Creating A Miniature Vegetable Garden
Grow Edible Food Plants On A Porch
I am a gardener. I love to grow edible foods but my little apartment does not have a yard. I am limited to the space on my patio deck. My solution was setting containers and planters on my porch for growing the food plants I like. In window boxes and assorted sized pots I have a miniature vegetable and herb garden that produces tasty delights throughout the season.
The gardening is easy for me as long as I keep them watered and freshen the potting soil every so often they do well. Helping them along with a little fertilizer makes me almost an organic gardener. I do not use pesticides but I do use fertilized soil and liquids in my garden.
My biggest challenge is our weather. You see, I live in a desert and when the heat comes in and takes over our temperatures, I have to be very attentive to my plants for shading and for watering. If I don't they will wither. This can be to my advantage. Our temperatures allow for 2 growing seasons. Early spring and late summer allows me to keep my garden until it starts to get cold and dreary. Some plants do survive the winter months if I tend to them right.
Step out to my patio deck with me and have a look around!
Images: M Burgess unless noted
Gardening is the only unquestionably useful job— George Bernard Shaw
Miracle-Gro Potting Soil - Layer With Rocks & Mulch
I garden exclusively with Miracle-Gro potting soil. Every year I replace most of the dirt in the container when I replant my garden. I pull out at least 2/3 of the soil during this process. Because the medium in containers need extra help to support plants, a pre-fertilized, nutrient rich mixture gives them a great head start.
As time goes on I will add more dirt to the pots because it tends to sift out during the watering process. It is not uncommon for a pot to drop soil out of its drainage holes. Filled in the beginning to 4" from the top of the pot, by about 90 days the soil level may be down to 6" to 10". Refill the container as needed.
Layer your containers with gravel or small rocks in the bottom of the pot before you add soil so the water flows out well. This helps keep most of the soil in it. Apply an inch or two of mulch after you have planted to the topsoil level for added moisture control and an appealing planting.
Choose The Right Lighting
For Growing Vegetable Plants
The lighting on my porch is a diffused north light. Most of it is shaded by large pine trees. The balcony receives about 4 hours of direct sun a day which is adequate to grow most vegetable plants. It could be better but this is what I have to work with. The types of plants that need full sun will grow leggy with longer stalks. They will still produce but the plants will look a little strange because they are reaching for more light. My full sun items will be lined up on the edge where they can get the most exposure to sunlight. These will be my peppers, tomatoes, and onions.
Ideally you want to match the lighting for the required sunlight to the plant. Full sun items aren't going to do well for me but other plants will flourish here.
There are certain plants that will do well in diffused and lower light conditions. In these areas I will have my strawberry plants and certain herbs. Leafy greens like lettuce and spinach will do fair in a shadier area. My new raspberry plant will probably thrive in the shady corner of my porch garden.
Our full sun here in Nevada is not kind to lettuce so it is a little tough to keep growing. I find having it back a bit out of the full sunlight keeps them growing but they will be stretching for light. For your area that might be different. Sunlight in Ohio or Maine is different than the light here in Nevada. Altitude has a factor in the sun's exposure as does the atmosphere of your region. Experiment around with pre-grown vegetable plants when you start out. Check the direction tags on the plants. They will let you know what kind of light the plant needs.
Watch the area you are going to plant in for the light cycle. If you do not have a full yard and are choosing to garden container style, see how much light your planting area will get. The perfect sun exposure for a vegetable garden is about 6 hours of sunlight.
Garden Watering Cycle
One of the other issues I have with my garden is watering. I run back and forth with a bucket from my sink many times on watering days. I don't have the advantage of a hose nearby. In early spring I only water 3 times a week. When the days get warmer I will water every other day. In the heat of the summer the garden will get daily waterings scheduled at appropriate times.
When watering my plants I treat them to pre-sun waterings. If you water plants in full sunlight you may burn their leaves. The damage is similar to a sunburn. Imagine taking a magnifying glass and pointing the sun on your arm. The effect of the water droplets on plant leaves are the same thing.
