Growing your own vegetables is a gratifying experience, but sometimes it's not possible or practical to have a full-sized garden. Container vegetable gardens allow those who have poor soil conditions or little room for a garden to grow their own fresh, delicious crops on a patio, balcony or back porch. Planting and maintaining a container garden requires a little hard work, but the end product is well worth the effort.
Containers come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and materials. Choose planters that are large enough for the plants to grow and expand. When deciding between two containers, choose the larger pot; it is better to have too much room than not enough. Whether the container is plastic, clay, metal or wood, the pot should have enough holes in the bottom to allow for adequate drainage. Place a piece of mesh screen on the bottom of the container to prevent soil from escaping. According to North Carolina State University, put blocks under containers that sit on a flat surface to allow for sufficient drainage.
Soil mediums that drain well are essential to the success of a container vegetable garden. Improper drainage spells trouble for many vegetable plants and often leads to root rot. According to Iowa State University, soil-less planting mediums are a good choice for container gardens. The soil-less mixes drain quickly, but retain enough moisture for plants to thrive. Soil-less mixes are free of soil-borne disease and are lightweight, which means containers aren't extremely heavy and are easily moved if necessary. Gardeners can purchase soil-less potting mixes at nurseries and home and garden centers.
A large variety of vegetables will thrive when grown in a container. Plant Blue Lake and Tender Crop snap beans and Jackson and Wonder Bush lima beans in five-gallon containers. Buttercrunch, bib and romaine are lettuces that grow well in a 1 gallon pot. Pixie, Tiny Tim and Early Girl tomatoes flourish in pots; plant one tomato plant per five-gallon container. Plant carrots in a one-gallon pot that is 2 inches longer than the full-grown carrot. Use Little Finger, Tiny Sweet and Baby Spike varieties of carrot. Eggplant, cucumbers, peppers, radishes and onions all flourish when grown in containers.
Care and Maintenance
Vegetable plants are most productive when grown in full sunlight. Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and root crops need the most sun; leafy crops like lettuce and cabbage tolerate more shade. Place containers in areas where they'll have at least six hours of full sun exposure each day.
Container crops require more watering than in-ground gardens. Plants dry out quickly due to sun and wind exposure and should be watered every day. Don't allow soil to become dry; water the plant until excess water runs from the bottom of the container.
According to Iowa State University, it is important to fertilize crops every 10 to 14 days with a 15-30-15 or 20-20-20 soluble fertilizer which can be applied when watering plants.
Harvest the vegetable crops when they have fully ripened. Flavor is best developed on the vine so allow plants like tomatoes, beans and cucumbers to remain on the vine as long as possible.
Once plants have been harvested for the last time in the growing season, dispose of the plant and soil medium. According to Texas A&M University, you do not reuse the soil because it may be contaminated with soil-borne diseases which will infect the next crop. Unless the the soil medium is properly composted before the second planting, it must discarded.