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Organic Container Gardening

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Now, more than ever before, organic produce is growing in popularity. Although seen as a backlash against the overuse of pesticides, contamination, and genetic modification, it is really just a step back to the original roots of gardening. For centuries, organic gardening seemed limited to rural populations. However, with increasing food costs and a new environmental awareness, city residents are now finding new ways to grow their own produce, too. Their secret is container gardening. These outwardly small gardens are bursting with edible produce and fit into any space and budget. Creating your own container garden is easy and requires only a few essential supplies.


The container is the first fundamental item you will need. You can choose the classic terra cotta or decorative ceramic containers found at garden centers and department stores. However, another option to save money is to recycle old household items into unique containers. For example, you can use glass jars, plastic containers, old watering cans, tin cans, storage bins, garbage baskets, or old wicker laundry baskets. I’ve even seen a pair of old boots and suitcases made into thriving gardens.


When choosing your container, creativity is important but, even more so, is the necessary requirements of any basic garden. The container needs to be large enough not only for the plant to bloom, but deep enough to support a living soil and extensive root system. One downfall of container gardens is that they tend to dry out quickly. Be sure the container will be able to hold enough water and at the same time be able to drain excessive water properly.


You are now ready to fill your container with a good organic soil. Garden centers are a great place to start looking for your soil. You will want to choose one that has the correct balance for your plants. Even after choosing the best soil, you should still watch it closely throughout the growing season. Look for any signs that the soil is becoming compact or the plant is becoming root bound. Unfortunately, with container gardening, it is hard to maintain a living soil and it is advised that you replace the soil at least every other year.


One way I’ve found to help maintain a living soil is to add organic compost. A large plastic storage tote with a lid works great for composting in limited space and can easily be stored in a garage or on a patio. Begin by cutting several holes in the plastic tote to allow air to circulate. Oxygen is a necessary element in the composting process.


The three other elements needed to create good organic compost are carbon, nitrogen, and water. Carbon comes from adding dry leaves, dead flowers, or black and white newspaper. Collect scrapes from the kitchen such as fruit rinds or peels, coffee grounds, and egg shells to add nitrogen. Avoid any type of meat or processed waste. Water should be added until the mixture is moist, but not soggy. Too much carbon, inadequate air, and too little water can slow down the composting process. To speed it up, try breaking the ingredients into smaller pieces and turning the mixture more frequently.


Along with good soil and compost it is important to make sure your container garden is getting enough water. As mentioned earlier, container gardens tend to dry out more quickly than traditional garden beds leading to a large quantity of water being used. One way to save time, money, and water is to use a rain barrel. Plus, the water you catch will be free of chloride, fluoride, and ammonia. 


Many traditional barrel systems are set up to attach to your gutter, but even if you don’t have gutters or don’t have access to them, you can still collect rainwater. I’ve found that there is usually a spot or two from my roof that gets particularly heavy downpour when it’s raining. An open ten gallon bucket works great for collecting from these spots. To keep unwanted waste or bugs from the bucket, secure a piece of fine mesh screening across the top. It is not advised to use household water, sometimes called grey water, for your container gardens due to the chemicals it may contain.


With all of your supplies ready, it is now time to start selecting your plants. Many fruits and vegetables have been found to thrive in container gardens. Strawberries are an all time favorite. Blueberries and currants also grow well. If room is available and you have the proper climate, you can even grow your own apple tree or citrus fruit trees in a container. Some of the best and easiest vegetables to grown in containers are potatoes, lettuce, bush tomatoes, peppers, egg plants, salad greens, and runner beans. Some all time favorites, such as carrots, may not flourish in the limited space, but they may be available in a dwarf variety that will.


The most important practice for successful container gardening is to check all growing requirements. Verify that the fruit or vegetable you choose will be suitable for limited growing space. Make sure ample sunlight will be available for the plants as well. Support, such as tomato cages or lattices, will need to be provided for stalks or vines.


More than one kind of plant can be planted per container, but not only do you need to verify that they have the same growing specifications, but also keep in mind the weight of the container. Large container gardens can get extremely heavy. If they are too heavy they will not be suitable for balconies or decks. On the other hand, if they are too light they maybe blown over and damaged in the wind. 


One of the greatest advantages of container gardening is that the growing season does not have to end in autumn. Winter gardening, although limited, is still a great option for fresh produce. Salad greens, along with countless varieties of herbs, are great choices for indoor container gardening. Many people find that indoor herb gardens are so convenient that they keep them all year long. Basil, marjoram, thyme, cilantro, and rosemary are excellent choices for windowsills.


There are several things to keep in mind when choosing winter plants. First, you will want look at the growing period. Finding a plant that will be fully grown in about two months is ideal. The second factor is finding a variety that only requires low light levels. Fluorescent growing lights work great for indoor winter gardening, but are not a requirement. Just be sure to allow at least four hours of daily sunlight for the plants to prevent unhealthy levels of nitrogen. Finally, be aware of the temperature requirements; winter window sills can still be a bit chilly.


Container gardening has traditionally been limited to decorative plants. However, with more people growing conscious of the produce they are eating, the container garden is getting a new look. They are giving people who live in the city and country alike the opportunity to live a more sustainable and healthy life.

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