A Guide to Container Gardens & Indoor Garden Possibilities
By MaryK Johnson
Want to garden but short on space? Container gardening and hydroponics open the door to the many benefits of gardening. In this guide, we explore the benefits and possibilities of container gardens while delving into the diverse range of plants available from Snake River Seed Cooperative. Whether you are planning a garden for salad lovers, exploring companion planting pairings, or dreaming of growing a wonderous flower garden on your balcony, this guide provides a pretty good overview of the joyous world of container gardening.
Are container gardens worth it?
Jeff Middleton, founder of Boise Vertical Farms, advocates for a synergistic approach–using hydroponics for a continuous source of fresh greens, and traditional container gardening for veggies that just do better in soil, or need pollinators for producing some of our favorite fruits and veggies. While hydroponics may have higher setup costs, the ability to grow indoors year-round presents an attractive proposition, particularly for urban dwellers. Combine that with container gardens, using outdoor space as available, to have a solid variety of growing plants to live among and enjoy!
From my seedy understanding, it seems the reduced measurable produce is compensated by the human-plant-reciprocal relationship that comes from tending to plants and connecting with nature - as compared to in-ground gardening.
Vegetable Container Gardens: Ohhh Yeah!
Growing vegetables in containers is not just feasible but also advantageous. A range of plants can flourish in containers, providing a consistent harvest of fresh produce as highlighted by Naomi Davenport. This includes leafy greens, roots, vining plants, alternative grains, and herbs – not to mention flowers!
Success in container gardening involves thoughtful planning, including considerations for available space and support structures for specific plants like tomatoes and beans. Container gardening's adaptability allows for creative companion planting, maximizing the use of space and offering a delightful gardening experience.
Hydroponics: Weighing the Pros and Cons
While excelling in the year-round cultivation of greens and lettuces, hydroponics may pose initial cost challenges. Jeff notes that DIY systems provide flexibility and customization, allowing modifications to suit individual needs, and there are a ton of resources available out there. The basics of hydroponics involve water flow, airflow, and grow lights, ensuring optimal conditions and efficient water use. It's crucial to note that hydroponics may not support the growth of all types of vegetables, particularly root crops.
However, if daylight access is limited, hydroponics offers the best solution to fresh greens year-round!
Flowers in Containers: Be Surrounded by the Living Beauty
Container gardens extend beyond vegetables, accommodating the majority of the flowers SRSC offers. Pruning and attentive hydration are essential for the successful growth of flowers. For new gardeners, it can take a bit to overcome the feeling that one should preserve the beautiful living flower for as long as possible. It’s the reverse. Dead-heading is essential for plant health, that’s right! Flowers offer humans the ongoing gift of bouquets, we clip those lovely blooms to increase the plant’s health.
For the rest of this article, we focus on growing vegetables, and will focus on flowers in containers in an upcoming post!
Container Gardening Tips and Insights:
Naomi shares invaluable tips for successful container gardening, emphasizing the versatility of growing anything in containers. Brassicas, including kale and cabbage, thrive in containers and offer aesthetic appeal. Feeding soil is important before planting to ensure optimal plant nutrition. You can use compost or aged manure (for outside containers and be sure to rinse your veggies before eating them). Look to organic potting mixes from your local nursery among other options!
When asked what she most enjoys about container gardens, “They’re easy to add spots of color, to cheer things up! They’re mobile. You can move them in and out of areas.”
The temporary nature of plants in containers makes them excellent gifts, enhancing the gardening experience for both the grower and recipients.
Practical Tips for Container Gardening:
- Balcony, Patio, and Kitchen Gardens: Envision the pleasure of enjoying fresh meals from your balcony, patio, or kitchen garden, embracing the convenience and joy of homegrown produce.
- Transplanting and Gifting: If plants outgrow their containers, consider transplanting them into larger containers, the ground, or share the joy by gifting them to friends.
- Care and Attention: Container temperatures will fluctuate more than a garden bed will, so you will want to offer them some protection from wind, sudden temperature highs or lows, and heavy rain or hail. Pots that are easy to move can be relocated to a shelter for a time. Pots and containers that are heavier will benefit from the cover of a sheet - just suspend it above the plants.
Water: Container gardening involves careful attention to the moisture content of the soil. On hot days soil can dry out more quickly, and this can be affected by what material the container is made of. It is also easy to overwater plants! Check the moisture content of the soil daily, if there is moisture at a finger’s depth but dry on top that’s probably ok. Many plants like to dry out some between waterings. Also, water in the morning, and avoid overhead watering, water the soil directly.
Naomi says “Making sure that the pot has really good drainage is essential, making sure it’s not sitting in water. Having soil and refreshing nutrients that are available to the plants is important. Not exactly building soil like you might in a bed (in-ground garden or raised bed), but you want good well-draining soil in your container.”
Planting Possibilities from Snake River Seed Cooperative:
- Lettuces: From classic varieties to custom mixes, lettuces stand as a staple in container gardens, offering an array of textures and flavors.
