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.
Great post! Is that photo of your new garden? It’s lovely. :)
Andrea Bellamy says
Thanks, Laurel! That’s a photo of my third-floor balcony (we live in a townhouse, so there’s also a little ground-floor patio). I’ve grown veggies in two of those raised beds for a couple years but added a third this year, mostly so I could add another year into my crop rotation plan.
Hi Andrea, what a lovely garden! Are those tomatoes in the back?
Andrea Bellamy says
Thanks, Lou! The tomatoes – just planted yesterday after weeks in my mom’s greenhouse (thanks, Mom!) – are to the left in this photo, against the house. Those are peas growing up the metal spirals against the glass partition.
Where did you get those planters? That’s the main challenge for me–finding the right planters. (I’m in Vancouver too.)
Andrea Bellamy says
Hi Sasha – They’re from Sunbury Cedar, which is on River Road in Delta. They have a good selection of – you guessed it – cedar planters.
Looks fab! :)
I love the metal spiral supports you have for your peas!
Andrea Bellamy says
Thanks! They’re from Lee Valley. I also use them to support tomatoes.
How do you anchor your spirals? I’m in love with them when I saw them at the store but was worried about them falling over.
excellent use of space!
i too cringe at manicured lawns and imagine what i would grow there…speaking of, i’m all container gardening this year too – can’t wait to show it off. here’s a couple other tips: companion planting – i’ve got my basil with my tomatoes so i don’t have to use extra pots for basil and my squash is going into the large pot with beans. if your veggies grow upwards and have shallow roots plant them with some root veggies. also, to keep soil splatter to a minimal use mulch. gravel from an old aquarium works well too and adds extra nitrogen. :-)
Wonderful post! Thank you. I have bookmarked this page, since fate might be moving us to an apartment, and a way from our garden. I hadn’t thought about container farming for veggies, and this makes me feel a lot better about a possible move back to apartment land.
Everything looks so fresh and lovely! The containers are perfect.
I just wanted to step inside your photo and start grazing…
Hi, different Sally here. Thanks for bringing up those important advantages of containers. I am starting to grow more vegetables in containers because of limited sunlight in my backyard.
Your containers are quite large. How much of your soil do you replenish from year to year?
Great post. Very encouraging and informative. I have been container gardening since we sold our house two years ago, and are temporaraly (we hope) renting. I don’t want to put plants in the ground here only to dig up if we should move. So I grow in containers now and have had good luck on some things and not so on others. We live by the ocean so get many foggy, gray days. Can’t grow tomatoes at all. Peas on the other hand did very well.
thanks for this! i planted lots of veg, herbs, salad fixins this year in containers every bit of extra info helps!
NOt to mention that in containers you do not have to deal with pesky critters like nematodes. In fact I have a garden, but use containers for tomatoes and lettuces, otherwise they wont make it.
Love the blog, and you have a nice garden. TY
I’m trying to figure out how to build some nice raised raised-beds for my patio. Those look like a pretty good representation of what I would like, if only a little low. Do you have any more pics? or plans maybe?
that picture is one awesome third floor balcony.Exceptional
Hey Andrea! I was so excited to read your post regarding container gardening. We live in RI and have 3/4 of an acre and my husband WONT let me “cut up the grass” to grow vegetables (I know, I know) … I love your large cedar containers. As a newbie, I will settle for very large containers from Walmart so I can get started right away. Thanks for all the tips regarding using the over-hang for tomatoes, year to year container rotation and moving plants depending on their sun needs! I’ll get my vegatable garden, yet!