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October 17th, 2017
Gardening with Limits

Q6. What should you grow in the same container as tomatoes to improve their flavor? (P27)

Gardening with Limits

"Zero - Mile" Diet of Fresh Produce a Few Feet Away!

by Beth Parker

Just imagine, sitting out on your balcony, with fresh flowers blooming a few feet away, while you feast on sun-ripped tomatoes sprinkled with fresh basil from your container garden! Whether you are in a house with a beautiful garden, a condo or an apartment, container gardening can work for anyone. It may be a collection of your favorite pots and containers on a rooftop, or a simple window box filled with herbs.

It is often seen and heard these days about the 100-Mile Diet for their vegetable, considering that containers offer fresh food just a few feet away! Grow your favorite nutritious foods - picking the ones you like to eat best. Today, in modern urban gardening, vegetable gardens do not have to be boring, or as some people call 'ugly'. A collection of well-planned containers can bring a vibrant splash of colour and texture to your back yard, balcony, rooftop or deck gardens. Plus you can pick a bouquet to enjoy indoors.

You may be surprised how many vegetables and flowers can be grown in containers, the key is that the pot is a suitable size for the type of plant, that there's enough sun and you're careful about watering and feeding. It's even possible to plant a "barrel pond" and fill it with miniature water lilies.

One big advantage of container gardening is that you can pick the soil type. Plants that like acid soil (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant) can be planted in a container with acid soil. Flowers like clematis (growing up a small trellis in the container) and cucumbers prefer alkaline soil.

More great benefits of container gardening

You can "separate" your garden. For instance, if you don't want vegetables in your flowerbed, you can pick a sunny spot and use a container. It is easier to make your container portable so you can plant for sun or shade; and if needed, you can move your containers through the day to keep them happy.

It's low maintenance. Most weeds can't grow in a crowded container, and when they do, it's easy to pull them out. You can even arrange your containers off the ground so there's no bending or kneeling.

Beautify your surroundings and get more rewards with a mixture of vegetables and flowers.

Keep it simple and take small steps

Here are some ideas for your container garden - don't be afraid to try one even if you aren't a gardener. Start with something simple. Choose a container that "speaks to you", fill it with proper potting soil and a hardy flower plant like geraniums or marigolds and mix in your favourite vegetable pla nt. A great advantage to geraniums and marigolds is that they keep insects and squirrels away. They also bloom all season and can withstand heat and drought (if you forget to water them!).


Location, Location

Balconies

Most balconies are subject to some extreme weather. Your balcony may be mostly dry and sunny, shaded, and probably windy. These conditions all impact how well your balcony plants thrive.

  • If your balcony is very windy, you might want to put up a screen or trellis for protection

  • Consider scented plants for balconies because you'll be able to enjoy them from inside as well as outside, e.g. Freesias, sweet peas, miniature roses, lavender, etc.

    Rooftop

    Like balconies, rooftop gardens experience weather extremes, such as heat. But full sun is great for vegetables and herbs. Consider putting up a sturdy trellis to protect your plants, make sure you've got a water supply nearby and mulch around the soil.

    Wall planting & hanging baskets

    There are a variety of lightweight wall-hanging pots you can attach to a wall at the side of a balcony. Remember to plant with trailing vines or ivy so that by midseason, the pot is brimming with growth.

    Cherry tomatoes can do very well in a hanging plant as long as you pick a container that's large enough and there's enough sunshine. Beans, peas and cucumbers also do well as these "upside down gardens".

    Picking a container

    Almost anything can be used, but make sure it is big enough and there are drainage holes in the bottom. Poor drainage is the biggest reason most container gardens fail. The pot is best slightly raised off the ground, sitting in a saucer or tray, so that water can drain out of the holes. If the planter has been used before, make sure it is clean before you use it.

    The bigger the pot the more you can plant. If the pot is large enough, you can add a small shrub or perennial in the middle where it can be left over winter.

