ashley englishoutdoorsmall measures

small measures with ashley: contain your enthusiasm

by Grace Bonney

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never met so many new gardeners in my life. In bungalow frontyards, co-opted alleyways, thimble-sized backyards, and porch steps, folks are growing things. Lots of things. Based on statistics from the National Gardening Association, the number of gardeners taking up spades and trowels in 2009 grew by 7 million, from 36 million in 2008 to 43 million. That’s a lot of earthworms.

All of this newfound fervor has evidenced itself in spaces both compact and colossal, with people planting, growing, and harvesting wherever there’s space. I’m part of that gardening gaggle myself. Even though I now live on a good bit of acreage, this hasn’t always been the case. Once, back when I was living in Washington, D.C. in a third-floor walk-up above an Ethiopian restaurant (and sports bar-that place was bumpin’ on the weekends!), I grew container veggies underneath a skylight (the result of which was met with questionable success; things were going good until I went away for a week and the roomies forgot to water things…). My point is, if you have access to sunlight, you can grow food, even if it’s just a few herbs or a mix of lettuces.

CLICK HERE for the rest of ashley’s post (and tips for container gardening!) after the jump!

For those living in urban areas, or with limited yardage or a landlord that would prefer you not transform the soil into gorgeous raised beds, consider vegetable container gardening. It’s pretty remarkable what can be grown in even just a few pots. If you’re a bit behind the eight ball and haven’t begun any vegetable starts from seed (your best means of obtaining healthy, vital vegetable plants on the cheap), a good number of fall vegetable starts can now be purchased from local nurseries. Considering the damage incurred by late tomato blight ( theorized to have been spread by , among other things, tomato starts sold from big-box retailers), I’d stick with locally-sourced vegetable starts. Even major metropolitan areas will have small nurseries or plant shops. In D.C., I schleped my starts and soil home from a garden shop 3 streets over.

Vegetables that fair well in fall weather include: carrots, broccoli, cabbage, beets, turnips, kale, mustard greens, cauliflower, fennel, and herbs such as anise, coriander, lavender, mint, rosemary, marjoram, thyme, and sage. Container vegetable gardening, just like any form of gardening or growing, requires a few key factors for success. Read up on the specs below, grab yourself a container, some soil, an herb or veg or two, and “fall” in love with home-grown autumnal produce.

Containers: For plants with larger root systems, you’ll need a container that is deep and wide. Fall crops with deep roots include carrots (some shorter varieties do exist, though), broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, all needing somewhere around 12-14 inches (some summer crops have even longer root systems, requiring even deeper pots, so you might want to factor that in when selecting containers if you plan on growing again when the heat returns next year). Other crops,such as leafy greens and beets, require between 9-12 inches of depth. Look for containers made of wood, thick plastic, or glazed terra cotta, as they retain moisture well.

Drainage: Whatever vessel you use to house your crops in, make sure it has some form of drainage. If not, you’ll need to drill or hammer in drainage holes. You might also want to consider adding a 1-inch layer of coarse gravel to the bottom.

Watering: Check your plants daily and water as needed. Never allow the soil to dry out completely, which can happen a lot more quickly in containers than in-ground.

Soil & Fertilizer: You’ll want to select a high-quality potting soil specifically indicted for use with containers. Add an organic fertilizer (I’m a big fan of Neptune’s Harvest products) at the time of potting and supplement with weekly applications (read the directions indicated on whatever fertilizer you select and apply accordingly).

Insects & Pests: Any pests that would be a threat in the ground will be a threat for containers. Check your pots daily and pick off any bugs you see. If pests seem to be a recurring problem, consider adding a few drops of neem oil (available at natural food stores) to a spray bottle filled with water and give your plants a quick spritz.

Light: Your containers will need at least six hours of sunlight a day, so site them accordingly. Some crops, such as lettuce, cabbage, and leafy greens will fare alright in a bit of shade, while root crops will need a bit more sun. It’s best to know where such a location is in advance, as having to relocate hefty pots of soil is really nobody’s idea of fun.

Plant selection: An increasing number of seed companies are beginning to offer plants meant for small-space gardening. Look for or ask your local nursery clerk what varieties might be best for container gardening. Key words indicating shorty status include: bush, compact, and space saver.

*This link has some great recommendations on 10 mistakes commonly made when container gardening:

Container Gardening .
*I’ve been a big fan of Gayla Trail’s You Grow Girl for some time. She’s got all sorts of fantastic recommendations for gardening any and everywhere, containers included.

So, how does your garden grow?

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  • I am not a gardener. I kill most everything I plant…other than bluebonnets. But, I’ve wanted an herb garden forever! At our office we planted herbs in these big wooden barrells on the patio and they’ve done wonderfully.

  • I live in Atlanta, and I’ve been extolling the virtues of container gardening of chilis and jalapenos. I was extremely surprised at how well they’ll do in a pot on the porch or patio, even a fairly small pot.

    It’s a little late this year, but definitely something to do once spring rolls around.

  • great post! I can’t wait to grow herbs again. Can’t do that at my current apartment (in Australia), because we have these crazy possums that eat everything! Even chillis! :(

  • Hi – It’s true, you can grow almost anything in a container. I grew lilies and tomatoes in containers and in garden beds to compare. Everything in containers is doing better than the plants in the ground. I think because of the wet spring, the containers provided better drainage. Also, the lilies I grew in baskets didn’t get eaten by the beetles that ate my garden lilies.

  • Thanks for this article! I live in upstate SC, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mtns, and autumn is just a wonderful time of year for us, for gardening – and climate-wise. By the by, if you do happen to have a small space for in-ground gardening, you can make the most of your space by staggering your plantings. You can plant them closer together in that manner than the usual recommended spread space. Just be sure to watch for buggies! Amanda, I feel your pain. Our back garden is mostly a woodland garden with 200+ year old oaks. So we have most of our tomatoes and veggies in big pots. Our herbs and some other tomatoes and cucumbers, we grow out front where we get decent sun. Tali, if you have a bright, sunny window, you can grow herbs in containers on the sills or on a little table next to the window. Even in winter, I bring some of my herbs inside and put them in sunny spots. Chives, thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, marjoram, oregano, and lemon verbena are a few that are usually good to grow indoors. :) Good luck to each of you in your fall gardening!

  • I haven’t had a lot of success with my gardening. this are great tips. Now all I have to do is DO IT! OH MY ! ! ! I will try harder this year! Thanks for the inspriation!

  • Love this- just went to a million nurseries and private homes and the best was a place that had a billion container plants. It was the absolutely coolest private garden I have ever seen.

    I was at the GWA tour and the gardeners were such amazing experts- made me feel like a garden dummy! But we all have to start somewhere! I think contaners are the way to go for beginners.

  • I’m having some issues keeping my indoor cilantro to stay alive and produce. I’m hoping it’s just in shock from being transferred from it’s original pot, but does anyone have any suggestions?

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