Watering is ideally about 4 am in the morning. The plants absorb more moisture at this time of day. I am not that ambitious... My plants get watered about 10 am. My full sun exposure on my patio deck is after 2 pm most days. This gives them time to drip dry their leaves before the full spectrum of the sun is blasting down upon them.
I solved some of my watering issues with this project:
Drip System Irrigation For Container Gardens
I recently installed a drip irrigation system for my container garden because hauling water from my sink to my patio is a lot of work -- several times a week...
Watering in the late afternoon is ok if you will still have a few hours of sunlight available. This is a treat for them in summer. Be careful how much water you provide late afternoons. A plant that sits in water close to dusk will be running the risk of root rot, so be cautious in your watering schedules.
Watering Cans & Plant Fertilizers - Gentle Watering Showers
Use a watering can if you do not have a hose. This can be a gentler way to shower your plants when its time to re-hydrate. The can is also handy for adding fertilizer when needed. Just fill the can and drop the recommended amount of fertilizer in the water, mix, and add this blend to your plants. Fertilize after you have watered so you do not dilute the fertilizer down. I apply enough to soak the top soil.
Do NOT apply fertilized water to the leaves. It may cause damage. If you want to mist a plant with a leaf feeding fertilizer you may do so but I do not think it is necessary. Make sure your plants leaves are dry before sunset or you will get spots or fungus.
Public Enemy #1
The Tomato Worm
The tomato worm is my nemesis! It is public enemy #1 for a gardener. One year I found 9 of them on one of my pepper trees. They had eaten all but a few leaves and boy was I mad. I didn't spray them, though. I kindly dropped them off my balcony to the ground below so they could be pigeon food. Grrr!
I look for these all the time. Signs they are around are their black waste droppings. They can devastate a plant quickly. They are little chewing machines and if you don't catch them in time they will prune every leaf and destroy the plant they decided to make a meal out of.
Watch for the hawk moth around dusk. That is the adult tomato worm transformed. If you see one of these flying insects around chances are they have eggs laid somewhere close.
Wikipedia's link for tomato worms has more information on these creepy creatures.
image: morgueFile.com - overlay M Burgess do not copy, thanks! =)
My Balcony - Street View
Enemy #2 For A Gardener
Aphids On Your Plants
Aphids are enemy #2 for a gardener and they arrive in crowds. When you see them it is a little disturbing. The tiny insects have the ability to literally suck the life out of your plants. They lay tiny eggs under the leaves and are just a general nuisance. I combat these with a soapy water spray. I wash the leaves gently and remove the larvae and eggs I find then spray again when I am finished. Be sure when you do this you are not leaving the plants sitting in full sun. (See the warning above about sunlight and wet leaves!)
Tackle these little beggars with a batch of lady bugs or praying mantis for regular maintenance.
Live Lady Bugs, Praying Mantis - Worms And Good Nematodes
Live lady bugs and praying mantis are the best way to combat parasites in a garden. These good guys will eat more than their share of the harmful insects that can quickly destroy all of your hard work. If they are happy in your plantings they will lay their own eggs, thus insuring you have a ready made bug military force standing by to do battle in your garden!
Lacewings and earthworms add their benefits to a healthy garden as well as good nematodes. My earthworms take a walk now and then and I find them outside of the pots. I just drop them back in and send them back to do their duty.
Container Garden Gallery
These are some of the vegetables I have grown successfully in containers.
Where possible the flower images are included.
Easy Container Garden Plants!
My green pepper plants grew from seeds I planted in 2010 and lived for three years. They produced golf ball sized peppers towards the end of their life cycle and would have lived longer if I would have brought them in the apartment during the weeks we were into freezing temperatures. I neglected to do so and they suffered.
Protect these plants in extreme weather by placing a blanket over them in winter days that are bitter. You can use burlap if you like or any soft material. Make sure you take the covering off of them during the day. Tend to them properly and they will last you a few years and turn into a nice ornamental tree!
Cold or warm days they still need sunlight for photosynthesis. This is a process used by plants to convert light energy. With this energy they convert carbon monoxide to oxygen among other activities.
