Spring is in the air and every year, despite my failures from the year before, as the thermometer creeps above 60 degrees, I get an itch to plant a garden.
I have been a set up for gardening disaster just about every year. I’ve tried to garden working my 80 hour per week schedule (which looking back I could have done if I would have set up a watering system) which always resulted in everything drying up. Or this past season, first it was the rabbits, and once I got them under control we moved, leaving my budding garden behind.
But there is something about having my hands in the dirt and the hope of a homegrown tomato that keeps me coming back for more.
This year since we will likely be moving mid summer I decided to plant a container garden. Here are the tips and highlights.
Step 1. Plant a Garden. Just do it. Plant something. Herbs are a great start. Basil, Parsley, Rosemary, Mint, Chives, Thyme, Sage, Oregano. They all grow beautifully and will live in pots very happily. Add a few Petunias or other potted flowers and you have a beautiful patio garden. If you have more space and time try some vegetables. If you have a yard try a little plot or a raised bed. But do try something. It is so satisfying to have your hands in the dirt and then the possibility of growing food or even flowers that you can arrange or give way. So go for it, even if it is tiny and even if it dies it is worth the effort.
Step 2. Choose a container and a plant. You can use almost any container and grow almost any plant. Here are a few factors to keep in mind.
-Drainage: Pots should have some holes for drainage. You can drill a hole if you need to, or insert a plastic pot with drainage into a larger pot this way you can remove the inside pot for watering and let it drain. This is considered a must. With that said, I’ve had a pot of chives for 3 years in a pot without a drainage system so every now and then you can break the rules and get away with it but it isn’t ideal.
– Material: Terracotta pots are heavy but they allow for drainage and they will have a more even moisture balance than, let’s say a metal or plastic container. Black pots will be hotter than lighter colors. Small pots will dry up faster so will require more frequent watering than larger ones. I have a variety of pots I’ve collected over the years. This year I also added some Smart Pots, to use for my vegetables. They are large and lightweight, made of a fabric that feels almost like felt. They allow your plants to get more air and drain well.
– What do you want to grow?: The herbs I mentioned above will grow in almost anything. Each year I sprinkle Basil seeds either in a pot or in a flower bed and have more Basil than I could ever use. Tomatoes however are another story. In Ohio Tomatoes would grow wild but here in Texas they are a challenge. You will have to be more selective with your pot depending on the plants you want to grow and you will need to make sure you have enough space.
My space for vegetables was limited this year so I went with the method described in the Square Foot Gardener. This method is great for small spaces. If you flip over a seed packet you will see row spacing and plant spacing. The row spacing is usually a lot further away than the plant spacing. With this method you throw out the row spacing and just use the plant spacing. You plant in small plots measured out by the square foot and use good quality soil mixed with compost. This method allows you to grow more in a small space.
The containers I got are about 2 feet in diameter. Remembering my high school geometry, this gives me about 3 feet of surface area. So In one container I planted two tomatoes and one pepper. In the other I planted. 9 beets, 2 cucumbers and 2 strawberries. Then on a whim in my third container I planted 9 seeds of corn (this was my daughter’s request). I also have a few old pots where I planted four green beans, and two containers each with a spinach and a strawberry.
You also need to decide if you want to grow from seed or buy a plant already started. There is nothing like seeing a plant grow from a tiny seed into something you can actually eat. In general I’ve had good luck with planting from seed though some plants (lettuce and spinach for example) are a bit more finicky. A best practice for Texas would be to start seeds indoors in February, and then move starter plants outside in March. I didn’t get started in time so I am risking it by starting my seeds outside. If you are just getting started and are overwhelmed with seeds then just head over to a nursery and get a few starter plants. I’ve had better luck at my smaller local nurseries than from large corporate garden centers. I’m not sure why, that has just been my experience.
Step 3. Fill your container with dirt. This can actually be pretty overwhelming once you start reading about all the different components of dirt. If you are starting out just buy some organic potting soil, a next step would be to add some organic compost, I always use Cotton Bur unless I’ve made my own. Ideally you use a mix of soil, compost and vermiculite or something that helps keep the dirt loose and draining well.
Step 4. Water your garden. This is can be a fun reason to get outside and kids have a blast watering plants and each other. You want your soil to stay moist but not soaking wet and you don’t want it to completely dry out. Smaller pots will need watered more often. This year I set up a drip irrigation system. I’ve lost a lot of gardens because I couldn’t keep up with my watering schedule and I had all of this tubing from my last traditional garden. A drip system is great, it uses less water and puts the water in the soil rather than on the leaves. It is reasonably affordable and not complicated to assemble. So if you are planting more than a few pots it may be something to look into.
Step 5. Watch your garden grow: It never ceases to amaze me that out of dirt and tiny seeds I can grow these beautiful plants, and even eat some of them. Of course there is a lot more to gardening, we didn’t talk about we will save the details for future posts. But each year I learn something new and get a little more comfortable and you will too. I have yet to have a yeild from a garden that feels abundant (except for Basil). But the process is abundant. Growing a garden is a satisfying experience, it is beautiful and fun. So if you haven’t yet, go out there and get started (unless it is still snowing where you live, then I guess wait a few more weeks). If you are already gardening I’d love to hear your experience.