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Cultivating a Container Garden

Limited space for a garden? Life to hectic or transient to till a plot and properly care for the soil? You can still have a fruitful garden.

We moved in April of this year and had spent the entire winter, as well as the spring that followed, cleaning up and cutting back our fields. We also expanded our goose flock (thirteen now!), brought goats home, and spent any "spare" time making sure that our barn and house were comfortable, functional places to live. All this meant that I chose the sanity-saving option of not growing a full garden this year.

I couldn't resist growing some of my own food, though. The easiest option was to use the collection of pots that I've gathered over the years and build a few "raised beds" out of leftover barn boards. We planted two rows of peas, some beans, tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, zucchinis, radishes, chard, and a relatively extensive collection of herbs. I hadn't grown like this before, so the new container garden was an experiment.

We've had a few learning curves, but overall it looks like a success. Learning curve number one: ground-level containers (or garden plots, for that matter) need to be fenced off if you are letting your geese or chickens free range. We'll probably only get a few pea pods because every time our vines started to flourish, they would be eaten back severely. I put the rest of our pots up on a table, out of reach, or in window boxes.

Lesson two was to be careful with window box placement, as the first heavy rain drowned some of our seedlings. The hardier herbs I planted in these boxes (catnip, oregano, parsley, and thyme) didn't seem to mind at all.

Plants grown in containers need to be fertilized regularly, as they aren't able to draw nutrients from the earth. Whatever your choice in fertilizers, and there are plenty of good, organic options for plant food, make sure to read the labels carefully and apply as instructed. Too little and you won't get much fruit, too much and your plants will yellow and die back.

You also need to keep an eagle eye on how moist your plant's soil is. Plants growing in the ground can reach deep for extra moisture. Container gardens can dry out completely after just an hour or two in the sun, and it requires a good soaking to get them thoroughly saturated again. Fortunately, if you're container gardening because of limited space, this often doesn't take too much time.

Don't let anyone tell you that you can't grow something in a container! While there are a few plants that won't thrive, almost anything can be grown and produce fruit in a planter. Our best success was in the few raised beds that we planted, where the roots of the plants could still dig through the ground we built them on. Root vegetables, like potatoes, onions, and carrots, need plenty of space to grow their fruits underground. Having said that, my best harvest of radishes came from a window box.

Now, in mid-July, we have Scarlet Runner Beans and eggplants in full blossom, and our tomato plants are weighted down with a abundance of still green tomatoes. We have been able to harvest some spicy radishes as well as rosemary, catnip, and cilantro. Our biggest experiment - planting some zucchini and cucumbers inside the trough of an old seed spreader and letting them grow up and over the sides, looks like a success as both vines continue to grow and spread.

So if you are limited in space or time, don't hesitate to try what you can with your garden. You'll be surprised how much you can get from a few potted plants, and as we all know, veggies taste best when straight from the vine!


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