If you want to grow vegetables but have no garden space, there is still hope if you have a patio or balcony. Many vegetables can grow successfully in containers and provide visual interest and beauty to your outdoor living space. You can even plant them with flowers to provide color through the season. Here is a checklist of items to consider:
The amount of sun or light on your growing area is probably the most important limiting factor so check out the light situation first remembering that you can move the containers around to catch the sun if necessary. Evaluate your shade as not all shade is the same and all vegetables will need some light. There are vegetables that have to have full sun and others that can tolerate part shade but will produce less than if they had more sun. If the amount of light is limited, try lettuce, cabbage, kale, leeks, spinach, swiss chard, and/or mustard greens (also herbs such as parsley and chives). Root crops such as green onions, beets, carrots, and turnips need more light but tolerate some shade. With full sun (at least 6 hours) you can grow snap beans, cucumbers, eggplants, onions, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes and squash.
If you have plenty of sun, the next item to consider is the amount of space the crop will need to do well and produce fruit/vegetables. In addition, some plants, like squash, pole beans, and cucumbers, are very large and so you will need to have a large area to meet their space needs. Some vegetables come in small or dwarf varieties but others don’t so you will have to pick and choose. Try to find a small variety with large fruit and NEVER pick a variety that says “Whooper”. Here’s a list of some vegetables and their space requirements (the list is by no means inclusive but will help give you an idea of what is possible). For root crops consider the length of the roots and make sure that your container is deep enough to can accommodate them.
Parsley (and many other herbs)
Lettuce (Oakleaf, Black Seeded Simpson, Buttercrunch)
Spinach (American Viking, Long Standing, Bloomsdale, Melody)
Swiss chard (Fordhook Giant, Luculluscherry),
Dwarf tomatoes (for small tomatoes-Pixie, Tiny Tim; for larger tomatoes-Patio, )
Beets (Ruby Queen)
Carrots (Little Finger, Danver’s half long, Nantes half long)
Radishes (Champion, Comet, Sparkler, White Icicle, Early Scarlet)
Beans (Pole beans give a higher yield in a small footprint; Blue Lake, Kentucky, Wonder, French Dwarf)
Four tp Five Gallon:
Bush cucumbers (Salad Bush Hybrid, Spacemaster, Bush Pickle)
Standard tomatoes (Celebrity, Super Bush)
Squash (Gold Neck, Early Prolific Straightneck, [Green] Zucco)
Pepper (Lady Bell, Gypsy, Crispy, New Ace, Red Chili)
Eggplant (Florida Market, Black Beauty, Long Tom)
The container you pick relates to both the plant’s requirements and the space you have available for the container so you will have to make some choices in that regard. In addition, note that clay pots dry out more quickly than plastic and small containers dry out more quickly than large ones so if watering your containers is a problem go with large plastic. Durability and cost are also factors so understand that plastic is cheaper but less durable than clay. A large pot insulates the roots from extremes of temperature and protects them from frying in summer heat. If heat is a problem consider wooden pot. Also consider light colored pots since the light color will reflect the heat while dark colors absorb it. Over heated roots is a common problem of container plants so don’t pooh pooh this issue.
Plants need at least 1” per week. This is more than you think. Containers tend to dry out quickly so check the top inch of soil with your finger everyday and water when the soil seems dry. Hot sunny days and breezy days increase the need to water so watch carefully when those conditions exist. Always drench the pot until the water comes out the bottom of the pot but don’t let the pot stand in water for long periods of time or the roots will rot.
Resist the temptation to use the soil our of your garden. Buy a high quality potting soil because cheap ones don’t drain well and poor drainage is death to many vegetables. You want a soil that is sterile (no fungi, bacteria, or nematodes) and has good drainage. You also want a fertile soil with lots of nutrients so you are going to have to fertilize.
Container plants always need fertilizer because they are confined in a finite amount of soil and cannot send out their roots to more fertile areas. Every time you water nutrients in the container’s soil are leached out so you should accept that fact that you must fertilize your container vegetables and fertilize them well or they will not produce to their fullest potential. Every 2-3 weeks at half strength should be sufficient. When buying a fertilizer remember that nitrogen (1st number) promotes leafy growth; phosphorus (second number) promotes flower and fruits production; and potassium (3rd number) promotes root growth. If you can remember that threesome it is easy to know what kind of fertilizer you need. Leafy vegetables like lettuce will need high nitrogen, root crops like beets and carrots will need potassium, and all the rest, like peppers and squash, will need high phosphorous. This last group should be fertilized first when they are flowering and setting fruit or you will get a lot of leaves instead of fruit. Your biggest problem will be finding the fertilizer you need and this is getting more and more difficult. Finding a fertilizer high in potassium is really the bummer so I go with equal amount of nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium, like 10-10-10.