For several years I've been moving more and more into containers for vegetables. In my somewhat cool, short summer climate, containers have the advantage of warming up sooner than the ground. They are easy to maintain, easy to pull out the few weeds that form, easy to top dress to reduce weed growth, and very productive for a small household. Veggies can be grown in a much more concentrated form than in the ground, so a small space results in more vegetables than expected. I grow potatoes, tomatoes, chili peppers, green peppers, lettuce, mesclun, radishes, eggplants, beans, onions, strawberries, and others in containers.
I originally started containers for Chinese Chives. My partner came from NE China where a special dumpling is made from this vegetable. Chinese chives are flat leafed, like garlic, and have a more garlic flavor, stronger than the hollow leafed European chive. I wanted to grow our own, because they can be hard to find even in the Asian grocery stores. They were difficult for me to grow because invasive grasses intermingle with the grassy chives. I discovered that in containers, I could grow them easily and have been doing so for 8 years now. They are perennial, and every couple of years I add a layer of compost, pull out the few weeds that form, and that's about all. As a leafy vegetable, they like fish emulsion to stimulate growth. When Chinese chives bloom, they have a very pretty cluster of white flowers that honey bees love to pollinate.
These are " Egyptian Walking Onion", a heritage variety of onion that self replicates quickly and easily, via sets that form on the tops where flowers would be expected. My grandfather's sister grew these more than half a century ago, but my starts are from the seed savers exchange. This tub was planted in november and left out to overwinter. Using this method, we get scallions in feb and march, before the soil can be worked. Onion bulbs form in the fall. While I'm not a fan of plastic, these tubs were $7, while the "garden tubs" were $30. I drilled multiple holes in the bottom for drainage.
Garlic, also planted last October. They flourished in the same type of tub. These were also from the seed savers exchange, labeled as "German garlic". It's a very large clover type of garlic. I also grow a native American variety called Inchelium Red, which has a highly pungent red clove. My tub grown garlic is bigger and more flavorful than ground-grown garlic. We eat about a head or two a week, so a couple of tubs goes a long way.
These are frrom bean seeds, planted 2 weeks ago. They are "yellow wax pencil pod" beans. Last year I grew pole peans in tubs and they were very productive. The main challenge is to keep them well watered in the dry summer. These are a bush bean, which I hope will be less likely to wilt, and expect to be earlier. I'm planning on several good meals of stir fry from these beans.
I do have several oak tubs that a neighbor discarded. I had to cut the barrels in half and drill holes in them, quite easy. I have strawberries in a few, everbearing varieties. Very easy to maintain by this method, very productive, and I got enough last summer to freeze several containers full for smoothies and strawberry rhubarb pies. They are deep, so they don't need as much watering, and the wood insulates against heat and cold better than plastic. This tub contains mesclun and radish seedlings, among the 3 tomato plants that I bought last week. The mesclun and radishes should be gone long before the tomatoes take over. There are also some sticks taken from my mulberry tree, to see if they will "strike" - take root. I just take foot-long prunings from winter pruning, embed them 3/4 of their length in the soil, and see if they grow. This method works very well for figs and grapes, and forsythia, but I don't know about mulberries. The care that the veggies get, is also all that the cuttings need. It's a no-risk experiment, since I don't really need more mulberry trees.
Potatoes are great for containers. I put in about 9 inches of soil, plant the sets, then cover with 6 inches. As the potato plants grow, I add more soil until the container is filled to the top. It's OK to cover leaves, just leave about 6 inches of growth above the new soil level. Potatoes form all along the buried stems. Gourmet varieties, such as fingerling potatoes, have such a great flavor, and make great new potatoes. YOU can get several pounds per tub.
So that's my take on containers. My yard is messy, but we get a lot from it. I have a neighbor with bad arthritis, who had raised beds constructed about the same height as these tubs, and she finds it much easier to maintain her garden than growing at ground level. Same idea, but more space for her. I use purchased potting mix. After a few years, I replenish with about equal parts new potting mix. Since these are a controlled environment, and water can leach out nutrients, I do use some mineral-based plant food for tomatoes and chilis, but for other plants I use fish emulsion. I don't use any pesticides. I use an organic slug bait made from iron phosphate, that takes care of the big slug problem we have in the Pacific Northwest. Topping the soil with a couple of inches of new soil, when it sinks down, reduces weed growth significantly.
I am rather 'forced' to plant in containers rather than in the ground due to the caleche soil and the fact that I am renting. My tomatoes suffer a little as obviously they need a lot of root space but they are just not quite as bushy as ground planted but I am getting a lot of toms and they are juicy and tasty as heck!. The plants that I have planted in the ground are easy to remove or multiply so I can dig them up and take them with me if we choose to move.
I find that I need to water my pot planted toms a lot more, ie: keep them very moist (tis rather hot here this spring 80 and 90 degree days already).
I fear my lemon boy may have prematurely ejaculated..... as I got about 8 toms off him and he is not bearing any more nor does he have any flowers. I am talking to him daily to encourage him. I have saved some seeds though (well, attempted. I have not tried to do tom seeds before).
Sandi, the need for more watering is an issue for me too - containers do dry out faster. One year I did an experiment and wrapped aluminum foil around the containers, shiny side out, and measured the temperature difference. The containers with foil were 10 degrees cooler than the ones without foil. Using white containers or painting them white might help. The problem is they don't look so great that way. Your climate is so much warmer than mine, it's probably more of an issue for you. Every year I add more containers, because overall it works so well for me. Just got a big batch of salad greens from one yesterday and the tomatoes and peppers are growing nicely.
I had just got a hold of some light lime green pots to use for my next batch of planting maybe these will be close to white whilst still being 'green looking' in the garden. I have potted plants dotted around amongst other plants so the black doesn't stand out as much and hopefully keeps cool in the shade. I had not put much thought into the heat of the pots before so thank you for the info. I have to water morning and evening as the top layer of my soil dries out very quickly, though moist underneath and despite the mulch cover. Luckily we have had on and off rain for the last week or so and has helped.
I'm also forced to plant in containers because I live on the 4th floor. I've got twenty rectangular plastic boxes of flowers that I call my roof garden, but I've decided that I'll change to vegetables a.s.a.p. How are your containers doing?
Chris, I got more beans, peppers, and strawberries than I could eat. The garlic was fantastic - heads several times bigger than grocery garlic, and more punguent. It's a different variety of course. But it shows it's possible and works very well. The multiplier onions were the most productive I've had. This method definitely extended the season for me. The main challenge with containers is keeping them watered.
My tomatoes were a little "off" this year. I got a few pounds. I may need to get new soil for those next year.
I bought a new place, 2 acres, and will do more raised beds, and fewer of these containers next year. The reason is how much I can grow, and the watering issue. Of course, raised beds are just a different type of container, without a bottom.
Container gardening works better than I imagined. I recommend it to anyone who wants more control over their plants, has no place else, or not enough place else, to plant, or is just gardening obsessed like me. Also, I'll probably do peppers, some tomatoes, and a few others to extend the season, since the containers are warmer. And early season for scallions and mesclun and greens.
Thanks Sentient, it's good to hear that there are more possibilities than I thought. I have made four buckets of bokashi compost, harvested the kitchen herbs and I'll plant garlic this week - I hope it survives the winter, althought it won't be very cold. We'll probably have a few weeks of mild frost, mostly at night and the rest of the winter is just wet.