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    Saturday, August 08, 2009

    Late Season Gardening: Beautiful Bountiful Containers

    A commenter asked me about starting tomatoes in a container this late in the season.

    Since we share similar interests, I thought I'd share my answer with you as well.

    To get a tomato producing if you plant it now, you will have to pick an "early" type of tomato, and water the first three days with hydrogen peroxide to speed sprouting. You will still be able to get a good harvest, and if you fertilize weekly with vermicompost tea, and bi-weekly with organic fish emulsion, milk, Epsom salts, and randomly stick spent match heads around the root system, you will get a plentiful harvest.

    As long as the tomato has 5 gallons of soil, it will be fine and produce well. I use 10-15 gallon planters, and plant a ring of herbs around mine.

    I have frilled purple oregano, onions, and basil, planted alternately in a circle around each of my potted tomatoes. I am also starting flowering garlic chives for height and visual interest so the planters will be highly decorative as well as useful, and thus, not offensive to the neighbor's potentially delicate aesthetic sensibilities.

    On the other hand, if you aren't particularly set on tomatoes, there are many other food plants that thrive in containers and produce very quickly, as well as the cooler-weather plants that it is already time to plant in time for fall production before the frost such as Brussels sprouts, lettuces, broccoli, cabbage, spinach, and cauliflower to name a few.

    Among the many plants that can be grown in containers successfully, there are beets, peppers herbs of all sorts, potatoes, tomatoes, bunching onions (the tall ones), radishes, lettuce, rhubarb, celery, dwarf fruit trees, chard, zucchini, squash, corn, any vining fruit or vegetable, beans, peas, cucumbers, greens, gourds, turnips, lettuces, strawberries, and blueberries.

    Pretty much anything can be grown in a container if the soil area is large enough for the roots of the plant. That said, however, most plants can be planted twice as close to each other as the seed packet recommends for higher yields. Frequent natural fertilization and reliable watering practices can decrease the area needed even further, depending on the plant type.

    Most herbs, short-rooted root vegetables, and vines with smaller (1lb or less) produce can be plated high in hanging containers, and simply trail their fruit downwards in a beautiful cascade of greenery, flowers and food. Some strawberries also trail quite nicely.

    If you wish to hang a plant that has up to 3lb fruit, use a larger container, strong hooks, sturdy hanging material, and hang it just below shoulder-level, under smaller hanging plants to add visual interest. Bulky hanging plants should be part of a full living arrangement instead of stand-alone to avoid them looking clunky and unwieldy.

    On hanging tomatoes; Cherry or smaller-sized tomatoes can do exceedingly well hanging upside-down as well to conserve even more space. A few tips; Mulch the top of the tomato's soil, or plant herbs at the top of the container to reduce evaporation and the need for constant watering. Be sure to hang tomatoes out of a breezeway, as they can spin in a wind, and too much spinning leads to a broken plant. Larger tomato varieties don't produce as well when hanging inverted, as the weight can easily become too much for the plant, which may sense it's difficulty and slow flowering, ripening, and potentially decrease your overall harvest.

    A bonus: container gardens can be brought indoors when it begins to cool off in order to extend the harvest throughout the winter if desired.

    There are a lot of great books out there on container gardening for food, and growing in cramped quarters. Visit Amazon.com and search for "Square Foot Gardening", "Container Gardening", and even "Worms Eat My Garbage". Be sure to also check the recommendations of similar books below the description to find precisely what you are looking for.

    Happy Harvests!

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