How to Grow Vegetables in Pots
Growing vegetables in containers can be one of the most rewarding gardening projects you can explore. Almost anything can be grown in a container, given that you supply the container with everything that your plants need. Once you discover how easy container gardening is, you will want to try growing everything that you like to eat in a container.
Growing plants is as much an art as it is a science, so by all means, do not ever get discouraged if you kill a plant or even many plants. And growing plants inside can be even more challenging than growing them outside. Just remember, even the very best professionals kill lots of plants!
What You Will Need to Grow Food in a Container Garden
During winter, you can grow an abundance of fresh salads and herbs on a sunny window sill. The window should face south or southeast and be away from drafts and vents. In addition or alternatively, you can use full spectrum grow lights positioned a few inches above your plants for 10 hours per day. The most economical grow lights are a mixture of cool white and warm white fluorescent bulbs like the ones used in shop lights. Shop light fixtures are also the most economical. If you notice that your plants are stretching to reach the light, this is a sign that they are not getting enough light. Having white or light colored walls in your gardening area will help to reflect light.
You can use almost anything as a container garden. For larger plants you can use 5 gallon buckets, storage bins, trash cans, kiddie swimming pools, or even large reusable grocery bags. For smaller plants you can use buckets, large food cans, flower pots, large ice cream containers, cut off milk gallon jugs, or wooden boxes. As long as it has holes in the bottom for drainage and will hold soil, you can convert anything into a vegetable container garden.
Choose a good quality, organic potting soil and mix it with one quarter by volume of compost, and Azomite.™ Azomite™ is a clay powder that supplies 70 minerals and trace minerals to plants. Your herbs and salads will be more nutritious and will taste better. For vegetables, mix Azomite™ according to label directions. Use half the recommended amount for the containers in which you will plant herbs. Most herbs taste better when the soil is “lean” (not nutrient rich) and drier, so be careful to not water them to often.
To fertilize container gardens grown inside, use kelp seaweed and/or compost tea every one to two weeks for vegetables and once a month for herbs. You can add fish emulsion if you do not mind the odor.
It is best to water plants with room temperature water to avoid cooling down the soil and shocking your plants. If you live in a city where the water is chlorinated, letting the water sit out overnight will allow the chlorine to dissipate. If you have a reverse osmosis system, this water would be ideal. Water plants when you can insert your finger into this soil up to the first knuckle and it feels dry. Do not allow a water pool to stand around the roots, since this will kill the roots.
When you water, make sure you always thoroughly saturate the soil. While over watering can cause just as many problems as under watering, soil should dry out a little between watering. Unless a plant is in unsuitable soil, over watering is a matter of watering too often, as opposed to watering too much at one time. There are certain plants that do like to be consistently moist, such as watercress. The seed packet or plant tag will usually state that the plant likes moist conditions.
The best way to prevent disease and insect problems is to keep your plants healthy with good soil, adequate light and good cultural practices. Some plant diseases and insect infestations cause plants to wilt. If your plant’s roots have died, the plant will wilt and most likely will not recover. If the area where you are growing your plants inside is humid and lacks air movement, you may want to run an oscillation fan on low.
If you have let watering go for too long and your soil has completely dried out, watering until water comes out the bottom will not be sufficient since the soil is simply shedding water. Try sitting the container in water until the container feels heavy to make sure the soil is thoroughly saturated. Do not fertilize until the next time you water, this could shock your plants.
Many of the common insect problems gardeners experience outside are avoided by growing inside. Be on the lookout for a aphids, which look like tiny orange, yellow, or green water balloons and tend to cling to underneath stems and leaves. In dry conditions, spider mites might become a problem. Either of these can be treated with neem or insecticidal soap.
When grown inside, the lifespan of the plants will be dramatically reduced. When your plants stop producing, simply pull them up by their roots and add them to your compost pile. Add your container soil to your compost pile and start with fresh soil. If you have had any disease problems, do not reuse the soil or add either the soil or plants to your compost.
How to Start Seeds for a Container Garden Salad Grown Inside
One of the easiest things to grow inside in containers is spring greens. Spring greens is a mixture of leafy greens that have been harvested when they are small. You will be surprised how much better your homegrown spring greens taste than the ones in the clear boxes and bags at the grocery store, and you will save money. To keep a constant supply, plant a new batch of seeds every 3 to 4 weeks. Most seed packets contain enough seeds to plant several successions of plants, which will be enough to last at least a year. Store seeds in a tightly sealed plastic box or tin in a cool dark place to extend their viability.
Lettuce, spinach, lambs lettuce, arugula, parsley, kale, Swiss chard, chives, watercress, dill, salad burnet, and sweet basil are just a few of this spring greens that are easy to grow in a container inside. All of these are easy to start from seed. Although some of these plants would get large if you allowed them to do so, for use as spring greens you will be harvesting them often to eat fresh, so this will keep them small.
To plant spring greens in a container, any container that is at least 6 inches deep will suffice. You can plant several varieties in a large container or plant each variety in a separate container. Place coffee filters over the holes in the container and fill with soil to within 1 inch of the top to allow room for watering. The coffee filter keeps the soil in but allows excess water to drain. Moisten soil before planting.
Plant seeds as deeply as the package directs, or three times as deep as the seed is wide. Sprinkle the top of the soil with cinnamon to prevent damping off, which is when the plants fall over (and look like your dog has taken a nap on them!). There is no need to fertilize baby plants until they have produced the first set of ‘true leaves,” or the second set of leaves. Thin according to package directions by cutting off the least robust plants at the soil line with scissors.
Grow a Container Garden Salad or Container Herb Garden Inside
Even though we think of dill, basil, etc., as herbs, some do double duty to brighten up a salad and can be grown inside. Try growing rosemary, oregano, sweet marjoram, savory, mustard, and sage inside to have a fresh, economical supply of herbs for this winter. If you have any of these in containers outside, you can bring them inside after making sure they do not have any insects.
Leaf lettuce is the easiest to grow inside and comes in many colors and shapes. Rainbow Swiss chard is colorful, easy to grow and adds a buttery taste to a salad. Red Russian kale adds color and texture to a salad. Spinach likes cooler temperatures and can be enjoyed cooked or raw. Mustard greens are spicy. To harvest any of these, choose the outside leaves and leave the inside leaves to continue to grow. None of these plants likes to be by a heat vent.
Add flavor to your salad with radishes, which mature quickly and come in a variety of colors. Bunching onions are started from seed and taste like mild onions. Chives and garlic chives are pretty and add onion or garlic flavor to salads and potatoes. Salad burnet has a mild cucumber flavor and pretty leaves.
Growing a vegetable garden in containers provides many benefits. You will be able to choose the tastiest varieties of vegetables and herbs when you start from seed. You will be surprised how much better vegetables fresh from your indoor garden taste. When you grow your own food, there are very few limitations.