Growing a Productive Container Garden
Remember how much fun I was having propagating vegetables and growing seedpods in the hydroponic system from the story, Cultivating a Green Thumb? Well… everything was growing as fast as an old dude’s ear hair, so it was apparent they would soon need a new place to grow besides my small kitchen.
Deciding an indoor container garden was the way to go, I started making room in a heated porch having southward facing windows. Meanwhile, my husband built some tables that sat just under the edge of the windowsills so the plants would receive lots of light.
It all seemed perfect!
After the weather started warming up and the plants were transplanted into bigger pots, they were carefully situated in front of the windows every morning and moved back inside by sundown. Watching the plants thrive, I kept my fingers crossed they would survive my brown thumb tendencies and actually make it to maturity.
As they grew out of their starter pots and were transplanted into bigger ones, I thought, “This is going to work out GREAT!”
Until one day, my pleased-as-punch persona got squashed like sour grapes.
Showing off my fancy garden room to my brother, the farmer, he promptly informed me that the windows wouldn’t provide enough light.
“Won’t it work like a greenhouse?” I argued, wishing for my idea to thrive just as my plants were.
“Nope. Not enough light,” my brother stated plainly.
Remembering setting the light's timer on the hydroponic system for so many hours, and knowing for a fact that my brother's thumb was WAY greener than mine ever dreamed, I caved to his know-how and proceeded to sort out how to get my plants to produce by the end of summer without planting them in the ground.
I hate weeding, and I didn’t want my dogs (or other critters like Peter) enjoying the vegetables before I did, so I decided that a mobile garden would be the next best solution.
Purchasing 2 utility wagons and 1 planting trough so the plants could be easily moved inside in times of frost or inclement weather, it would also make it handy for relocating them in sun or shade during the hot summer months.
So this is what happened after the indoor grow operation became an outdoor, mobile garden...
The Herb Plants
The herb plants were quick to let me know they did not like being outside. After losing a couple of transplants (as in DEAD as hell!), I brought the remaining plants inside where they now grow happily in an east-facing window.
Having killed every sweet basil plant I had ever attempted to grow in the past, I whispered sweet nothings to my delicious little herb bearer promising to do my best not to kill it and scoured the Internet for support. Finding an article showing how-to prune sweet basil correctly seems to have resolved my deadly pruning behaviors, and fresh, sweet basil has enriched our spaghetti sauce ever since.
Besides sweet basil, we have also enjoyed fresh dill and Thai sweet basil in recipes, and those plants are still alive, too! As a matter of fact, I have to be mindful to chop the tops every few weeks so they don’t go to seed.
The leaf lettuce had been harvested 3 times before I forgot to water it and it died.
Honestly, I found growing leaf lettuce tedious and aggravating. They needed watering all the time, attracted bugs like a feral cat (even while inside the house), and the leaves grew at ridiculously, uneven rates.
I think the trick with leaf lettuce is to harvest the leaves as soon as they look ripe, but when you only have six small plants, sometimes there is only one leaf to harvest. Leaving that one leaf on the plant until the others grow doesn’t work so great either because it gets wilted and gross looking. Even though we eat salads often, there were times the lettuce looked so hideous that I wouldn’t want to put it on the salad plate.
The Propagated Plants
The garlic cloves and ginger root turned out to be a total flop. As both samples slowly rotted away to mushy blobs, it is obvious more research is needed before giving it another try.
As you may remember, the green onions were enjoying life in shot glasses lined up on the windowsill, but they freaked out after planting them in the dirt. It seemed every day another withered soul needed to be pulled from the pot.
After transplanting a dozen green onions, two plants made it through the propagation process. And because they were looking so wilted and sad all this time, I let them grow till they were the fattest scallions I had ever seen, and used them on Salsa canning day.
The avocado pits are STILL sitting in the kitchen window rooting. They are taking the most ridiculous amount of time to root! It’s no wonder they take so long to produce any fruit.
You’re supposed to root them until a sprout comes out the top of the pit, so I have changed their water twice a week in hopes that something would happen.
Finally, it did!