- Mustard Greens: Adding a spicy kick to salads, mustard greens thrive in containers, contributing both flavor and nutritional value.
- Herbs: A multitude of herbs, including perennial options, can enhance your garden. Consider integrating herbs or flowers strategically to diversify the garden's appeal.
- Kale: Various types of kale, renowned for their hardiness and tolerance to quickly changing temps, lend themselves well to container gardening, providing nutritious and visually appealing greens.
- Spinach: A container-friendly leafy green, spinach brings versatility to salads and can be harvested continuously.
- Cress and Frisee: Making salad even MORE interesting! These lesser-known greens add unique textures and flavors, elevating the complexity of salads for enthusiasts.
- Chervil: A delicate herb that complements salads, adding a subtle anise flavor to the mix.
- Root Veggies: Radishes, carrots, and beets can thrive in containers, offering a diverse range of colors and tastes to salads. Also, there is no age limit on savoring the moment of popping a root veggie loose from the soil!
- Onions: Enjoy fresh onion greens from a container, adding a savory element to all kinds of kitchen creations! Clip the tops and enjoy them as you would scallions, but be sure to leave enough for them to photosynthesize nutrients for those glorious bulbs beneath the surface.
- Tomatoes: From cherry tomatoes to beefsteak varieties, container gardening accommodates a wide range of tomatoes, ensuring a bountiful harvest from small to mid-size types, and glorious victories from cultivating a few lovely large varieties.
- Beans: Explore our wide range of beans, from bush to pole varieties, thriving in containers and adding protein to your harvest.
- Peas: Try 1-2 sugar snap varieties just to see what all the fuss is about. 😉 As with all vining plants, be sure to have a trellis or other support system for managing plant growth.
- Peppers: These can do wonderfully in containers, provided they have good sunlight, they're started early enough (especially hot peppers!), and the soil is a good mix including compost!
- Sweet Corn, Zucchini, and Cucumbers: For the adventurous gardener, these larger plants can be accommodated with careful planning, expanding the range of delicious things to harvest! Just be careful of how many plants you start. Share the seeds and any extra starts with friends. For a single balcony, you may only need one zucchini or cucumber, and two or three corn stalks growing.
Companion Planting Pairings:
- Tomato and Basil: A classic pairing that not only complements flavors but also enhances each other's growth.
- Carrots and Radishes: An intriguing combination where radishes can be enjoyed long before the carrots mature, utilizing the space efficiently.
- Leafy Veggies with Carrots: Transplanting leafy veggies alongside carrots, once the greens are sufficiently large, maximizes sunlight exposure and space utilization.
- Grains and Cut Flowers: For a living flower garden with the unique qualities of a captivating bouquet, mix some grain plants with your favorite cut flowers, creating a stunning visual and culinary experience.
Snake River Seed Cooperative's diverse seed offerings empower individuals to create flourishing container gardens and hydroponic setups. From the crispness of lettuces to the adventure of growing sweet corn, the possibilities are vast. With thoughtful companion planting and strategic herb integration, these gardens not only provide a bounty of fresh produce but also contribute to the joy of gardening on a smaller scale. As you embark on this horticultural journey, the possibilities are boundless, offering a delightful blend of flavors, textures, and the simple joy of nurturing plants at home.
Jeff Middleton - Boise Vertical Farm - Whose mission is to help people recovering from drug and alcohol addiction, providing them with alternative activities, finding related work, and offering career development while preventing relapse. People love seeing something coming from the seed, sprouts pushing through the soil. He will assign a tray to newcomers to the operation, they’ll plant it out, then go for a day or two. When they come back the first thing they say is “How are my plants doing? How’s my growth going?.” He elaborates noting that small-scale farming in this sense is something to take possession of and be responsible for. Learn more at BoiseVerticalFarm.com
Naomi Davenport - A Sneaky Garden Gnome - A CWI Horticulture grad who has participated in growing community gardens and those positive connections all over the City of Boise some years back. She and her husband ran a successful personal gardens and landscapes business in the area for several years. They’ve since moved to Oregon where her gardening experience only grows more abundantly. She has provided this area do-gooder excellent insight, feedback, and encouragement on wild garden projects since 2018.
3 herbs & basil photo & assorted herbs, tomato, and pepper
Containers on Panel - CCBY Ramiro Pianrosa on Unsplash
Balcony in sunlight with potted plant on table - CCBY Artur Aleksanian on Unsplash
Woman watering plants - CCBY Cassidy Phillips on Unsplash
Large Rectangular Containers CCBY Asparagirl on Flickr
Melons, Lebanese squash, Yellow squash, 'Green Globe' artichokes, 'Toma Verde' tomatillos (two boxes), various heirloom tomatoes (three boxes and many pots), various hot and bell peppers (three boxes), corn, etc. Already harvested: cucumbers, lettuce, string beans, onions, shallots
Tromboncino squash (Zucchini rampicante) growing in an Earthbox and up a string trellis