I meet so many urban gardeners who long for land. Who dream of larger spaces to grow… well, more. Can’t say I’m completely innocent, either. I’ll admit it: I have yard lust. Whenever I walk through residential neighbourhoods and spot an expanse of lawn or concrete, I tear it up and replace it with abundant veggie gardens, fruit trees and flower beds – if only in my mind.
But after several years of growing edibles solely in containers, I’ve come to accept, and even appreciate, container farming. Yes, there are limitations. Challenges, sure. But there are also advantages:
- You can get specific with soil. Crops will perform best if you cater to their soil preferences, and containers make it easy to give them what they want. For example, carrots are notorious for needing their soil just so. Your garden soil might be heavy clay – torture to a carrot – but you can have the lightest, fluffiest sandy loam – at least in one container.
- You can move them around. Cool-season crops like beets and spinach may enjoy full sun in early spring, but come June, they’ll quickly bolt if forced to stand in the heat all day. With containers, you can move heat-sensitive plants out of the sun, extending their season (and making room for heat-lovers like tomatoes!).
- You can build a garden anywhere. Sometimes the only space you have available is on your front steps or on the edge of a driveway. Containers don’t mind.
- Compaction is reduced. With traditional in-ground gardening, it’s hard to avoid stepping into your garden bed to sow, weed and harvest. This leads to soil compaction, which reduces your soil’s ability to absorb water and impacts plants’ root growth. In other words, compaction = bad.
- Pests and weeds are easier to control. While it doesn’t always feel like it, it’s easier to keep on top of weeding and pest control when you’re dealing with a potted garden because your total garden space is relatively small. And because they are raised, containers are easier to get at when you do have to have an intervention.
A note about crop rotation in containers: In a small space, it’s sometimes difficult to properly rotate your crops like all the books tell you to do. You may only have one area that gets enough sun to grow fruiting vegetables – so why would you forgo zucchini for a year or more because it wasn’t the year for curcubits? Instead, rotate your containers as well.
For example, on my deck I have three raised bed-type planters in which I grow most of my veggies. Only one of the planters can fit underneath the roof overhang, a place – I’ve learned – that’s ideal for growing tomatoes since it keeps the rain off the plants (and thus prevents blight). But instead of growing my tomatoes in the same under-the-overhang planter year after year (and depleting the soil of the nutrients tomatoes love while potentially encouraging the build up of pathogens and pests specific to nightshades) I move my planters around. So while I always grow tomatoes under the overhang, they’ll only grow in the same planter box every three years.