How to Establish Your Container Garden
Vegetable production is not only applicable in the countryside or in the gardens but can be grown now within the heart of the city or just in your home even with only a limited space.
If your home has an area with ample sunlight – a requirement for growing vegetables, you can grow them successfully. What are the locations that can be used for container gardening? You can use your patio, balcony, terrace, rooftop, deck, window sill, pathways, etc.
Be aware of the sunlight requirement for each kind of crop. For leafy vegetables, the required sunlight should be about four hours the whole day, for fruit vegetables, at least 7-8 hours sunlight is needed daily, and root vegetables requires around 6 hours of sunlight a day.
And besides of producing your own vegetables in a safer way, the attack of common pests and diseases can be greatly minimized. You can also improve the soil conditions by adding some soil amendments; like manure, compost, and other essential food nutrients needed by the plants.
Everything in your home that are considered as garbage can be utilized to the maximum by making them into compost. Even your household waste water can be used to irrigate your plants.
In other words, container gardening is considered to be the practice that makes use of useless things.
What Containers Are Ideal For Container Gardening?
Growing vegetables can be executed in any type of containers such as; cans, plastics, pails, split vehicle tires, cement bags, feed bags, bottle water plastics, gallon cans, cylinder blocks, milk container, bamboo cuts or any containers that have been thrown away. Even coco shells, banana bracts, leaves of coconut is ideal as potting materials especially for short season vegetables, like, pechay, lettuce, mustard, etc.
Good growing containers should possess the three important characteristics as suggested by Relf (1996);
1. They must be large enough to support fully grown plants.
2. They must have adequate drainage.
3. They must not have held products that are toxic to plants and persons.
Containers that drain poorly can affect the success of a container garden. It is therefore vital to have your containers above ground or any support that would raise the containers such as; slats, hollow blocks or anything to provide space below them to allow excess water to drain freely.
For bigger plants, you should use big containers and for small containers use small plants.
Small containers (1-2 gallons) are suited for lettuce, spinach, mustard, pepper, radish, green onions, carrots, beans, and dwarf tomatoes. Medium size containers (3-10 gallons) are best for eggplants while for larger ones (bigger than 10 gallons) are good for cabbage, cucumbers and tomatoes.
For most plants, containers should be at least 15 cm deep minimum especially for shot season vegetables.
Recommended Container Size and Type/Crop
5 gal. window box – Bush beans, Lima beans
1 plant/5gal.pot, 3plants/15 gal. pot -Cabbage, Chinese cabbage
5 gal. window box at least 30 cm deep – carrot
1 plant/gal. pot – cucumber
5 gal. pot – Eggplant, tomato, okra
5 gal. window pot – Lettuce
1 plant/2gal. pot; 5 plants/15 gal. pot – Onion
5 gal. window box – Pepper, spinach
Soil Media Composition
Plants grown in containers will depend on the kind of soil mixture to provide a maximum growth development. It is a must that you should provide the best soil media composition to give the possible return of your toil. Failure to give the plants with the necessary food nutrients in their growing period would results to poor growth, lanky, and stunted plants that will results to your failure.
The ideal soil mixture for container-grown vegetables crops are as follows:
1. It should be light in weight and porous.
2. It should easily drain excess water.
3. It should have high water holding capacity.
4. It should be free from soil borne disease, nematodes and insect pests.
5. It should supply the right and balance amount of nutrients for the plants.
The best mixture of soil media should compose the following; synthetic mix of horticultural-grade vermiculite, peat moss, limestone, superphosphate and complete fertilizer.
Compost can also serve as an excellent growing medium.
In your country where the above media are not available, you can make your own potting media by mixing 1 part loam soil or compost manure, 1 part fine river sand, and coconut coir dust.
If your country is producing rice you can replace coconut coir dust with the rice hull charcoal (carbonized). But this should be thoroughly sterilized to kill some deadly microbes that are detrimental to the plants.
