Monday, March 29, 2010

Container Gardening 101 - and Planting Peas

Last year, I grew some of my vegetables in pots for the first time.  For the last few years, I'd gardened exclusively in my square foot garden out in the yard.  However, my tomatoes never flourished the way I wanted them to in the square foot garden. I'm not entirely sure why this was - maybe the soil wasn't great for tomatoes, or there was too much water, or not enough sun. In any case, I was determined to have homegrown tomatoes (there are few things more delicious than a homegrown tomato, in my humble opinion).  So I took a container gardening class.  Let me tell you - container gardening was a huge success for me.  Not only did I get a ton of beautiful, delicious tomatoes, I also got a great crop of peas, basil, and tomatillos.  I'm converted. Yes, I still use my other garden for carrots, spinach, lettuce, pumpkins, and other veggies, but I love container gardening.

One of the best things about container gardening (besides the yummy homegrown produce) is that just about anyone can do it, no matter where you live. If you've got a little space outside - a balcony, a patio - that gets a good amount of sun, you can have homegrown vegetables. For those who have a yard but are intimidated by the prospect of having a garden, container gardening is a great way to get started.  And let me tell you, there's something incredibly satisfying about growing your own food.

Here's some of the basics when it comes to starting a container garden (these tips come from the hand-out from the class I went to last year):

Before You Get Started
  • Keep in mind that vegetables need 6-8 hours of sunlight. If you place your pots facing south, you'll get the best results.
  • You need to have a water source close at hand. Your vegetables will need to be watered just about every day, especially in the summertime.
  • Know your area's average last frost date in the spring (in my area, it's Mother's Day) and the average first frost date in the fall (Halloween where I live). You can find these dates online if you know what zone you live in (click here to find out your zone). This will help you decide what to grow and when. 
What Containers to Use
  • This all depends on what you want and can afford.  Some people prefer plastic pots - they're not heavy or expensive.  The woman who taught the class I went to said not to use ceramic or clay pots because she says they're too heavy and too expensive. As you can see in the picture above, I used terracotta pots anyway.  BUT, I got an awesome deal on my pots - they're only $5.99 at IKEA.
  • Be sure that whatever pot you pick, plastic or terracotta, that you choose one with drainage holes.  Very important.
  • Use the largest containers you can find. The ones I use are 14" pots. One gallon pots will not work.
What (and What Not) To Plant in Containers
  •  Vegetables that work best in pots are: 
    • Lettuce
    • Tomatoes
    • Peppers
    • Spinach
    • Eggplant
    • Potatoes
    • Peas
    • Cucumbers 
  • Vegetables that don't work well in pots:
    • zucchini
    • summer squash
    • kale
    • Swiss chard
    • red beets
    • carrots (not enough space)
 Right now, in most areas, it's too early to plant tender crops like peppers and tomatoes. But late March and early April is the perfect time to start growing your leafy vegetables and peas.  Peas are really easy to grow and have a great yield, which is why I think growing them is a great way to get started on container gardening.  Really, you should give this a try. You'll be so proud of yourself, I promise.  Here's the process...

This year, I'm planting two varieties of peas: Lincoln and sugar snap. You want to choose pea seeds with a short maturation period.  Before I planted them, I let them soak for a while in some water (yet another reuse for the yogurt cups). I didn't soak mine for very long; my mom always soaks her seeds overnight.  This isn't a required step, but it can't hurt.  One note: if you're going to plant peas, be sure to do it early.  Peas planted after the end of April will be hard and tasteless because of the heat.

Fill your pots with potting soil (purchased in bags).  Do not use garden soil (which also comes in bags) or soil from your yard. I can't remember exactly why the teacher of the class I went to said this so emphatically, but I'll take her word for it. Make sure that the potting soil you buy can be used for vegetables (it'll say on the bag). Anyway, I also mixed in a few inches of organic matter (aka compost - you can also buy this in bags at your local nursery).

To plant your peas, space the seeds about an inch apart around the edge of the pot. I go around the pot with my finger and make a bunch of holes that are about an inch deep (to your first knuckle).  Once I've made the holes around the edge, I also do another circle of them in the center of the pot.  Put one seed in each hole and then smooth the soil over them, patting down gently. Note: if you want to plant other seeds in other pots, just follow the directions on the seed packets. There's no special technique for planting seeds in pots as opposed to planting seeds in a traditional garden.

Add a tomato cage - the pea plants will need something to climb.

Then just add water.  You want to water your pot thoroughly after planting.  Keep the soil moist but avoid overwatering during maturation (when you have actual pods on the vines).  I water my pots just about everyday - sometimes twice a day during the really hot months of July and August.  Pots dry out quickly, so it's really convenient, as mentioned previously, to have a water source close by.

Homegrown peas are delicious and if you grow them yourself, you will, most likely, get a good crop of them. As much as we love peas here, last year we had more than we could eat all at once. If this happens, just blanch and freeze them (how-to is here).  You can plant another crop of peas in early August for a fall crop, too.

One other thing I want to address:  Sometimes I've wondered to myself (last year particularly), "Is this gardening really frugal?" I mean, after buying a bunch of pots, several tomato cages, all the potting soil, and the seeds, wouldn't it be cheaper to just buy a bag of frozen peas at the store?  Yes and no.  That first gardening season, yes it probably would be cheaper. But, the next year, once you've got all your pots and supplies, all you need is the soil and the seeds. This year, I spent about $10 on potting soil to fill four of my pots for peas; some of the seeds are from last year and the new sugar snap ones only cost about a dollar.  So, there is a bit of an investment that first year of container gardening, but every year after that, it pays for itself. Plus, when you taste the peas and tomatoes that you grew, you'll be hard-pressed to go back to the supermarket ones.

Next post:  How to dye Easter eggs frugally and naturally!


Tara said...

I am inspired! When do you plant strawberries? Thanks for all the info, Yoda! Do or do not, there is no try! HAHA-Alec is rubbing off on me...

Markelle said...

I've been wanting to try peas, strawberries and perhaps rhubarb in pots. In our square foot garden we plant tomatoes, (almost exclusively) green chili, (never really worked) and yellow squash. thanks for the tips!

Tanya Boracay said...

How many seeds can plant in pot?

Just like to share with you a famous quote...

"The voice of parents is the voice of gods, for to their children they are heaven's lieutenants. " -- Shakespeare

You can get more famous quotes at

Olivia Princess said...

Firma producatoare de containere de containere produce, livreaza si monteaza containere pentru orice destiantie - containere birou, containere santier, containere de locuit, case din containere. Preturile containerelor ofera cel mai bun raport calitate pret de pe piata.

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