How To Grow Vegetables In Containers

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Many people have neither the time nor the space for a vegetable garden. But nearly everyone has at least a sunny windowsill, indoor or outdoor spot where you can grow something fresh and delicious. In fact, Gateway Gardens and groups like Long Island Food Not Bombs share the mission of encouraging everyone to grow some food for themselves. In the case of Food Not Bombs, volunteers grow seedlings to give away to people at weekly food-sharing events in Hempstead, Huntington and Farmingville.

That’s a great idea, but while you can grow some lettuce or spinach in a half-gallon milk carton, you need a 10-gallon container like a garbage can for a zucchini.  So it’s important to understand what size different vegetables need; otherwise, the seedling will go to waste.

But bear in mind that the containers can be absolutely anything. In fact, you can cut an X in the plastic bag containing a commercial potting mix and plant your seedling right in the bag!

Vegetables for Small & Medium Containers
The vegetables that can make it in the smallest containers, besides lettuce and spinach, include radishes (which grow really fast) and green onions. A dwarf tomato plant needs about a two-gallon container, and that could be a plastic bucket or even a dishpan.

Five to 8 gallon buckets, garbage cans or flowerpots can hold larger quantities of the smaller vegetables and be used for carrots, beets and eggplant as well.

Important: Remember to put drainage holes in all containers and some bark or stones or something similar in the bottom to keep the soil from staying too wet.

Vegetables For Large Containers
For vegetables that grow on vines, like squashes, and others such as cabbage, full-size tomatoes, and Brussels sprouts, you need a 10-20 gallon container. Consider laundry baskets, old Styrofoam coolers, garbage cans, etc. You can get more than one kind of vegetable from a large container. For example, you could plant lettuce or spinach all around a couple of zucchini or a full-size tomato. When the weather gets warm and the tomato starts to get big, you’ll already have harvested the cool-weather loving lettuce.

Soil: A Long-Term Investment
The seedlings, of course, need soil to grown in, and you should regard the soil as a long-term investment. Don’t try to use soil you dig up from outside. Use a commercial potting mix either with topsoil and compost already in it, or purchase sterile topsoil and sterile compost to add to the potting mix. You can reuse your soil for years by just adding some compost to it next year and for years after.

More Information
Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County has lots more expert information about container farming. Follow this link to find it.