Last fall, I moved to a new apartment that offered not only a porch, but a cement patio area for my sole use. Right away, I knew this year I would try my hand with an edible container garden.
When I lived on the farm, I always had a large in-ground garden, but any container gardening was limited to annual flowers. Growing vegetables and herbs in pots was a new experience for me, and one that taught me a few things. So, I thought I’d pass on the lessons I learned from my first year’s endeavors.
5 LESSONS FROM MY 1ST EDIBLE CONTAINER GARDEN
1. BE PREPARED
The biggest lesson I learned this year – I needed to be better prepared.
My patio area is a decent size. Three-quarters of it gets quite a bit of sun throughout the day. The other quarter is sunny from early afternoon on. Really, it’s an ideal spot. When I first decided to have an edible container garden, I envisioned raised beds coupled with several large planters, and a healthy variety of plants.
This is what I ended up with:
- one large pot with two bean plants (one died early on),
- one tomato plant
- a boxed planter with arugula and lettuce
- a boxed planter with sweet peas
- two basil plants
As you can see, the reality ended up being a bit different than my vision. My problem was, instead of planning out my garden over the winter and obtaining all my supplies in preparation for the season, I waited until the last minute to get things ready.
Now, I can’t speak for other parts of the world, but here in southern Ontario, due to COVID, there was a major run on anything garden related this past spring. Even though I work at a garden center, by the time I got around to thinking about my own garden, seeds, soils, containers were all in short supply.
On top of that, because of the increased interest, I was working more hours than normal. So, even my time was in short supply.
Now, no one could have predicted the events of this year (which I hope never occur again!). Nor predict that gardening would become such a hot past time (which, I hope continues!). But, the lesson here still remains the same. When I had the time, I should have prepared myself. If I had, I wouldn’t have been so rushed.
Lesson # 1 – you don’t know what the future will hold, so make preparations early.
2. PICK THE RIGHT CONTAINERS
Most of my edibles were in suitably sized pots. All had drainage, which is very important. However, the container for my tomatoes wasn’t quite big enough.
My other issue, although not really to do with containers, was that I didn’t have enough dirt to fill my pots to the rim – or at least within an inch from the rim. Again, this gets back to me being rushed and not prepared.
The lack of soil only happened with my tomatoes and beans (so, my poor tomatoes got shorted on two fronts!). And, although it didn’t really harm my veggies, it was not aesthetically pleasing and something I noticed each time I watered.
Lesson #2 – make sure I have enough soil and extra large containers for my large plants.
Although I watered faithfully each night, this was a very hot, dry summer, and during that period I should’ve been watering morning and night. Again, my poor tomatoes suffered, and many eventually developed end rot, which can be the result of improper watering.
Even aside from my tomatoes, watering, in general, was something I struggled with. I under-watered my tomatoes, but I think I over-watered my peas. They didn’t fare as well either.
Being able to gauge each plant’s watering needs was a bit of a learning curve.
Lesson #3 – familiarize myself with the watering needs of my veggies and make sure to keep a closer eye on my watering schedule.
Initially, I had all my plants in one location – the area of my cement patio that received full sun the majority of the day. My tomatoes, beans, and basil I kept in this spot throughout the season, as they’re all sun lovers. However, as the summer progressed, my peas and greens I moved to a partially shaded area. It was simply too hot in the original location for these cool weather vegetables.
In truth, these veggies should have been in the cooler location from the start. They became stressed under the intense heat. As I said, although I harvested a few peas, they did not fare well and I’m not sure if this was from too hot a location, over-watering, or a fungal issue.
Lesson #4 – keep my cool weather plants in cooler spots throughout the season.
When I first planted my seeds, I sprinkled cayenne pepper around the soil. I had good success with this. Early on, my seeds and plants weren’t bothered by any critters, even though there are a number of squirrels in the area. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep that up and later in the season, something ate my lettuce. I saw a little rabbit in the yard, so I’m guessing he was the culprit!
The problem here was two-fold. I didn’t continue to take precautions against critters, such as sprinkling the pepper or any other deterrent. Second, I had my lettuce container on the ground. This was way too easily accessible for animals such as rabbits.
As for the ickier pests, I saw a few clover mites on my beans early in the season. A quick wash took care of them. But, apart from this, I didn’t experience any pest issues, other than one or two beans having a few bites out of them. I suspect it might have been some type of beetle.
Lesson #5 – continue with the deterrents throughout the season and keep critter accessibility to a minimum.
WAS IT WORTH THE EFFORT?
In one word – definitely! Although some of my crops didn’t turn out as I hoped, I was able to take several harvests from my beans, basil, arugula, and lettuce (when it was still there!). Although a number of my tomatoes ended up with end rot, I was able to save a batch. I did get a few peas, but that’s about it.
However, of the vegetables that did well, they tasted fabulous. And, I cannot tell you how wonderful my arugula and basil smelled when freshly picked. It was like smelling summer.
The whole experience brought back memories of my in-ground garden. I will certainly be doing another edible container garden next year. Only this time, I’ll be much better prepared and keep in mind the lessons I learned this year!
EDIBLE CONTAINER GARDENING FOR FIRST TIME GARDENERS
I sincerely hope you consider an edible container garden for your next growing season.
For my first time gardeners, I always advocate starting small and testing the waters first. I’m glad I only ended up with a few vegetables this year. It gave me an opportunity to get a feel for container gardening. And now, next year, I’ll be better prepared.
So, if you’re a newbie learn from my mistakes. Pick a few edibles you like and are fairly easy to grow. If you’re not sure what to choose, this article from Gardeners Path lays out some of the best vegetables for containers.
And don’t be afraid to experiment. See what works and what doesn’t. The following year, you’ll increase your knowledge and improve on your crop.
Any questions or thoughts? Please leave a comment below.
And if you enjoyed this article on 5 lessons from my first edible container garden, feel free to share it!