Sawdust is another medium that could be used in preparing your growing medium in the absence of coco coir dust and should also be sterilized.
Sowing Seed and Transplanting
Before going into the sowing procedure, give your utmost attention to the selection of seed you’ll use as planting materials. Good quality seeds should be your first concern.
Good quality seeds possesses the following characteristics:
1. damage free
2. free from other mixture with other varieties
3. free from seed borne diseases
4. and with good vigor and germinating capacity.
To get a quality and reliable seeds, you should buy from certified seed producers or seed suppliers.
All vegetables that undergoes transplanting are excellent for container gardening. Transplants can be purchased from local nurseries or other successful gardeners in your locality.
Before transplanting, fill plastic or germinating tray with the growing media preparation using the following ratio: 60% rice hull charcoal(carbonized), 30 % coconut coir dust, 10% chicken manure (60-30-10 ratio).
In the absence of the above materials in your country, you can use the old soil media preparation – 1 part sand, 1 part compost, and 1 part garden soil (1-1-1 ratio). Make sure to sterilize them before the seed are sown. This is to kill some microorganisms that may cause damage to the seedlings.
You can also purchase a prepared growell medium sold in local agriculture stores in your respective country. Inquire from your agriculture experts available in your area.
Once the growing media is ready, fill the holes of the germinating or potting containers. Press the soil medium lightly with your fingers in every hole filled with the medium. Then follows the sowing of seeds.
In sowing seeds some techniques should be followed to insure germination:
Watermelon (Seeded) (Citrulis lunatus). Soak seed 30 min.- 1hour in top water. Incubate by using moist cotton cloth. Spread the seeds and cover. Place in an improvised cartoon for 24-36 hours. After this period, sow the seeds at I seed per hill. Seed must be level in the soil guided by a finger or stick at 1 cm deep. For the seedless type the procedure is the same as the seeded but the tip near the embryo should be cut with the use of a nail cutter before inserting to the soil. Cutting the end portion of the seed hastens germination.
Bitter Gourd/Ampalaya (Momordica charantia). Soak seeds for 30 min.-1 hour. Cut the tip near the embryo and sow with the seed deep of ¾ of the soil at 1 seed per hole.
Upo ( Lagenaria siceraria ) and Patola ( Luffa cylindrica ). Cut the tip covering only near the embryo and sow seed at 1 seed per hole.
Squash (Cucurbita spp). Soak seeds 30 min.-1 hour. Then pinch the tip near the embryo and sow seed at 1 seed per hole.
Pepper (Capsicum annum L.), Eggplant (Solanum melongena), and Tomato (Lycopersicum esculentum). Sow the seed directly to the germinating tray at 1-2 seeds per hole.
Pechai /Pechay (Brassica pechai), Lettuce (Lactuca sativa), Cauliflower (Brassica oleracea var. botrytis ), and Broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. Italica ). Sow seed directly to the germinating at 1-2 seeds per hole.
Cucumber (Cucumis sativus), Honey Dew / Muskmelon (Cucumis melo). Sow the seed directly to the germinating tray at 1 seed per hole.
Carrot (Daucus carota) and Raddish (Rafanus sativus). Directly sow the seed to the field at 2-3 seeds per hill.
Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis ) and Beans (Phaseolus limensis ). Sow the seed directly to the field at 1 seed per hill.
Corn (zea mays). Sow the seed directly to the field at 1 seed per hill.
Papaya (Carica papaya). Soak the seeds for 30 min.-1 hour then sow to the germinating tray at 1 seed per hole.
Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus ). Directly sow the seed in the field at 1-2 seeds per hill.
Container size for specific crops.
o Medium – Beans, lettuce, carrots, cabbage, broccoli
o Large – Cuccumber, eggplant, tomato, pepper, okra, squash, papaya
o Small – Onions, parsley, radish
o Sun – Beans, cucumber, eggplant, tomato, pepper, carrots, okra, squash, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, broccoli papaya
o Partial shade – Lettuce, onions, parsley, radish
To get the right amount of fertilizer for your vegetables, you should analyze your soil media mixture. And if you can do it, organic or inorganic fertilizer should be used.
