It might seem a little late in the season to start a vegetable garden but there’s still lots of summer left to grow nutritious vegetables if you plant them in containers. Whether you’re growing quick sprouting crops like beans or peas or buying established plants that will take off and produce a harvest in no time, container gardening has many advantages that might change the way you grow your vegetables for summers to come.
Pretty much any sized container you have room for on a patio or balcony can be used to grow a small garden. Fill the bottom third of the container with lightweight material like biodegradable packing peanuts or crushed plastic bottles that will ensure good drainage. Fill the rest of the container with nutrient-rich sterilized bagged soil. As a fun side-project you can decorate wooden sticks with drawings or letters spelling out the crop you’ll be planting in each pot.
Kids love to garden but sometimes lack patience when it comes to waiting for things to grow. If you’re starting seeds indoors, consider quick germinating varieties. Start them in paper-lined cupcake tins filled three quarters full of seed-starting soil. Drop in one seed per cup, cover with soil and water gently. For delicate seeds and seedlings, a gentle misting with a spray bottle to evenly wet the soil is adequate. Once the seedling is big enough to be transplanted outside, you can plant the paper and all into the container.
Most beans germinate within seven to ten days. Runner beans climb quickly on a simple wire trellis that you can purchase from a dollar store and insert into a container. Beans can be started indoors on a sunny windowsill and watered just enough to dampen the soil. Overzealous watering can cause the seed and seedling to rot so monitor carefully.
Fresh radishes from your container garden make nice, crunchy snacks or accompaniments to picnic lunches on sunny summer days. These fast-growing vegetables can go from seed to harvest in only 21 days. Seeds are small so thin seedlings if they sprout too densely. Since radishes are quick to mature, start small batches every week or two so you’re not inundated. If you have too many you can always offer some to family or neighbours and teach your children the pleasures of sharing their bounty.
Mini varieties mature more quickly than regular sized carrots and are also sweeter in taste. As with radishes, remember to thin seedlings to ensure decent sized produce. Kids love pulling carrots out of the ground, washing and eating them right away, no peeling required!
Zucchini and other types of squash need to be grown in minimum 24 inch containers as they need a lot of room to spread. You can either start squash from seed or purchase established plants. Remember to water daily, especially in hot weather. To make the pot a more colourful, add marigolds or nasturtiums which are also natural pest repellants.
Prepare your container with a tomato cage (pointy side down) that will act as a support for your tomato plants as they grow. Avoid cages that are covered in plastic or vinyl as they can expose your plants to lead or other toxic substances. Place your tomato container in a spot where it will get a minimum of eight hours of sunlight per day for best results. Smaller, cherry variety tomatoes are quick and easy to grow and taste great right off the vine.
Growing lettuce in containers instead of in the ground gives you better control over slugs and other pests that chew on tender shoots. Lettuce also requires daily watering but doesn’t like wet roots so try not to water too deeply. Growing a variety of loose leaf lettuces for their colours, textures and tastes is a fun experiment and great way to include a daily salad with dinner.
What’s summer without sweet, succulent strawberries you can grow yourself? This versatile fruit can be planted in anything from specially made strawberry pots to hanging baskets and containers. Strawberry plants will spread about two feet in every direction so measure your pot accordingly. Plant with the crown on top of a soil mound just above the surface and spread roots out, then cover with soil and water well. Make sure plants are kept moist to ensure well formed and tasty fruit.