The skinniest looking sprout you’ve ever seen is hanging out of the tops of the pits, so it is finally getting close to time to pot them and see what happens next. As slow going as it has been, I’m guessing it will take the full 13 years before they produce fruit.
In retrospect, I believe the reverse osmosis water has slowed the propagating process.
Although reverse osmosis water is recommended for delicate plants because a grower can control they type of nutrients added, otherwise there is nothing in R/O water for your propagated plants to grow with unless you add them yourself.
So use well water.
Also note that softened water is not recommended for watering or propagating plants because it will make them "die of thirst."
Purchased Vegetables Plants
Early Girl Tomatoes:
In the past, I always bought the Beefsteak tomatoes with plans to use them for Salsa. But they took too long to harvest, and by the time they were ripe they had split open and looked terrible. So for full-sized tomatoes, I bought the Early Girls this year.
The difference is they are two types of tomato plant varieties. The Early Girl is a Determinate variety which grow 2-3 feet tall, then works on ripening the fruit. Beefsteaks are an Indeterminate variety which keeps growing taller and taller, working on setting and ripening fruit until frost kills it.
Never having much luck with tomatoes, I wanted the Early Girls to have the best opportunity to prove themselves. So I bought 15-gallon fabric tubs to plant them in after reading they were the best bet for container gardens.
Like with the sweet basil plants, I needed help knowing how to prune tomatoes. Luckily, there are tons of articles on the Internet. Basically you just need to:
1. Pinch off all of the leaves on the lower part of the tomato plant so nothing hangs in the dirt.
2. Thin out the suckers left on branches below the first flowers.
3. Clip any shoots that form on the sides of branches to offer lots of air circulation.
Although my pruning efforts worked out okay, you can see I got a little scissor happy.
Since the branches were growing heavy with fruit, I tied them in an upright position which cramped the leaves together causing too much moisture. To fix this and avoid disease, I trimmed LOTS of branches leaving many tomatoes exposed to sunscald. Sunscald makes the tomatoes skins a little tougher than normal, but at least they still taste good.
If you are wondering why I didn’t use tomato cages, it has been my experience those flimsy cages do not hold a tomato plant very well. Besides that, most research discredits the traditional tomato cage, anyway.
To give the tomato plants stability, I used heavy, plastic coated plant stakes that stand about 3-feet tall, but even that wasn’t enough to hold up the two behemoth tomato bushes that grew! Using a roll of twine to support the plants throughout the growing season worked okay, but maybe next year I will try the tomato tower.
The Early Girls have a wonderful flavor and are the perfect size for any recipes I use. I will definitely grow these again next year.
Of the two Roma Tomato plants, one developed blossom-end rot caused from a lack of calcium in the soil. When first noticed, I tried fixing it with crushed eggshells and Epsom salts. This home remedy seemed to help reduce the brown spots noticed in June, but it didn’t stop it completely. The magic elixir to maintain soil pH between 6.5 - 7.5 is to add lime and make sure to maintain soil moisture throughout the growing season.
Normally I buy Roma tomatoes throughout the winter because they are meatier than the only other choice - seedy, watery, hydroponic tomatoes with no flavor. Since the Early Girls I grew taste so much better, I won't be doing the Romas again.
The Cherry Tomato Bushes started in the hydroponic system were doing the best of all the tomato plants. Even the leaves felt tougher compared to the others... until I nearly killed them!
The nonstop rain in June flooded all of the vegetable plants, except for those in the fabric pots. Unfortunately, I had left these plants in the plastic pots.
Of the 3 cherry tomato bushes, 2 of them were doing so-so while the 3rd turned completely yellow! The poor little seedling needed rescuing pronto-quick, so I transplanted all three in 7-gallon fabric pots my son had shared with me, and it didn’t take long for the yellow tomato plant to turn green again.
All three cherry tomato plants were doing great through July, but at the beginning of August the leaves started turning yellow with green veins. I discovered this was a sign of magnesium deficiency which is easily treated with a solution of Epsom saltwater sprayed on the leaves.
