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If you love the flavor and freshness of just-picked vegetables, you can’t beat the convenience of growing your own. Even if you have limited space, such as an apartment or condo balcony, you can reap a crop of home-grown goodies. Here are five sure-fire crops that work well in containers.
Tomatoes, of course, will reward you with some of the best fruit you can get, especially in the confines of a container in your small space.
“Tumbling Tom” is supposed to be a great variety for containers, but there are lots of others bred just for this. Most determinate varieties of tomato will also do well. A determinate variety is one that stops growing and sets fruit all at once, in contrast to vining. Indeterminate types will just grow and grow until you’re forced to take scissors to them or just let them vine themselves back to the soil.
There’s a wonderful miniature basil called “Pistou” that grows well in containers and forms a rounded cushion of fragrant leaves. I particularly like using it in the kitchen, because it lends flavor and beauty without requiring any chopping.
Peas grow readily in containers—say, a 16″ diameter pot—and if you combine them with a window box full of strawberries, you’ll have a “snacking garden” in a matter of weeks. I like “Sugar Ann” snap peas and “Early Frosty” shell peas, the latter because I’m gardening on the colder edge of zone 5 and need to push the seasonal limits. Peas you’ll want to start from seed, so pick up a packet or three and pop them in as soon as you see forsythia buds.
The cool thing about container gardening is you can sometimes plant earlier than you could in a garden plot, since you’re starting with dry soil and don’t have to think about compacting sodden topsoil. Traditional phenology (the study of the climate’s effect on plant life cycles) dictates that peas should go in the ground when forsythia and daffodils bloom, but I have had success starting peas in containers earlier than that.
Lettuce can be particularly satisfying to grow, because it’s simple (no staking or trellising required) and because it’s so rewarding to eat greens that were plucked from the root just moments ago. They taste better, I swear—if only because they taste of virtue. There are lettuce varieties that will add color to your plantings, too: “Lollo di Vino” and “Merlot” are eye-catching burgundy, and you can contrast them with a yellow variety like “Australian Yellow.”
Carrots are another vegetable that’s worth the wait. Look for ball carrots that you can grow in a window box, maybe interplanted with lettuce or those strawberries. One of my favorite photos is of my daughter Freya with a handful of carrots grown on the balcony. To quote my own father, those memories are irreplaceable.
So is growing food from seed or seedling in your own containers. It just feels divine.
What have you grown in a pot or close to the kitchen? Tell us in the comments below.