If you’re worried about having a “brown thumb”, don’t let that discourage you from wanting to provide your own fresh fruits and veggies for your kitchen table. A lot of people who are concerned about taking on an entire garden by themselves have found success with container gardening, where it is easier to control soil, water and light quantity. Herbs and salad greens are the easiest growing to take on, but more invested veggies like tomatoes, cucumbers and beans can also be grown in containers.
The first thing you should know about container gardening is that bigger is better! With a bigger pot you’ll be able to load it with more soil, making it easier for the pot to retain the water your plant needs to survive. You’ll also need to make sure that you have an adequate amount of holes in the bottom of your container for excess water to drain away. On watering, there are many claimed “self watering” pots that you can purchase to make watering a little easier. They have built in reservoirs that attach to the bottom of the pot, containing the excess water that drains away. Mature plants will be able to reach the reservoir with their roots, so you can allot for a little bit more time between watering. However, during a hot summer, plants will empty the reservoir quickly, so you are not able to rely on that completely. It is also easier to move your plants to an area where they will get the required amount of sun, as vegetables require at least 6 hours of full sun per day. Also try to avoid using darkly colored pots, as they attract more heat than necessary. The soil that you place in your pot is just as important as everything else, so be sure to pay attention to what you’re using. Peat-based soil mixes work very well, especially when mixed with a compost.
Once you’ve decided to move beyond container gardening, make sure that you select the spot for your garden with great care. Again, vegetables need a large amount of sun per day, so you’ll need to select an area in your yard that allows for the sun to fall on the garden for the required amount of time. Also keep in mind that your garden will need to be watered frequently, so make sure you set up your garden close to a reliable water source.
Plants thrive on the type of soil they are planted in, so make sure the soil you choose is rich with nutrients. Most soil around houses lacks the properties that plants need to thrive, so you’ll need to add organic matter to it. Organic matter is also called ‘compost’, which is broken down natural material such as shredded leaves or composted manure. You can also add kitchen waste to your compost, such as vegetable and fruit scraps and peelings, coffee grounds, egg shells and dead houseplants. Good manure based composts to use are chicken, cow or horse manure. Do not, however, use cat or dog waste or any meat or dairy products, as they may contain unwanted pathogens or could attract pests. Compost has many jobs, such as holding water for the roots during dry times, as well as allowing excess water to flow away when it rains. Compost breaks up dense soil to allow roots to grow and move freely and to allow air to access them. You can use a compost maker like Compost Plus to help your compost break down quicker.
Don’t feel like you have to “go big or go home” on your first garden… you have the option of starting small. You can start out with around half a dozen good sized pots for your container garden, and if you decide you want to start your garden in the ground, you can keep your plot around 3 feet by 3 feet. This will give you an adequate crop as well as allow you to acclimate to the amount of time and effort that needs to be invested.
Make sure you get a head start on your growing season. Many vegetables need to be started from seed indoors several weeks before being planted outside in the ground. Check out our article on seed starting here.