your gardening possibilities.

If you don’t try, you never learn.

pro tip

 

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Cold Spring: Gardening in Cold Weather

The official first day of spring was Wednesday, March 20th. By the weather we have been having, you would think it was yesterday. The cold, dreariness of winter slogged on. Sure the snows melted, and the ground thawed. But until recently, that’s about all we can say has happened. April was drier and colder than usual, leading to a bleak, cold and wet start to May. We have had a few days of promising temperatures so far. But this time  they seem like aberrations, rather than the gradual warming trend we see going into May.

May is usually that month where upstate New York gardeners are feeling confident about the danger of frost being behind us, and we wait patiently for a few weeks for our soil to get warm enough so that our seeds will sprout and our transplanted seedlings thrive. Not so much this year. The weather has been terrible. While we had a good day here or there, nighttime temperatures have been dipping into the low forties, and occasionally high 30’s. In fact as I write this, it’s expected to dip to 42 degrees tonight.

I had a ton of seedlings ready to go. I had pots with lettuce loitering around inside waiting to go out (the dog kept eyeballing them, she has a taste for romaine…). I had a transplanted fig and several raspberry plants that needed to get put in the ground as well. Only the weather was stopping me. I wasn’t too concerned about sowing seeds at this point. All of my slower growing plants, like peppers, tomatoes, kale and brussel sprouts were putting on size, and I had to transplant them from starting cells to 3″ pots.

So on a nice day last week, I decided to start the hardening off process. If you have never done this, it’s the process of giving plants started indoors time to acclimate to being outside.  Plants started under grow lights in stable temperature will burn up, die back or otherwise wilt when exposed to the harsh temperature fluctuations and glaring sunlight of the great outdoors.

So my plan was to put them outside during the day on nice days giving them a chance to adapt. After a few days of this, I made the decision that they were ready. My arrogance and impatience would prove costly. But I forged on anyway. The first cold night outside, I dug a pit in one of my raised beds, dropped a storm window over it for a cover, and housed my plants in the improvised cold frame. This is where it started to go bad. The first few days they were in the frame, it was clear and really sunny, but temps were barely in the 40’s. I wasn’t concerned because I had been monitoring the bed temperature and it was staying around 50. But I failed to consider the effect of the sunshine through the glass. Almost everything in the cold frame got scorched being under clear glass. Not fatal, but decidedly ugly.  Thankfully, they have strong roots.

Last weekend was sunny and warm. I took advantage of that to get all of my raised beds tilled, and with a few days of decent weather on the horizon I decided to plant my potatoes, all of my transplants, and sow the remaining beds. I mean it was 60 degrees, almost mid-May. Safe space right? So I removed my wretched looking transplants from, the improvised cold frame and got them into the ground. I figured this would give them a measure of protection. WRONG AGAIN.

The temperature snapped back down. We barely made it into the 50’s here during the day, and back into the low 40’s most nights. At this point I think the transplants were hardened off enough that they just accepted the suffering. Poor little things. They are ugly looking for sure, with their  scalded leaves and withered appearance, but they are gamely hanging on. As you can see below the next few days things seem to be picking up.

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I am hoping that being planted in good soil, some warm sun, and decent average temperatures will snap them out of their sunburnt funk. A shot of organic garden fertilizer will help too. I will give the a few weeks to snap out of it. If they don’t I need to consider replacement options. On the plus side, my potato seedlings are already showing above ground., and I saw some bean sprouts this morning. My brussell sprout transplants appear to be indestructible. Not a mark on them. And above all else, my lettuce which has lived outside in pots for weeks now is loving life. In fact it’s doing so well, I started two more pots of romaine.

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This entire fiasco has taught me three things. First, I need to stop screwing around and build a few proper cold frames before fall. Second, I am considering black plastic to warm the beds faster, and to keep it on until late may with the transplants. Last, I need to be more patient. Not having a cold frame ready, I should have just made a home for everything in the unheated garage. It would have blunted the worst of the cold.

WELL, LIVE AND LEARN. Another update coming soon as things progress.

Spring relentlessly pushes forth and my green soul longs to keep pace.

Growing Lettuce Indoors: The Basement Lettuce Experiment

My experiment with growing lettuce indoors from seed is progressing nicely. I posted once before about why I decided to do this, so I won’t go through all that again. I am happy with where things are right now. So far it’s been pretty easy.  I feel I should have done this much sooner.

So everything has been transferred to clay pots for a few weeks now. The romaine has started to darken a little and is now starting to show some size. It’s about 5-6 inches tall now. The red butter lettuce is starting to spread out a bit. I have never seen it mature. When I planted it last year, the critters got to it. So I am not sure of the final size, although I must admit I bought it on a whim just to have a little variety and didn’t do much research. I do have one stunted plant. Not sure what’s going on there. I gave it a little tug to check root development and it didn’t seem to develop the roots the others did. It’s still hanging in there, so I won’t get rid of it yet.

I think I am to the point now where they can come out of the basement and up to a sunny location. Outside is not an option for at least another 4 weeks, a little less if I protect it somehow. The trick is to find a spot in the house with enough sun, out of reach of the dog. She has a taste for romaine and pretty much any leafy green.

While we are on the subject of plants being started in my basement, I would like to introduce some new members of the 2019 Garden family, just arrived from Burpee.

On the left of the first photo is a Bristol raspberry, to the right of it, a Violette de Bordeaux fig.   The photo on the right are a variety of heirloom raspberry. A quick word on the fig……It’s supposed to be hardy for my growing zone. It’s a bush, not a tree, that grows 6-10 feet tall, is supposed to be a prolific fruiter after a few years growth, and the fruit is reported to be very sweet. A caution should be sounded here, that Burpee recommends netting to keep the birds off it. Now, look at the little tiny rooted cutting in the 3″ pot Burpee sent me. That cost $20.00. I would have sought out a better option had I known that is what I would get. Here is a fully grown specimen:

Violette de Bordeaux

I think it may take a little bit to get there. But I want to see how it goes. I may end up planting a few since I have a big open sunny space. Excess fruit can be dehydrated so I don’t worry about overproduction.

Well, that’s it for the update. Greener days are coming. The warmer weather has me aching to be outside. I caution myself with the fact that we were blanketed with snow when I got up on April 1, so conditions are still subject to sudden change here.

If you like what you see here, subscribe. Spring is in the air and new material will start coming faster now that there is so much good green stuff to go see and do. And for those of you who have already, thank you.

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