    Be creative and think outside the container

    You don't have to buy a container. Look around your home or a local garage sale for ideas. Creative containers include old iron or copper pots, wire baskets lined with moss, antique pails, wooden buckets and boxes, an old washtub or even a claw tooth bathtub (for a large space.) Remember, if you can't make drainage holes, insert a flower pot or container inside the more decorative piece.

    Preparing your garden

    1. At the bottom of the container, place "chunks", course grit, stones, sand, broken clay pots. This helps drainage because it pulls excess water away from the roots. If the container is very large and you're worried about its weight, Styrofoam "peanuts' work well.
    2. Fill the container around and above the chunks with soil. Don't use dirt of garden soil, but a container of "soil-less' mixture from a garden centre.
    3. Leave about an inch at the top so you have room for watering.
    4. Arrange plants with larger ones in the middle or at the back; vines and smaller plants near the rim.

    Design Tips for Flowering Planters

      Think "contrast".
    • Pick out plants with an assortment of leaves that range from dark green to bright lime green. Make sure you've got a red/burgundy leafed plant and perhaps a couple with variegated leaves.
    • If you have room for 12 plants, don't pick 12 different ones. 3-4 varieties are best.
    • All plant colours go together so don't over-think it. You can always move plants around later, plus you learn as you go.
    • Pay attention to the various leaf colours and textures. Pick spikey leaves (Dracaena) as well as trailing leaves (ivy).
    • Add a bit of interest, like a ceramic frog or miniature garden gnome!
    • Make sure you group more than one container together, with large pots, shorter as well as wide ones. Select varying textures of terra cotta, glazed pottery, wood, etc.

    Maintaining your container garden

    • Water to keep moist but not soaking. There are soils available that keep moisture levels high, but be careful, too much water is usually far worse than too little.
    • Feed from 6-8 weeks after planting right into autumn. Pick a slow release granular fertilizer that lasts the season.
    • "Deadhead", meaning pinch off the flowers after they bloom to encourage more blooms.
    • Spray or mist regularly (plants love this). If you're worried about insects, mix a ½ tsp. of dish soap into the spray.
    • If a plant dies, remove it.

    Reliable container combinations for flowers

    • English ivy, geraniums and lime green "sweet potato" vine (Ipomoea).
    • Multi colour coleus, black "sweet potato" vine (Ipomoea) and Petunias.
    • Containers full of various Coleus on their own make a stunning display.
    • Silvery leaves of dusty Miller, Trailing Purple Lobelia and Impatience.
    • Licorice Vine, Marigolds, Begonias and Dracaena Spikes.

    Remember, herbs can easily be mixed in with containers containing flowers or vegetables: parsley, basil, lavender, rosemary and oregano work well.

    Reliable vegetable container gardens

    When choosing vegetables, the most important consideration is how many hours of sunlight. Never choose a container that has been used for anything toxic! Make sure the container is large enough, and use a "soil less mix" container soil.

  • Miniature eggplant.
  • Tomato plants (regular or cherry) but you'll need a container at least 5 gallons in size.
  • Pots filled with baby greens: lettuce, spinach, mesclun mix, arugula.
  • Compact varieties of cucumbers and beans.
  • Swiss chard.
  • Peppers, all varieties.
  • All combinations of herbs, mixed in with vegetables or on their own.
    • Good Herb Combinations for Containers

      Sage, rosemary, lavender, thyme and germander.

      Cilantro, oregano, lemon balm and basil.

      Oregano, thyme, lemon verbena, lemon balm, parsley, cilantro.

      Thyme, mint, basil, oregano.

      Note! Grow basil in the same container as tomatoes to improve their flavor.

      Tips for Successful Container Vegetables

      • Don't overcrowd!
      • The biggest challenge is water. Make sure the container is large enough, with proper drainage.
      • Use fertilizer formulated for vegetables.
      • Pick when ripe to encourage more produce.
      • Spread some mulch over the top to prevent water from evaporating.
      • If sun is an issue, put your containers on wheels you can move them around during the day to get the required 6-8 hours.


      Resources:

      The New Gardener, The Practical Guide to Gardening Basics, Pippa Greenwood, Elan Press

      Gardening for Canadians for Dummies, IDG Books

      Toronto Balcony Blooms



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