A pot full of healthy eating
By Jeanne Millsap For The Herald-News July 3, 2012 2:20PM
Tomatoes are just one of several vegetables that can easily be grown in containers. | File photo
Updated: August 5, 2012 6:19AM
Believe it or not, fresh, delicious tomatoes, green peppers, herbs, and other healthful vegetables can be grown in containers right on your patio or deck or even a small apartment balcony. And it’s not too late to put them in.
“You can plant your cold crops in mid to late July,” said Kevin Eberhard, “then harvest them in September or October.”
There’s still time to plant the tomatoes and peppers, too, he said, and herbs can be planted any time of year.
Eberhard is head horticulturist at the Joliet Park District’s Bird Haven Greenhouse. An avid gardener himself since the age of 9, Eberhard has been planting container gardens for at least 20 years and loves it.
Containers are a nice alternative for those who have limited space or are not able to manage a down-in-the-ground garden, he said.
“Vegetables and herbs are great container plants,” he said, “and seed mixes are still on the shelves right now and at greatly reduced prices.”
Health experts tout the benefits of having a large percentage of our diets as vegetables, and fresh produce yields higher vitamin content than the grocery-bought variety. It makes economic sense, too, as fresh produce, such as lettuce, goes bad fairly quickly in the refrigerator.
Growing “cut and come again” lettuce in a backyard container means you have fresh lettuce whenever you get a hankering for a salad, without having to make another trip to the store. And gardeners know the difference in taste between fresh and store bought. Growing them yourself can also alleviate concerns about chemicals in food.
“When you grow your own,” Eberhard said, “you know what you put into what you plant. You don’t know what country store-bought produce is from or what pesticides are on them.”
Container gardening is not difficult, either, he said. Start with a pot that is at least 14 inches at the top. Even a five-gallon container you already have in the garage is fine, he said. Put a few larger drainage holes in the bottom, and fill it up with potting soil.
Don’t use the dirt from your yard, he added. It’s too heavy.
Sprinkle the seeds on top as directed on the package or use small tomato or pepper plants or herbs. Eberhard said it can be fun to plant four or five types of plants in one container. A blanket of herbs, for example, can be planted around one green pepper plant. Or a tomato plant can be surrounded by a basil and a couple of oreganos.
Basil, oregano, thyme, sage, and parsley are great container herbs, he said. Cabbages, kales, spinaches, and lettuces can also be planted right now for a great fall crop. There are seed packages that contain several varieties of lettuce in one pack, which Eberhard said is fun for a good salad mix.
Add a little organic fertilizer, such as fish emulsion, or one of your choice and water as directed on the package. Container gardens need to be watered frequently. Smaller containers might need two or three waterings a day, but those 14 inches or larger probably only need to be watered once a day, depending on the weather.
Vegetables need full sun, too, he said, at a six-hour minimum to produce and grow well. Some fruits can be grown in containers, as well, like strawberries and some of the smaller varieties of blueberries. When the season’s over, dump the soil of the annuals in the back yard and start fresh the next year.
But for those with a lot of sunlight exposure in their homes, Eberhard said the containers can be moved inside during the winter for year-round vegetables and herbs.