Vegetable Garden, Part Iv: Containers Are The Answer

February 04, 2010|By SUSAN REIMER

Containers are the answer for the vegetable gardener short on space or sunlight, or one caught in a tug of war with hungry critters.

"You can grow everything but corn in a container," said Kerry Michaels, who writes about container gardening online at

Michaels has grown tomato plants in recyclable grocery bags and old laundry baskets and lettuces in yard-sale colanders. But she says the introduction of self-watering containers has made all the difference.

These containers have a reservoir at the base and the soil wicks the water - and fertilizers - up to the roots in a slow, deliberate fashion, eliminating the drought-wet cycles that can stress any plant and cause disease.

"Self-watering changed my life," said Michaels.

That's because a consistent source of moisture might be the toughest part of container gardening. A downpour can flood your container, and pots can dry out quickly on a hot summer day.

Michaels doesn't have many of those warm days where she lives in Maine. But gardening in containers allows her to "chase the sun."

She loads up the wagons her friends and neighbors have learned to give her and drags her "gardens" in and out of the protection of the garage during early summer and in and out of the sunshine later.

I plant lettuces and spinach in containers on my deck because they are semiprotected from the early spring cold and I can move them into the shade when the weather gets hot. Michaels is an organic gardener and prefers organic soil mixes as well as kelp and seaweed and fish emulsion fertilizers that she applies every other week.

"You really do need to feed them like crazy," she said.

Fresh soil and containers cleaned with a mixture of water and vinegar or water and bleach are key, too. Diseases can winter-over in your containers. I plant my tomatoes in containers on my deck, where they are safe from a blight fungus that seems to be in my garden.

Gardener's Supply Co., as well as many local lawn and garden centers, will have the self-watering containers you need to get started on your vegetable container garden. But Michaels uses anything she sees. The larger the better, to maintain soil temperature and retain moisture.

Michaels' biggest surprise in container gardening? "How amazing the potatoes taste when you grow them yourself."

Which she did. In a bag. On top of a picnic bench.

"Containers allow you to control the variables more," she said. "And that includes the critters."

Next week: Vegetable gardening by the square foot

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