In the garden: No yard? Grow fresh feast right from porch, deck

  • Fresh vegetables Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Container plants can be surprisingly productive, and you can’t beat fresh flavor. You will also have more control over soil and light. Daily Gazette file

  • Bonnie Bernat, secretary of the South Schuylkill, Pa., Garden Club, waters plants. The South Schuylkill Garden Club opened the Walborn Community Playground Children’s Interactive Garden on Walborn Avenue in Orwigsburg, Pa., on Sunday, June 9, 2019. The project was generously funded by the Fred V. Knecht Memorial Fund, South Schuylkill Garden Club, National Garden Clubs and the Garden Club Federation of Pennsylvania. (Andy Matsko/The Republican-Herald via AP) Andy Matsko

  • File photoLocal farmers grow a lot of potatoes, beets, carrots, parsnips, rutabagas, turnips, radishes, celeriac and sweet potatoes. Root vegetables store well and are available even in the depths of winter.

  • There are a lot of vegetables that can be started from seed right now that will have you eating well long before summer is over. AP file

  • When raised beds are planted densely with annual vegetables, each season removes some of the fertility. (Handout/TNS) submitted photo

For the Monitor
Published: 6/24/2019 11:56:37 AM

No yard? No problem! You can grow a lot of edibles in containers right on your sunny porch, deck, patio or balcony.

Even though it is late June, you can still plant vegetable seedlings and they will catch up. Look for the healthiest transplants you can find. Tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and melons are warm weather lovers and need a long season to produce edible fruits. They also need to be grown in your sunniest spot. In the Concord area we have about 90 days left until the first frost is expected.

There are a lot of vegetables that can be started from seed right now that will have you eating well long before summer is over. Beans and peas take only 50 to 60 days, cucumbers and squash 45 to 50 days. Greens are even faster and can handle some shade and cold weather. Leaf lettuce and chard will give you edible leaves in about 30 days. When harvesting, rather than cutting off the whole head, just snip the outer leaves and let the center of the plant continue to grow. This will give you a steady supply of leaves to cut each week. Colorful, frilly varieties of lettuce such as “Lollo Rossa” and “Red Sails” look as pretty as any flower and can share a large pot with a taller plant like a pepper or eggplant. Their shallow roots only need about 6 inches of space. Spinach and kale are excellent greens for container culture. They love cooler weather and will keep on growing through fall.

Don’t forget the herbs! Grow what you use most, whether it be mint for mojitos or cilantro for salsa. Keep pots of rosemary, chives, and basil or a hanging basket of thyme, parsley, and oregano by the kitchen door. You’ll be sure to use them if they are close at hand.

Now for the nitty-gritty.

Anything that holds soil can be used to grow your container crops. Bear in mind that metal heats up in the sun and terra cotta dries out fast. Big pots full of soil are heavy so be careful not to overload your balcony or deck.

Drainage is important so be sure that the pots you use have holes in the bottom or your plants may drown. Raising the pots up on bricks so they aren’t sitting in water also helps with drainage.

 Soil is the key to any garden’s success so use a good compost-based potting soil. Regular garden soil is too heavy for container growing and doesn’t allow enough air to reach the roots. If you must use it, mix in compost and perlite to improve the soil’s aeration.

 Don’t crowd the plants! They need room for their roots to grow. An indeterminate tomato plant needs at least 5 gallons of soil. You can plant quick growing crops like radishes or shallow rooted ones like lettuce around slower-growing, fruit-bearing plants like tomatoes and peppers. They will be harvested and gone before the larger plants need the extra room.

 After planting be sure to water your plants regularly. The smaller the container or larger the plant, the faster they will dry out. Try to keep the soil evenly moist. To test it, stick your finger in and water when it feels dry about an inch down in the soil. Avoiding wide swings from excessively dry to soaking wet will help you to avoid problems like blossom end rot from ruining your peppers and tomatoes.

 Fertilize heavy feeders like tomatoes and squash with fish emulsion or compost tea every few weeks to keep them well fed.

 To make good use of your space on a small balcony or porch, train climbers like pole beans, cucumbers, and peas to grow up using vertical supports such as bamboo poles, netting or a trellis.

Container growing has its advantages. You will have more control over soil and light. There will be fewer pests to deal with and by using a commercial potting mix no soil-borne diseases should bother you. The plants are nearby so you can quickly pick what you need for a meal. If bending is problem for you, raise the pots up on a table where you can reach them easily.

Container plants can be surprisingly productive and you can’t beat the fresh flavor of a ripe, home-grown tomato! For more information and ideas, check out the book The Bountiful Container by McGee and Stuckey.




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