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.
- 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.
- Vegetables that work best in pots are:
- Vegetables that don't work well in pots:
- summer squash
- Swiss chard
- red beets
- carrots (not enough space)
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.
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