Time to share!
Before I get into my urban gardening experiences. Let me give you a bit of background. I have always loved nature and plants. All of my elementary school science projects revolved around plants, how they grow and how we can help them grow. I’ve also had many interests in sustainability. So it made sense for me to go to Oberlin College (which I affectionately call hippie school) and study biology and botany. Fun fact about Oberlin, it has been on Forbes List of top colleges and universities in America and it is always listed as one of the most vegan friendly!
Anyway, after Oberlin I went to graduate school and received my masters in horticultural science. I bred zinnias for water stress tolerance and disease resistance. So I basically spent two years working with beautiful flowers all day.
Wanted to keep it up so after school I worked at Longwood Gardens. America’s most visited botanical gardens.
I was fortunate at Longwood I was provided with greenhouse space and a garden plot to garden to my hearts content. I planted purple cauliflower, cabbage, peppers, okra, cucumbers and gherkins and lots and lots of zinnias. It was awesome.
Fast forward to this year. I wanted another garden. But I live in a town house where my “backyard” is mostly shaded, home to my boyfriend’s grill and our patio furniture. The “front yard” is maintained by the property and thus subject to the homeowners association. I decided to try a balcony garden.
I have a degree in working with plants but my veggie gardening is fairly limited. So I went to Pinterest. I saw that people purchased large storage containers drilled holes in the bottom and filled it with potting mix to make a raised bed or container garden.
Do that is what I did. I started out in late winter seeding inside. I picked up some seed starter trays from the dollar tree and seeded, green beans, beets, zucchini, spinach, snack peppers, lettuce, mint and basil. I grew them under desk lamp light until they got larger.
I then planted them up into 4 inch or 6 inch pots and moved them to the window.
Once it got warm enough (and after April 15th our last frost date!) I planted them into my containers outside.
Instead of walking you through the entire season let me share some things that I learned.
- I got too excited and planted too many things and way too close together. When it comes to container planting less is more. Plants are already confined to the container they don’t need to compete with each other for space too!
- Some things just aren’t suited for containers. My poor poor zucchini! They were planted too close and even after I thinned them they still did not have enough space.
- You have to keep up with the fertilizing, especially if you are harvesting. An in ground garden does not need to be fertilized as often but with the limited organic matter and nutrients you gotta keep an eye on this! Watch for yellowing or slowing in growth or fruit production.
- Container plants dry out so quickly! My balcony more or less gets full sun. Containers only hold but so much water so I had to water the garden every day. Which made it difficult when going on vacation. I usually had to pull them all into the house for long weekends when I was not there.
- Many plants will outgrow the container unless you keep them cut back. My basil and mint QUICKLY out grew the containers and I had to pot them into larger containers and keep them cut back so they would maintain their size.
- The harvest was not that bountiful. Plants need a lot of space to grow a lot of food. I probably harvested about 30 green beans and six beets. I did have nearly too many snack peppers and lettuce; I couldn’t harvest them fast enough! The basil and mint are plentiful. But no spinach, no zucchini, sadly.
- Keep an eye out for pests and diseases. Remove diseased material from the container as to not continuous re-infect the plant.
This was definitely a summer of trial and error. This fall I will focus on a few plants that do well in small containers. I will keep you posted. Until then hopefully this helps give you an idea of what its like to start a container garden!