See Wikipedia - Photosynthesis
Sweet Pepper Blossoms
Baby Sweet Pepper
Combine Plants In Single Pots
In this image you can see how I combined a vegetable plant with an herb. The peppers grow into trees eventually so there is space below it to set a shallow root based plant. The companion plant in this pot is oregano.
When companion planting your choice ideally should be a plant that discourages insects. Herbs, onions, garlic, and certain flowers can help your garden be bug resistant and encourage and organic growth system.
The best bug repellents are the marigold flowers. The oils in their roots and the aroma of their flowers are very distasteful to most plant harming insects. Their colors and nectar will still welcome butterflies and bees which are beneficial to your garden.
Marigold - Companion Plant
I love that old song about the lemon tree. Lemon trees do have very pretty flowers. And they smell so good!
I was shopping at the plant nursery near my home and that song popped in my head. A lemon tree of my own went home with me that day. The song is not the total reason I bought that plant. I am a preparedness enthusiast and one of the questions I had about food storage was storing lemon juice. Having a lemon tree in my garden answered that question quickly.
Transplanted into an 18" pot it is 2 years old. Last year the wind blew off all of its fruit and flowers so it was barren. I put a stake in the pot next to it and attached a string lightly to the trunk. this has given the tree some stability and it is not rocking back and forth in the heavy breezes we have been getting. This year it is budding and holding up very well. The blossoms and fruit are both hanging on tight.
The tree is in need of a few adjustments once spring is through and the fruits mature. I will be attempting a Bonzai technique with it. This involves cutting back the root structure and trimming the top down. I hope when I do this I do not shock the tree and lose it. This technique is very tricky so I will be very careful when I pull the tree out.
Eggplant In Pots
One of the oddest things I think I have grown so far was the eggplant bush. It lasted a couple of seasons but with the peppers -- winter took it.
Eggplants have beautiful purple flowers and the leaves are very attractive. The bush will produce in a container but the eggplants will be very small. Mine were white with a purple tip on them when it was producing. The eggplants were small but they were edible.
I will be searching for a new starter plant. This one was fun to have on the patio deck! The foliage was really neat looking and those flowers were amazing. This image below does not do their purple colors justice!
Just so you know, I am a sucker for purple plants. Someday when I get a real yard there will be purple tinged and purple flowers planted all over the place!
Raspberries In Container
Experimental Plant 2013
I am always looking for experimental plants. With my plant nursery shopping spree came a new variety of gardening for me. I have thought about doing grapes or a raspberry container grown. I am anxious to see how this develops. It is one of my firsts. I will update this image in about 90 days to let you know how this plant is doing. The attendant at the nursery told me to plant it in shade. "Not a problem," I said to him, "I have quite a bit of that where I am going to place it!"
Wish me luck!
Update: See image in the photo gallery below. This plant is thriving and I am very happy with it!
The Garden 2013 - Miniature Vegetable Garden FavoritesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Bottle Tower Garden Video - Grow Edible Plants In Small Spaces
The bottle tower is a great alternative to containers and pots. They enable you to grow many items in a very small space and keep the hassle of watering to a minimum. This video shows the method these folks used for their garden plants. This is a great way to re-purpose and recycle. I will be trying this out when it cools off and I restructure my patio to incorporate this method.
My miniature garden will produce enough vegetables to add fresh, homegrown rewards to salads, stir-fry, and other healthy meals when it matures. As the blossoms turn into peppers, tomatoes, and other vegetables and fruits, the work I put into these plants and the efforts will be my pay off.
It is important to me that my garden is mobile. In the event I decide to move, I don't want to have to redig and replant. These plants can come with me if I protect them and since they are already growing, they will only need some minor adjustments if they have to resettle.
All in all it is a nice place to spend a few hours on my day off, watching them grow!
If you have ever wanted to start a garden, begin with a pepper plant or a tomato. They can teach you what you need to know to begin. Once you get the hang of keeping them alive you will want to branch out and try other plants. I hope you enjoyed this peek into my patio garden!
Thanks for dropping by!
© 2013 Maria Burgess