Written by New Zealand Gluten-Free Chef Jimmy Boswell, food writer, chef, food stylist and author of The New Zealand Gluten-Free Cookbook. For more info on Jimmy, visit his Facebook page.
You don’t need a large area to grow fresh vegetables, herbs and fruits. In many respects you don’t even need a garden. Over the years plant breeders have been developing varieties of plants designed to be grown in a small area or in containers. They have also focused on taste and high yields from small plantings.
Positives for container gardening
- Don’t have to worry about weeds
- Less garden pest problems
- Self-watering planters means you can water less
- Great for porches, decks, patios, and balconies
- Easy to control soil health
The Small Vegetable Plot – Kids Can Grow
I am a keen advocate of small container gardens. When there is little or no space for a conventional garden planting a few pots and containers with some vegetables and herbs can be very rewarding both in the produce that you grow as well as the fun and happiness that it offers.
It is also something that you can get the kids involved with. Being in containers there is very little weeding required and kids can have their own pots growing things that they like to eat. They can care for their plants, watch them grow and when they harvest, the smiles on their faces is priceless.
I had my own little plot in the main vegetable garden and I remember digging, planting and harvesting, with a little help from Dad. I loved picking my produce and was always proud of what I grew.
Always, set space aside in your garden for the kids. Choose plants that are fun and easy to grow. Good plants for children’s gardens are cherry tomatoes, herbs, sunflowers, and edible plants. Diversify kids’ gardening plants to include various smells, textures, and tastes (like mint) to keep them interested.
Container gardening is also great for kids. If worried about the kids getting messy, container gardening is great choice.
As I have mentioned container gardening does not take a lot of space but there are a few considerations when starting:
Vegetables need about six or more hours of sun each day. Without sun, the fruits will not ripen and the plants will be stressed. In winter with lower sunshine hours there are a few crops that can survive in light shade, lettuce and other greens, broccoli, but if you can’t provide sun, you might want to reconsider having a vegetable container garden. More so if you are getting kids involved. The last thing you want is to have a poor result for the children.
Vegetables also require regular watering. Without regular water vegetables will not fill out and some, like tomatoes, will crack open if suddenly plumped up with water after struggling without for awhile.
On my deck I have lots of containers with a wide variety of plants. I do not have a tap close so when I need to give them a good watering I have plastic containers that are larger than the pots with the plants in them. I fill these large pots with water and place the plants in them and let them soak. I usually mix some liquid fertilizer in the water and give them a food at the same time.
Vegetables need a soil that is rich in organic matter. The potting mix/soil is important to the growth of all plants, but more so with vegetables, because even taste is affected by the quality of the mix you are growing them in.
With a potting mix rich in organic matter it will not only help plants to grow but will also retains moisture.
When you are looking for plants to grow in containers, look for plants labelled with terms or words such as patio, pixie, tiny, baby or dwarf.
These will be varieties that have been bred for containers. Just because a plant is bred to be small doesn’t mean the fruits will be small or the yield will be less.
Herbs are generally pretty easy to grow and hearty. They need loose, well drained soil. But do not require a lot of attention. You can inter-plant with vegetables to use herbs for organic pest control. Or plant a separate herb container. It is a good idea to plant perennial herbs like chives, lavender, mints, oregano, rosemary, thyme, tarragon.
Planting herbs is a great way to supplement a small vegetable garden, too. Say you just decide on a few tomato plants. Growing herbs expands what you can cook with those tomatoes. Or just slice them fresh with a few sprigs of basil. Fresh foods are good on their own, too!
Images / Jimmy Boswell