Friday, February 6, 2009

New to container gardening? I'm here to help.

(Mid June, 2008- it seems so far away)

Hiya Erin, glad you stopped by. I was going to post this response to your questions in the comments section, but it got really big, and besides, it all bears repeating because (hoists self up onto soapbox) everyone should be growing at least some of their own food, and now more than ever.

You'll be happy to know there's so much more to container gardening than tomatoes. A great book I recommend is called "Movable Harvests" by Crandall and Crandall. It talks about soil mixes in detail, very important in container gardening. Another book is "The Bountiful Container" by McGee and Stuckey. That book has a big following, but personally I find it too cutesy, with far too many pages dedicated to edible flowers. Also, I prefer photographs to line illustrations- the former has photos, the latter does not.

Ok, some advice!

My number one piece of advice- If you're new to container gardening, start small the first year. If you try to grow too much you'll be completely overwhelmed and probably never want to do it again. There's a lot to learn, and you learn it plant by plant.

My number 2- Grow what you like to cook and eat, plain and simple.

Number 3- Think vertically. Any vining plant (squash, peas, pole beans, small melons) can be tied and trained upwards with poles, trellises and twine. If given a choice, grow vining varieties over bush varieties. They are usually far more productive.

Number 4- Get potting mix, not potting soil. There are important differences between them, number one being that roots need a lot of oxygen and potting mix allows for much better aeration. Potting soil will compact quickly and stunt your plants. Don't be attracted to the giant bags of topsoil for vegetables, they are mixed for in-ground gardens. Container gardening is a horse of a different color.

Hope that helps. If you have any specific questions, just ask.


Carolyn said...

I used garden soil last year and had ok results. I want to amend the soil i have left over to make it better. Any suggestions?

ilex said...

Carolyn, 'd recommend you add two components- finished, well-aged manure (horse or goat is best) and agricultural vermiculite.

You can buy bagged, finished manure in the big box stores, but it comes from cattle feed lots, and it's full of hormones and antibiotics. If you can get already-composted manure from a nearby horse stable, it's a lot cleaner, and it's free. Or, if you're near a rabbit rescue, rabbit poo is amazing stuff.

The vermiculite is harder to come by, but I order mine by the bushel bag from Home Harvest Garden supply. They are in Michigan- you might be able to pick it up.

And of course, you can never go wrong by adding your own home-made compost.

PJ said...

Thanks, Ilex. I need all the help I can get in the gardening/worm composting departments...apparently my brain went on vacation this week; I thought I had ordered worms and info from Happy D only to find out I only ordered books. WT_????????
No worms! :>( They'll ship this coming Monday so I have to wait a whole week for my pals to arrive.

PJ said...

Also, I was aat an antique show last night and asked around about crocks. I was told by a dealer that using old crocks for food preparation is a bad idea because there's no telling what might be leeching out of them. She said that I should just use glass containers instead. What say you, mon ami?

ilex said...

Hmm. I've never heard dealers say that about old crocks. As long as the crocks aren't cracked or pitted and the surface is smooth, old pottery ought not to leech anything. You're not supposed to use cracked or pitted crocks anyway.

But glass is great for pickling.

PJ said...

Ilex, I know that you're well informed and that's why I was so surprised by this woman's reply.
I did some looking and read that some people suggest using crocks from crock pots and then I found this article:

Very strange, I'll bet most people don't know this.

I've been going to antique stores and found three or four crocks that I'm interested in. I'm having a hard time believing all crocks are potentially poisonous. I guess I coud test it beforehand with one of those kits.

ilex said...

PJ, I just read that article about crock pots. Gosh, wow. Though really, it doesn't surprise me too much. Seems we're our only advocates these days. Thanks for the tip.

Grace said...

Hi Ilex! I was directed over to your blog by someone on KGI -- I am in my second year of container gardening on my apartment balcony. So far I'm hooked! I'll be reading up on your blog for advice. Thank you!