Growing vegetables in containers

Finding the right pots and sunlight areas

SELF-SUFFICIENT Growing vegetables in containers is a rewarding experience. Photo: Kate Russell

Radishes, beans, salad greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, garlic and many other edible plants can be grown in containers, given enough sunlight.

Without enough light, plants will not produce a harvest. Plants use sunlight, or artificially created sunlight, to create sugars using photosynthesis. Natural sunlight is ideal, but you can use inexpensive shop lights fitted with grow bulbs as an affordable replacement.

Choosing containers for your edible plants can be a lot of fun, just make sure that they have good drainage. Overwatering can drown your container plants. Thrift stores are full of attractive, affordable containers. You can also order beautiful new containers. Keep in mind, when selecting containers, that uncoated ceramic and wood containers dry out faster than metal, plastic, or glazed ceramic. Make sure your containers are safe for food before adding soil.

Soil is the lifeblood of your vegetable garden. This is the one area that warrants splurging. Since you are growing vegetables to eat, organic potting soil is your best bet. While there are plenty of pre-fertilized commercial soil mixtures available, some of those chemicals are known to cause health concerns.

What will you grow? Look in your refrigerator! What produce do you buy most frequently? Tomatoes are highly rewarding container plants, and cherry tomato plants can be prolific. You can get many of your seeds and starters from plants you already have on hand. Bell peppers and tomatoes are chock full of seeds. If you cut the end from your bunch of celery and plant it, you will end up with celery stalks with far more flavor than you are used to. Next time you take the seeds out of a jalapeño, push them into some soil and add a little water. Salad greens, radishes, and spinach are very rewarding vegetables from seed. Ask your gardener friends if they have extra seeds. I’ll bet they do!

Some plants need pollination to produce a crop. If your containers are outside, bees, wasps, flies, and other insects will provide the pollination needed. You can increase the likelihood of these helpful insects coming into your garden with flowers. If you are growing vegetables in containers indoors, you can still have a successful crop if you pollinate by hand. Simply use a small paintbrush and gently touch the tip of the brush to each flower head, making sure to complete two circuits of each flower in a different order. The pollen from one flower must come in contact with a different flower to create tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and pumpkins, which are, in fact, fruits. True vegetables, such as lettuce and spinach, do not require pollination.

Once you try your hand at growing vegetables in containers, you will become self-sufficient in delicious, rewarding ways that you never thought possible.

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About Kate Russell
Kate Russell is a UCCE Master Gardener in Santa Clara county.