Babying these plants throughout the growing season, I have been able to harvest cherry tomatoes since the beginning of August, and the little bushes are still loaded! Even though they got a little squirrelly, the tomatoes taste delicious and there are tons of them! I will definitely be growing these again next year.
When it comes to green pepper plants, I have never had much luck growing them. Not very hopeful that the store bought plants would produce, I left these guys in plastic containers and let them do their thing.
Two-and-a-half months later, the bumper crop of bell and jalapeno peppers is amazing! This phenomena can only be explained by the combination of good soil, steady watering, and an excellent growing season. Next year I will plant them together in the fabulous 15-gallon fabric tubs and hope for a giant pepper bush.
The strawberry trough found on Pinterest was a cool idea, but the plants purchased for that system are way behind those planted in a deeper pot. They are just now starting to produce strawberries whereas the other plants have been growing fruit every day since the beginning of August. I’m not sure if the difference is the deeper pot or the type of plants purchased, but I'm thinking the strawberry trough will be used for flowers next year.
Cucumbers & Spaghetti Squash:
The three pickling cucumbers and seven spaghetti squash plants in the trough planter is an absolute mess! The plants are growing, but it appears they are not liking to hang from the container.
Three of the dried out, spindly vines spit out weird cucumbers that I thought were cross-pollinated with squash, but according to Gardening Know How they can't do this, “because the genetic structure of the two plants is so different.”
To explain why my cucumbers were growing fat and orange, theCooperative Extension website explains, “…cukes that turn yellow are generally over-ripe. Also, they may have been over-watered.”
For sure the cucumbers were overwatered because I was making sure the squash got plenty of water, but they are supposed to grow up to 6-inches long before ripening. Not 1-inch!
The cute little spaghetti squashes were looking good in the beginning. But since the vines have dried up and looking very much like they are petering out, I don't know if they are going to make it to harvest size. But I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
Next year, I will try something different if I do any vegetables on vines. Maybe a trellis will work better.
It has been a good growing season, and my green thumb is coming along nicely with the help of the Internet.
Besides watering sufficiently, adding nutrients when needed, and making sure the soil PH is good, I discovered the key to growing well producing plants is to use GOOD soil from the start. Don’t go with the cheapest dirt you can find. Instead, spend a little extra and get soil intended for growing vegetables.
The best soil mixtures for vegetables contain peat moss, vermiculite, compost, worm castings and chicken manure. Look for these key ingredients when purchasing vegetable garden soil, or better yet, make your own mix.
How did your garden grow this year?
Thanks so much for reading!
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Allotment and Garden, 2020, Tomatoes Magnesium Deficiency – Yellow Leaves, Epsom Salts, https://www.allotment-garden.org/vegetable/how-to-grow-your-own-tomatoes/tomato-troubles-diseases-causes-cures/tomatoes-magnesium-deficiency/
Cooperative Extension Ask and Expert, 2014, August 19, Some Short, Fat and Yellow Cucumbers, https://ask.extension.org/questions/207518
Culligan, 2020, Gardening With Soft Water, Hard Water, or Reverse Osmosis, https://www.culligannation.com/gardening-wth-soft-water/
Gardeners Supply Company, LaLiberte, Katherine, 2019, June 11, What Kind of Tomato Should I Grow, https://www.gardeners.com/how-to/selecting-the-right-tomato-variety/5259.html
Gardening Know How, Rhoades, Heather, 2020, Softend Water In The Garden: Can Softened Water Be Used For Watering?, https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/plant-problems/environmental/softened-water-and-plants.htm
Gardening Know How, Rhoades, Heather, 2020, Can Squash Cross Pollinate With Cucumbers, https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/vegetables/squash/can-squash-cross-pollinate-with-cucumbers.htm
MSU Extension, 2016, September 1, Blossom-end rot of tomato tip sheet, https://www.canr.msu.edu/resources/blossom_end_rot_tip_sheet
RuralSprout, Skyer, Meredith, 2019, July 11, How to Prune Basil for Big, Bushy Basil Plants, https://www.ruralsprout.com/prune-basil/