Fertilizer combination of organic and inorganic would be much better with the correct proportion depending on the plant requirement.
When using inorganic fertilizer you should prepare a base nutrient solution by dissolving 2 cups of complete fertilizer in 1 gallon of warm water.
A growing solution is prepared by diluting 2 tablespoons of the base solution in 1 gallon of water.
Application starts by pouring 2-3 tablespoons of the growing solution on the soil media around the plants at the time of transplanting.
The frequency of application may vary from one crop to another, but one application per day is adequate. It is advisable to leach all unused fertilizer out of the soil mix once a week by watering tap water to cause free drainage through the holes in the bottom of the container.
This practice will prevent buildup of injurious materials in the soil media. If you want to use organic fertilizer, you should use pure or 2/3 compost in the growing media.
If both the organic and inorganic fertilizer will be used, at least one part of the growing media should be compost and one tablespoon of the growing solution applied at least once a day.
If you’ll use synthetic mix growing medium, which is already enriched with superphosphate and complete fertilizer subsequent fertilization may not be necessary for early maturing crops.
For late maturing crops, daily application of the growing solution is necessary until maturity or shortly before harvesting.
Water is the life for container garden plant. It’s important that you should not neglect this requirement. Proper water management is vital for a successful container gardening.
Basically, one watering a day is enough for container-grown crops. But for vegetables grown in small containers may require 2 times of watering a day.
Plants grown in clay pots needs more frequent watering since pots are more porous and extra water is allowed to drain out from their sides.
If the growing medium appears to be excessively dry and as the plant shows signs of wilting, the containers should be grouped together so that the foliage creates a canopy to help shade the soil and keep it cool.
Poor drainage of the growing media or container can lead to water-logged condition that may results to plant death due to lack of oxygen.
To make sure you have a vigorous plants, always check the containers at least once a day and twice on hot, dry, or windy days and to feel the soil to determine whether it is dump.
To reduce water evaporation for container plants, you should apply mulching materials such as plastic mulch or putting windbreaks.
You can also install trickle or drip irrigation system to the plants base if you think you can’s attend to your plants daily.
Pests and Diseases Control
Control of pests and diseases in containers needs your careful assessment because wrong use of pesticides may cause damage to the environment, especially children who may often come closer to your container plants.
To be safe, you should implement the Integrated Pest Management (IPM). This approach is focused on the so called systematic pest management which means to prevent problems before the pests and diseases appears.
How you can do this?
It is done by monitoring pest population, identifying pests, and choosing a combination of control methods to keep pests population at a minimal level. These methods includes cultural, mechanical, biological, and chemical methods.
o Select insect and disease-resistant varieties of vegetables. Avoid insect attracting plants in the garden or those that are susceptible to pests. Beans, peas, cucumbers, spinach, lettuce and squash are more resistant to insect pests.
o Water the plants adequately to keep them healthy. Fertilize and thin plants to reduce competition for moisture and nutrients.
o Remove weeds to conserve soil moisture and eliminate hiding places of pests.
o Encourage natural enemies of insect pests, such as predators and parasites. Attract beneficial insects like; Western Damsel Bug, Lady Beetle, Green Lace Wing, and Minute Pirate Bug into your garden by planting small flowered plants such as; daisies, cosmos, marigold, and clover. Be sure they are in flower bloom throughout the growing season.
o Avoid growing the same types of vegetables in the same spot year after year. A 4-year rotation cycle is recommended.
o Exclude pests from plants by using fiber materials, row cover, and other barriers such as plastic bottles and plant collars.
o Remove infested part of the plant right away. Remove all plant residues from the containers after harvesting all the crops.
o Use traps to disrupt mating cycles of insects. Yellow sticky boards catch winged aphids, whiteflies, and leafhoppers.
o Handpick pests or knock them off plants with a stream of water from a garden hose. Kill the insects by putting them a soapy water.
o If all other control methods fails, the least toxic insecticides includes botanical control such as neem and pyrethrin. Insecticidal soap, horticultural oil may also be used for insect control. Always identify the pests before choosing a pesticide and use according to label directions.
