The Edible Container Garden

The Edible Container Garden - Gardening Book

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The Edible Container Garden
Growing Fresh Food in Small Spaces

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by Michael Guerra

ISBN 0-684-85461-9
160 pages, 7 1/2 x 9 3/4, full-color photographs.

Excerpt from The Edible Container Garden

Closer to nature

Sadly, many people today have lost the close connection to nature and the land which was once common to everyone, and feel they lack the basic skills of growing food for their families. But this need not be the case. Take a moment to stand by your back door or balcony. Imagine your view full of beautiful leafy plants dripping with the morning dew, long beans and brightly colored squashes dangling from every support, strawberries for breakfast, edible flowers buzzing with insects, an early apple to take for lunch, fragrant herbs to flavor supper, and perhaps even a bunch of ripe grapes for dessert on a trellis overhead. All that is possible, even in the smallest space.

You can grow food anywhere that gets a bit of sun. Your plot could be horizontal, sloping, or vertical. People grow food on roof gardens and in trailers, on stairways and windowsills. You may have a balcony high in the air or a tiny enclosed sunny courtyard. If you have a room that gets so hot in summer that you have to live with the curtains drawn, grow sunloving food outside the window and benefit from the edible shade. Whatever your space, you can use it.

There seems to be an unfortunate general belief that growing food is difficult, time consuming, heavy work, and even expensive. For gardeners who buy masses of equipment, live miles from their plot of land, and who double-dig the ground every winter, this may be true. But if you grow food in containers and raised beds right where you live, it is easy because no digging is involved, you need very few tools, and it takes only a moment to give your vegetables the extra bit of loving care needed by confined plants. Also, a small site means that, with careful planning, you can create an edible garden very quickly. And because gardening is such a popular leisure activity a huge industry has been built around it, so there is a vast range of containers, structures and planting material available in garden centres and nurseries to help ensure that your gardening experience is a productive one.

From plot to paradise

If you are gardening in a small space you will need to be more inventive and more adaptable than a gardener with a larger area. Think of your plot as a growing volume, not just an area of ground. See whether you can transform your vertical surfaces into productive growing spaces using trellis, stepped containers, and hanging baskets. Or you may be able to create more vertical growing spaces with fencing or by building an arch or a small pergola. Use stepping stones or herb-planted paving instead of paths if you don't need to move a wheelbarrow. Build raised beds and use containers where ground-level planting is impossible. Integrate your garden with the house by building window-boxes, filling your kitchen with herbs on sunny windowsills, or extending the house into the garden by placing small seats where there is the maximum fragrance, and fruit within easy reach. If your garden gets very hot in summer, plant for shade, using fruit trees to protect your salads for example, or trailing squashes to protect the roots of your sweetcorn. Your house and garden can become an edible paradise.

Whether you want to start by growing just a few tasty herbs and vegetables in pots, an attractive fruit tree and some edible flowers, or to turn your whole growing area over to food production, there are three clear stages in turning any dream into an edible reality: Survey, Design, and Implementation.


First you need to survey your site and your family. What do you like to eat? What would you like to try? How much food would you like to produce? How much time and energy are you willing to spend, and how much money? Some of your preferences may be regulated by your site, which has its own opportunities and some limitations: it is a particular size, with certain existing plants and features; it has a particular solar aspect and a range of microclimates, special places, and natural paths. It will lend itself to growing some plants with ease but some may struggle.

Make a list of the plants that offer you the best value, using the information in Chapter Three to help. If you are planning some permanent beds make sure you include a balance of roots, summer and winter vegetables, salads and leafy greens so you can rotate the crops each year to keep your soil fertile. Plan for companion planting and growing a succession of crops. This book will provide you with the decisive information you need.


Spend a few evenings and wet weekends designing your project on paper. Even if you think you can't draw, the process of getting ideas onto paper at the beginning of a project can prevent a lot of wasted energy further down the line, paying dividends in terms of higher yields and efficient use of time, space and money.

The design process is actually very straightforward, the most important factor of all is location -- even if you are only going to plant a few containers with food plants, you need to put them where they will have the best chance. Tender plants may need protection from the heat of a summer's day, as well as from frost. Design to overcome the problems of a windy corner, or a shadeless site. If you are investing in a structure, make sure it will support a number of plants. Make sure that you can obtain water easily: run an extension hose, or better still instal a rainwater barrel close to your plants. Make sure plants which are growing close together actually require the same amount of irrigation -- don't grow cactus with lettuce!

Remember that you will be generating plant material, both from kitchen and garden. This is not waste, it is a resource! Allow room for a composter or a worm bin so that you don't lose fertility that has to be sourced from elsewhere -- even a tiny garden can be at least partly self-sustaining. And leave space somewhere in the garden or close at hand to store tools, trays, pots and compost.


Once you have decided what you are going to grow, and how and where you are going to grow it, you can transform your growing space into a productive system. To get the most from a small space, you will almost certainly need to make some structures so make a list of all the materials you will need -- containers, compost, wood, nails, screws and so on -- and split any construction work into projects that will take, say, half a day for two people. Try to obtain materials from sustainable sources, ahead of time, so that you have everything ready, Choose attractive containers that suit your personality as well as being functional. Plan your tasks so you can work quickly and efficiently.

Whatever your gardening space and style follow basic planting rules, for example making sure any perennial plants and trees are watered well beforehand, and planted in well prepared holes. Spring and autumn are the best times for perennial planting and winter is best for construction, but if you are building and planting in the summer, start early in the day to prevent you and your plants from overheating.

Once your garden is established, winter is also the time to plan for the coming seasons, and order annual herb, flower and vegetable seed. It's a good idea to club together with a neighbor or you will probably have more seed than you can use.

You can green your corner, however humble, and your first steps may inspire others towards a vision of edible greenness, wherever they live. Although this book is directed at everybody with access to any growing space, whether they live in towns, villages, suburbia, on the roads or on waterways, I hope it may also encourage the dream of green cities. Urban dwellers everywhere can realize this vision from their own back doors, taking some of the stress out of city living.

Copyright © 2000 by Michael Guerra. Used with permission.

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