How to start a container vegetable garden

By green spaces

For many city dwellers who may be living in apartments or rental properties, starting a vegetable garden may feel like an impossible idea.

However, if there’s a will, there is always a way.

Container gardening is one way to get around this restriction. It can also make the task of moving a lot easier and less of a sunk cost than starting a raised bed.

Personally, I’m just starting up my container garden again. I used to grow them on my deck back in 2016. When I had my baby, I stopped gardening all together because life got too overwhelming.

However, at our new place, I’ve decided to start up my container gardens again.

Here are some of the lessons learned about starting a container vegetable garden.

Know what you’ll eat

The first time I started container gardening, I just planted whatever was recommended to me – things like radishes and carrots – except I was content with buying my $2 bag of 1kg carrots from the supermarket and I never really did eat the radishes.

The vegetables I grew got wasted as a result.

Before you start planting, be honest with yourself, You know what you’re going to eat and it’s best to plant them instead of going with whatever is the fastest growing.

Personally, I love snow peas but they’re expensive where I live. It was much more economical for me to grow snow peas and I know I’ll definitely eat them.

It was the same thing when I grew mushrooms for the first time.

Take stock of the stables you buy and do a cost analysis of what will be worth it to grow.

When starting out, you don’t need to be fully self-sustaining with all your vegetables – just enough to make an impact.

Start small and grow your collection

If you’re new to container gardening, it’s good to start small. That way you won’t get overwhelmed by the cost of things (which does add up quite a bit).

Another good thing to consider is to start with a certain type of plant or vegetable group. For example, you can start with herbs.

Some herbs are perennials, meaning that they just keep growing regardless of season.

Herbs are also a good starter for your container garden because they grow quickly and can be easily maintained.

Here’s a list of perennial herbs that are super easy to start on your kitchen bench:

  • mint
  • greek oregano
  • chives
  • winter savory
  • rosemary
  • sage
  • french tarragon
  • thyme

I’m suggesting herbs because they can be used right away and can be thrown into your dishes in small quantities. Once you get into the groove of eating fresh herbs, you can start expanding your containers to include things like lettuce (if you eat lettuce).

My growth rate is usually around a new container or plant every other week. Why not just get it all planted up in one week?

Succession planting lets me create a consistent supply rather than everything becoming ready all at once. This means I can also determine when I have enough herbs and vegetables to sustain my consumption rate.

Set an on-going budget

If you want to get your container garden to a sustainable state, you’re going to need an on-going budget for a certain amount of time.

The budget doesn’t have to be a big one – just consistent enough to let you regularly invest in growing your pots, soil and seeds planted.

$20 is my fortnightly budget because a bag of dirt is not that expensive and I’ve already got the pots from my original container garden.

When it comes to pots and containers, it doesn’t have to be ultra fancy or expensive.

I will suggest box containers, simply because they’re easier to organize than round ones. Don’t shy away from second hand planters either. Sometimes if you check your local facebook group, some people give the away for free.

Ideas on what to plant

Before you begin, figure out where your sunshine is. If you live in an apartment, natural light might be an issue. Also, be sure to check the weight limits on balconies.

Not all plants require constant sunshine and some can thrive better in shady areas. Some plants can also be grown indoors. Here’s a quick guide of easy container friendly vegetables that can be grown indoors and don’t require maximum sunshine all the time.

lettuce

If you like baby lettuce, you can just sow the seeds into the container and let it grow. Don’t worry about the spacing or overcrowding. Just sprinkle a packet on top of your soil and water regularly. In the past, I’ve done this and I had a massive continuous supply of lettuce right on my kitchen bench. It’ll take about two to three weeks before you can start harvest it.

salad greens

The same thing as lettuce. Don’t worry too much about spacing. Just make sure to pick them often once they’re ready.

carrots

Growing your own carrots can be fun. We’re so used to seeing the bright orange ones that most of us don’t really know what the original carrots look like. If you get multicolor variety, you can end up with a colorful harvest that gives you different strengths of sweetness.

kale

Kale grown in warmer weather tend to be a bit woody so keep them in a nice shady area. If you’re putting your kale in during winter, where the days are shorter and sunshine is limited, your indoor kale is going to need all the light it can get. Seeds take about 55 to 75 days for direct container planting. Transplanted seeds take about a month to grow up enough for harvesting.

scallions

Scallions like water and are one of the easiest things to grow indoors because they can thrive in both low and full light conditions. For your scallion plants, you can either recycle the roots you have, start with some seedlings or sow straight into the soil with seeds. You don’t need a massive container for scallions either because they have a shallow root system. Your pot will need to be well drained though, so put some extra pebbles or rocks at the bottom.

spinach

Spinach, like lettuce, is quick to grow and can be harvested in about 40-45 days. if you have a couple of spinach containers, you can end up with a good continuous supply. Plant spacing wise, they don’t have to be too far away from each other and an inch or two apart is generally enough if you plant to harvest often.

edible flowers

Calendula and marigolds make good companion plants and can be used in herbal teas. They can also be used to brighten up your spaces and give variety to your indoor container garden. For outdoor spaces, they can be good for attracting bees to help with pollination and increase yield. Viola is also a good one to spruce up your dishes and make them Instagram worthy.

eggplant

Growing eggplants in a pot and indoors can be quite fun, especially when you have visitors over. Eggplant is probably one of the most underrated indoor plants because a lot of people don’t tend to grow them inside. However, they can thrive quite well if you give them a good sunny spot and a good-sized container. You can pick the eggplant once the skin takes on a high gloss.

radishes

If you like radishes, having a pot growing on your window sill can be handy when it comes to harvesting time. They can easily be plucked and used as a garnish, giving your meals a nice and fresh crispy dimension. Radishes are pretty low maintenance. Put a seed in, about an inch or two apart, water regularly and you’re good.

Final thoughts

And that’s basically it for this article. There isn’t much to starting a container garden, especially if you’re limited on space or have to move around with your place of residence.

Starting a container garden is easy and your collection of herbs and vegetables can be grown over time. If you keep it up long enough, you’ll find yourself in a sustainable system of growing and harvesting for your daily meals.

Last modified: May 27, 2020

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