Harvesting varies with vegetables. Leafy vegetables may be harvested when the desired leaf size is required for every use they are intended. Others harvest leafy vegetables after the required age is meet. For fruit vegetables such as, Luffa, Cucumber, Eggplant, beans, Okra, and Upo they are harvested when their size are big but tender. For squash varieties, they are harvested either matured or big but tender depending on the preference of users.
Cabbage, cauliflowers, and broccoli should be harvested when their heads are already compact. Peppers and tomatoes may be harvested when their fruits have started to ripen.
If you’re growing container-grown vegetables just for home consumption, you can harvest only some part of the plant and retain the rest for future use. But if you think you have more than enough for family use, you can harvest them all and sell or give them to your neighbors.
Never allow your vegetables to bear flower before harvesting them except when your purpose is to collect the seeds for future planting.
Maturity Indices of some Vegetables
o White potato, onion, garlic – Tops begins to dry and topple down
o Cowpea, sitao, snap beans, batao, sweet pea, winged bean – Well-filled pods that really snap
o Okra – Full-sized fruits with the tips that can be snapped readily
o Lima beans, pigeon pea – Well-filled pods that are starting to lose their greenness
o Upo, luffa – Immature (if thumb nail can penetrate easily)
o Tomato – Seeds slip when fruit is cut, or green color turning pink
o Sweet pepper – Deep green color turning dull
o Musk melon – Color of lower part turns creamy yellow, produces dull hallow sound when thumped
o Cauliflower – Curd compact (over mature if flower clusters elongates and begin to loosen)
o Broccoli – Bud cluster compact (over mature if loose)
o Cabbage – Heads compact s (over mature if heads cracks)
o Sweet corn – Exudes milk sap when thumbnail penetrates kernel
o Eggplant, ampalaya – Desirable size is reached out but still tender
o Honey dew – White color cream with aroma
o Squash – Big enough with dried leaves
o Watermelon – Dull hollow sound when thumped and lower color part turns yellow
o Water spinach – Leaves at their broadest and longest
Problems Encountered in Container Gardening
In container gardening you’ll meet some problems that may hinder your daily operations. This is sometimes discernible when you’ll not attend the plants due to negligence.
However, you can prevent these problems if you’ll religiously observe your plants closely. Small pests and diseases can’t be seen visibly if you’ll not see the plant appearance closely. You’ll only see the affected plants once you come closer and actually touch them.
Some symptoms, causes, and corrective measures you should observe…
o Tall, spindly and not productive. The plants receives insufficient sunlight and excessive supply of Nitrogen. To correct them, you should transfer the containers to a place where there is sufficient sunlight.
o Yellowing from bottom, poor color, and lack vigor. The plants receives too much water and low fertility. To correct this, you have to reduce watering intervals and check the pots for good drainage.
o Plants wilt even with sufficient water. The plants has poor drainage and aeration. To correct, you should use a potting mix with high percentage of organic matter. Increase the number of holes of the container for good drainage.
o Burning or firing of the leaves. The soil medium is high in salt. To correct this problem, you have to leach the container with tap water at regular intervals.
o Stunted growth, sickly, and purplish color of leaves. The temperature is low and low phosphate. To correct, you should relocate the containers to a warmer area. Increase phosphate level in base solution.
o Holes in leaves and distorted in shape. The plants are pests infested. To correct, you should use non-chemical insecticides or other biological control for insects.
o Spots on the leaves, dead dried areas or powdery or rust occurrence. The plants are affected with a disease. To correct them, you should remove the disease affected parts or the whole plant in serious condition. You can use non-chemical pesticides if the disease is in the early stage of infestation.