A vegetable container garden is an asset - right outside your back door!
I’ve been seriously impressed by container gardening as a way of growing vegetables. It’s easy and productive and you by-pass a good many of the problem you face growing veg in the ground!
Here’s a page about some of the techniques for growing vegetables in containers – and a look at some of the pitfalls.
The first advantage of growing your own vegetable container garden is that you can keep your vegetables close by – and so avoid the problems with allotment-grown veg or veg that’s down the bottom of the garden.
Anyone who has run an allotment knows the dismay you can feel when you turn up to inspect your healthy plants – only to find that they have suffered a pigeon attack – or slugs and other pests have been at work! When you grow vegetables right outside your back door it is far easier to keep an eye on them and to protect them when necessary.
I find that our local (fat!) pigeons often feed from the herb garden just below the house but they generally don’t touch the vegetables and herbs growing in the vegetable container garden just a few feet away by the back door. Whether this is because this is too close to the house for comfort, or whether they are intimidated or confused by the plants growing a foot above ground level is hard to say. It’s probably a bit of both.
There are other advantages to having some of your vegetables growing close by. Watering is relatively easy provided that your home has a water butt. You can even attend to a bit of light weeding while relaxing nearby if you have your plants on a patio or balcony.
Well-constructed containers can do some of the work for us.
Plants can be mono-cropped (i.e. just one type put into one container) and cropped quite thickly. The containers help retain moisture and nutrients so that less space is needed than in conventional ground growing.
If you use a mixture of good quality topsoil and garden compost you can start your plants off, knowing that they should grow well in a rich growing medium.
You can also use commercial tops soil and compost. Avoid peat-based products as their production damages vulnerable ecosystems.
See here for a discussion of the different types of container materials and their advantages and disadvantages.
Choose containers with good drainage and which are deep enough for the crop you want to grow. For example, if you are growing cut-and-come-again lettuce you need containers around 8 or 10 inches deep though you may well manage with shallower.
If you are using recycled tubs and pots, you may need to drill drainage holes. Lightweight plastic tubs can have holes pierced in them with the help of a heated skewer. Heavier tubs will need the aid of a power drill or good hand drill.
Purpose-made vegetable planters are now available in garden centres and on-line. I’ve recently bought some and they seem very good. I've now had them for a couple of years. They are made of waterproofed fabric that is a bit like tarpaulin. They have tear resistant drainage holes made with metal eyelets. Nevertheless, they are starting to fray. They certainly do not respond well to being moved when full of soil and plants.
One advantage of these bought containers is that they are slightly floppy, so can be pushed together for good space usage. They also come in different depths suitable for the different types of crop. Recycled tubs are also very good.
If your soil is light and sandy or unduly heavy you may need to add gravel or pebbles into the soil and compost towards the bottom of the pot. This prevents waterlogging in wet weather and helps slow down the loss of water in dry weather. You can use broken crocks as well as stones for this.
Large and tall plants in a vegetable container garden
Tomatoes, peas and beans will generally need deeper containers for success, as will cucumbers, celery and potatoes. You can now buy seeds that are specially developed for container growing. Short stubby carrots are much easier to grow in containers than their longer cousins, for example. So look out for varieties that are suitable for containers – whether specially developed, or just because they are not so deep rooted.
If you have large and deep enough containers available almost anything can be container grown. Raspberries and tall beans can be container grown but you do need to protect them against being blown over. Windy days can wreak havoc! Find a sheltered spot and tie tall plants to something stable such as a wall, post, or sturdy trellis.
Don't forget to feed your container grown plants in proportion to the size of container. It is important not to under-do or overdo feeding as your container grown plants are dependent upon the resources for growth that you supply. Plants in the ground can search deeper for nutrients they lack whereas container grown plants cannot.
I feed the plants in my vegetable container garden with diluted comfrey tea - and sometimes a similar preparation made from nettles. This seems to work well enough so far - but it's early days!
Picture: Beans and lettuces growing in a raised bed - a bottomless container!
To get the best results form your container gardening it is best to check your plants daily and top up with water as necessary. Many salad crops and herbs will benefit from regular cropping. You can also ensure enough produce by starting off new containers every week or two.
If birds or cats – or other wildlife – cause problems, then you can use a little netting to protect your crops. Because your vegetable container garden is in a handy spot, close to the house, you can spot problems quickly – and deal with them quickly, too.
The pitfalls are the same for almost any growing method. Slugs and insects can still damage your crops. The usual remedies may have to be tried - slug traps and netting. Watch out for slugs and snails under rolled edges of fabric containers.
If you go away for anything more than a day or so, you may need to get a neighbour to do watering duty.
Some of the larger veg are more easily grown in a raised bed - as shown above. As there is no artificial bottom to the bed, there is rather more flexibility for watering and feeding.