By Tom Meade
Small is beautiful. Visit any American city with ethnic neighborhoods and you will find a diversity of vegetables and herbs growing in five-gallon buckets, flower pots, and other containers on fire escapes, balconies and driveways.
Growing vegetables and herbs in containers gets easier every season as seed companies introduce new varieties to grow in small spaces.
At the same time, more manufacturers are developing more efficient growing containers.
Even for gardeners who have plenty of space to cultivate a full-fledged garden, it’s nice to have a container near the kitchen door with:
- Chives and tarragon for a classic French omelet
- Crisp basil leaves for a fresh tomato-and-mozzarella salad, as well as
- Thyme, parsley, oregano, sage and other savory herbs.
In side-by-side flower boxes last summer, all of those herbs grew stronger, taller and longer in plastic boxes.
Herbs grown in wooden boxes required two to three times more water and fish emulsion, and many of them bolted prematurely.
This season, seed companies are offering more varieties specifically for growing in containers or small places.
In its 2008-2009 catalog, for example, Pinetree Garden Seeds in New Gloucester, Maine offers two pages of compact vegetables for container growing including broccoli, cukes, eggplant, peppers, winter squash and more.
Vegetable Varieties for Containers
Here’s a compact list of compact vegetable varieties commonly offered by seed companies:
- Chin Chang bok choy
- Munchkin broccoli
- Pot Luck cucumbers
- Patio Pickle cukes
- Mohican eggplant
- Pintree Kitchen Sink greens
- Mohawk bell peppers
- Apache chilo peppers
- Delicata winter squash
- Tom Thumb tomatoes
- Totem tomatoes
(List courtesy Pinetree Garden Seeds)
Paper or plastic? Poop, please!
Some conservationists believe that starting vegetable seeds in plastic or peat pots is a small, but unnecessary, waste of natural resources.
Making seed-starting pots with rolled newspaper is an easy way to recycle paper, and like peat pots, a paper pot can go directly into the soil. It decomposes as the seedling’s root system develops.
Several seed companies, including Underwood’s Gardens, offer a wooden tool for making paper pots.
Now, a dairy farm in Connecticut is using composted manure to make seed starting pots and trays. The so-called CowPots are available from many natural and organic gardening suppliers including Territorial Seed Company.
For the last four years, a retired whiskey barrel filled with compost has provided a spring, summer and fall’s worth of versatile and perennial herbs, just outside the kitchen door.
Such container gardens require no work, only a regular gulp of water and an occasional meal of fish emulsion.
This one includes chives, French tarragon, Greek thyme and Greek oregano.
The oregano is a bully that tries to crowd out the others, so it needs to be thinned.
Repotted, the thinned oregano plants make great gifts. When thinning makes more space available, it’s filled with a rosemary plant and some flat-leaf parsley.
More Shade Needed with Today's Decks
Many of today’s synthetic deck materials reflect more of the sun’s heat to the underside of a vegetable plant’s leaves, so patio plants need a little more shade.
A sheet of half-inch hardware cloth between plants and the sun provides both sunlight and shade, especially important for such plants as cilantro and arugula that tend to bolt to seed easily. Several seed companies also offer herb varieties that are slow to bolt.
About the Author: Freelance writer Tom Meade is an avid gardener and loves to work in his kitchen.