Container gardens can be an amazing substitute for not having lots of property to farm. Many folks who live in apartments or those who don’t necessarily want to till the soil in their yard or build a large raised bed can still eat garden fresh food from a container garden.
All of the containers below have a few things in common:
1. They need about 8 hours a day of sunshine.
2. They will need daily watering, good drainage, and a tray reservoir underneath the container to hold extra water for the plant to drink in the heat of the day. The soil community you are building is dynamic and deeply intertwined, and water powers all of it!
3. They require LARGE containers. Tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers have pretty extensive root systems, and thus need more soil to keep them upright and also properly nourished.
4. The plants will require a support system to keep the climbing plants upright. Use cages for tomatoes, stakes for peppers, trellis for cucumbers.
Let’s start with one of my favorites, the Salsa Garden. In one container you can grow almost all of the ingredients you’ll need for a great salsa. In Florida, we don’t get to grow garlic because it’s too hot (I don’t know about you, but I like garlic in my salsa), and onions really grow best when planted in our Winter growing season, when the other main salsa ingredients don’t grow very well. Sad, but true. However, you could try to grow green onions for that garlicky/oniony flavor in a separate protected area and see if they’re a replacement that works for you.
As you can see in the Plant-o-gram, the tomato plant is kind of isolated on one side of the container. This is because the tomato has the largest root system, so giving it some space is important. The shade of the tomato and peppers will help the cilantro and parsley cope with the heat of the Florida summer. This will help keep it from bolting so quickly. The key will be to harvest as much of these herbs as you can before they bolt, and either dry them or find another way to store them until you use them in your salsa and other cooking.
Side note: If you decide to do a Salsa Verde garden, you’ll need 2 tomatillo plants. Eliminate the tomato and red bell pepper and replace with tomatillos so that they will pollinate properly and give you fruit.
The 3 Sisters
This plant-o-gram was begun by our ancient Native American cultures. They found that these three plants when planted together were all mutually beneficial to each other. 1) Corn supports the bean vines as they grow towards the sun; 2) beans pull nitrogen from the air and put it into the soil for use by all three sisters, and also hold the garden together as they intertwine; and 3) the squash’s leaves provide a natural mulch, shading the ground and helping to prevent weeds, and also keeping the raccoons at bay with their prickly bristles. The 3 Sisters container is the only one that doesn’t need to have any additional support structures added, and with the relationship of the three plants, they will all support each other physically and nutritionally. Give it a try!
Please Note: Your corn, in order to produce ears, will need to be hand-pollinated. Here is a great guide to hand-pollinating corn. If the pollination doesn’t occur this way, most likely you will not get any corn from your plant, but you will still have a nice corn-stalk support for your beans and a pretty plant to look at.
This Salad Mix is as utilitarian as it is delicious. The sun-loving cucumbers, which would need to be grown on a hoop trellis or a teepee structure, help shade the lettuce growing underneath it (lettuce is a cool weather crop). I recommend leaf lettuces for this container, or small head lettuce like buttercrunch because larger iceberg and romaine won’t have enough room to grow in a container like this. Radishes, which produce an odor which discourages pests, are very quick to produce their tasty roots, so you can plant and harvest multiple radish crops, while the cucumbers are still flowering and producing fruit. Leaf lettuce can be harvested from the outside leaves in towards the center (crown), just don’t cut off too many leaves at once or the plant won’t be able to generate enough energy to continue growing (I leave at least the first 3 rows of leaves from the center on at all times, or leave 6 fully developed leaves total minimum). Of course, if you’re growing head lettuce, it should be harvested all at once.
Here’s a couple of additional tips:
• Containers don’t have the benefit of an entire open soil base ecosystem to grow in, so you will have to supplement the plants with more nutrients than if they were growing in the ground. You can do this with a slow-release fertilizer so you don’t have to apply as often, or if using organic methods, apply organic fertilizer at planting, when the plants start flowering, and again when they start to produce fruit. Also, a compost tea applied when watering is a great supplement to organic soil amendments placed when planting.
• Monitor your containers for pests on a constant basis, so if there is a problem you can catch it early before it spreads to the rest of the container.
Other Growing and Container Options
If where you live just doesn’t have the right conditions to grow these containers, fear not: you can easily get involved in a community garden (we have several here in Tampa!) and grow a plot there with the same plans…maybe even expand them a bit! Here are some of them for your reference – we LOVE community gardens!
Abby’s Organic Community Farm – Shell’s Feed has been a sponsor of Abby’s farm project for several years, including providing chickens and chicken supplies
Temple Terrace Community Garden – with several garden plot locations now, this community is thriving and growing (pun intended!)
Seminole Heights Community Garden – a long-standing garden in the awesome community of Seminole Heights
Tampa Heights Community Garden – a great community project
University Area Harvest Hope Center – this project is just getting started! See how you can help.
VISTA Gardens – this is a joint venture between Carrollwood residents and Hillsborough County Parks & Recreation
Sustainable Living Project – Not exactly a community garden, but this is a project in conjunction with Tampa Bay Harvest that utilizes community volunteerism to grow good fresh food for people in need. It is a great place to LEARN about gardening and sustainability while donating time and effort to a good cause.
Did I miss a local community garden? Leave a comment or message us on Facebook!