Those who know me might doubt it, but I actually enjoy cooking, especially with fresh vegetables and herbs from a garden. But I live in an apartment and many of my single amigos live in small homes, making gardening tricky. What are we single guys and gals to do?
My solution: plant a small garden in a container or even a large tub. Most vegetables and herbs that can be grown in South Texas can be grown in containers — if they’re placed in the right location and have the right soil mixture.
All vegetables and herbs need full sunlight to grow and ripen; that means at least half a day or 10 to 12 hours of direct sunlight. This can be a problem in many apartments or small homes.
Options for those shaded locations include herbs, such as mint, cilantro and lemon balm, as well as vegetables — chile pequin and greens, like collards.
If you do have at least 10 hours of sunlight, then your options for container-grown plants dramatically increase.
Vegetables: tomatoes, pole beans, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, eggplant, spinach, peppers
Herbs (besides the aforementioned ones): rosemary, basil, oregano, sage, thyme, dill, parsley, rue
Citrus: Mexican lime, Meyer improved lemon
Most commercial planting mixes are soil-less, meaning they’re great for drainage but not nutrients. “Planting soil” does not exist. My recommendation for a container soil mixture includes 1/3 washed sand, 1/3 perlite and 1/3 high quality planting mix made from peat moss and pine bark.
The sand provides water-holding and nutrient capacity, perlite reduces weight, and the peat and pine bark provide acids and carbon chains to assist with nutrients. All together they promote drainage, but increase water-holding and nutrient capacity.
Even with a good container mix, fertilization is important. You can fertilize with a commercially produced liquid fertilizer, your homemade liquid fertilizer or a granular product.
For the homemade liquid product — use two cups of any soluble fertilizer in one gallon of water. Then use two tablespoons of this mixture in one gallon of water. For granular products, I prefer those with organic formulations.
The type of container is not as important as the drainage characteristics of it. Make sure the pot has at least two holes in the base, preferably four. Placing gravel, rocks or broken pottery shards in the bottom of the pot does not improve drainage, but may prevent soil from escaping.
Also, use containers that are suited for growing vegetables, and watch out for cheap imports that may contain lead-based paint or arsenic.
A general rule of thumb for determining the correct size: for every one gallon of root ball, use three gallons of container.
Container gardens do require more frequent irrigation because there is less soil to hold the water. No more than three times a week will be sufficient. Remember — any water that drains from the bottom is wasted water . Your finger is the most effective soil moisture sensor there is. Use it.
Container gardening can supply your kitchen with a heathy supply of vegetables and herbs. All it takes is the right location, right soil and correct watering. Bon appétit!
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About our expert
Mark A. Peterson is a conservation project coordinator for San Antonio Water System. With over 30 years of experience as an urban forester and arborist, Mark is probably the only person you know who actually prunes trees for fun. When not expounding on the benefits of trees and limited lawns, you’re likely to find him hiking San Antonio’s wilderness parks or expounding on the virtues of geography and history to his friends.
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