Vegetables – Growing in Containers

Q: With so many people now moving into town homes, high rises, condos, etc., more of us need a LOT of info about growing vegetables in containers. Also, I really want my veggies to be grown as close to organically as humanly possible.

I live in a townhouse and have about 5 – 6 large pots. In the spring/summer, I try to grow tomatoes, sweet peppers, & lettuce/hot-weather spinach. I have a bush blueberry that I got from Park Seed, supposedly suitable for container, and supposedly not needing to have any other bushes nearby in order to produce berries.

I need specific info to improve the health & yield of the tomatoes & peppers, in preparation for planting this spring.

A: A: Daryl Pulis replies:

“I’ve grown most every vegetable imaginable (or at least the the normal ones- I haven’t done Salsify (vegetable oyster) or Asparagus) in containers. Some, such as corn, aren’t very well suited because of the small yield. I hope to have my CD done by planting time, but I’ll try to help you through some of it now.

” First off, you need really large pots. I mostly use 16-20 inch pots, a few are larger. Smaller pots don’t allow enough root room to support large plants during hot weather. This leads to problems with Blossom End Rot on tomatoes and watermelons, bitter cucumbers and other problems.

” Small pots are also difficult in the winter since root systems of otherwise winter-hardy plants freeze and set the plants back.

“Additionally, typically used organic gardening soils tend to be very heavy and drain poorly in containers. A couple of manufacturers have been working on OMRI certified mixes.

” You’ll probably not need to be that extreme, but if that’s what you wish, I’ll check on current availability.

” I use Pro-mix BX for most of my pots, since it’s lightweight, easy to manage, and available in 3.8 cubic foot compressed bales locally. I add some worm castings and compost. You could also use one of the old make-it-yourself mixes if you have access to “good garden loam” or good “fence-row” dirt, as my elderly neighbor used to call it.

” It’s easier if you can bring yourself to use a bit of Miracle Gro or similar, especially when the soil is cold and bacterial activity is low. Otherwise, there are several organic fertilizers available that work reasonably well. Liquids are easier to deal with than granular formulations. I like to alternate among a few of them, using label rates.

“Sugar Snaps on a teepee are do-able. I’ve found that using concrete reinforcing wire or regular tomato cages works better, even though they’re less attractive. Yield is low for the square footage used. Organic snap peas are often available at the market, though they lack some of the fresh sweetness of home grown.

” A “regular” (not bush type) tomato should be planted one to a 16-20 inch pot with a reinforcing wire trellis. A bush type tomato can be planted in a 12-16″ pot, again with support, though the catalogs won’t tell you that.

“Sweet peppers are tricky. They seem to need to be slightly crowded in a pot, especially early in life, but don’t like small pots. I put 3 plants in a 16-20 inch pots and get a good yield.

“Chard is best planted in spring, Collards in early autumn, so your timing is off on both. “Hot-weather spinach is pretty much useless in Georgia, whether in the ground or in pots. It’s great in early spring and early fall, as is lettuce. You can plant a half-packet of chard seeds in early March and get a very large yield from a 20″ pot.

” Your blueberry is probably young and gangly, and will fill out with patience. I use alfalfa meal (not the rabbit food kind that has a lot of salt), or cottonseed meal on mine. They need really good internal soil drainage, so keep an eye on it. I’ve found a mix of coarsely chopped pine bark (Nature’s Helper in a pinch) and coarse sand works well for them, but it’s very heavy to move.

“One thing- if you use Alfalfa or Cottonseed meal, or one of the solid fish fertilizers, you’ll probably want to poke holes in the soil and put a little into the soil rather than putting it on top of the soil ……..where it will grow some amazing fungi!

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