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Containers work well for gardeners who don�t have time or energy

By Urban Harvest

Container gardening is a great solution for gardeners who don�t have the time or energy for a full-blown garden as well as wannabe farmers that lack the proper space. Many gardeners at my community garden are there because they lack sun in their home landscapes or lack space because they live in apartments, condominiums or townhouses. All are conditions potentially resolved by the use of containers.

Containers are small pockets of Earth for landless apartment dwellers. A collection of containers on a sunny balcony contributes produce to complete a number of meals. Water saturated container plantings can be very heavy, so before planning your garden, contact your property manager to learn of any weight restrictions your balcony may have. Window boxes that hang outside your window or narrow rectangular pots for wide window sills are options for those without balconies.

For homeowners, house walls, fences and tree canopies play havoc with plans for a kitchen garden. Sunny areas in any given urban lot change from the back to the middle to the front of the garden as the sun�s position in the sky changes. As the sun sinks and rises in the seasonal sky, containers can be moved to follow the light, allowing for example, an uninterrupted tomato harvest as the sun sinks from its fairly high position when the plants are planted in August, to a relatively low position when they are harvested in October and November.

Ideally, large containers offer the best promise for a bigger, more successful harvest, but they can be heavy and if your plan is mobility that can be a problem. Here lies the importance of container selection. Many gardeners have a collection of clay pots idly occupying a corner of the potting shed that could easily be drafted into action. But, before pulling out the potting soil, evaluate those pots for the ability to meet your needs.

Today, it is easy to find plant containers made from polystyrene or fiberglass that are light weight and good looking. But selecting containers need not be limited to traditional garden pots. As long as it can hold soil, has the ability to drain (or you can create drainage holes), and the material is non-toxic, you can use it as a planting container.

A favorite is the galvanized stock tanks from the local farmers� supply store. They come in a variety of sizes and you can plant a fairly complete kitchen garden in a single tank. Because they tend to be on the larger side, most are too heavy to move after planting, but sturdy castors can be applied to the bottom to make them mobile.

Though stock tanks aren�t your typical garden planter, they�re not that far outside the box. Remember, anything that will hold soil, drain water, and isn�t toxic will work. Terra cotta chimney flues or concrete drain pipes will work as well as old rubber garden boots, a worn out bath tub, or the bed of a retired pick-up truck. However, unless you live in a trendy avant garde neighborhood, the latter may be best appreciated if integrated into the back yard.

Careful consideration should be given to the soil mix used to ensure optimum yield. High quality soil mixes can be purchased from your local garden center. Look for mixes that include peat moss which is acidic and holds water well, Vermiculite which provides some nutrients and also aids in holding water, and Perlite which loosens the mix and allows air movement.

Some mixes also contain Hydrogels (hydrophilic polymers) which absorb water then slowly release it to plant roots. Others contain fertilizer, but if you�re growing organic, be sure you know what type of fertilizer you�re getting.

After you�ve filled the container with soil mix, all that�s left is planting and celebrating the harvest. In between, you may also have a few questions that can be answered by visiting our web site at, enrolling in one of our classes, or becoming a member to receive our quarterly newsletter packed with organic gardening information and a seasonal planting calendar. See our class calendar for our September 15th Organic Container Gardening class to be held at Wabash Antique & Feedstore.

This column is produced by Urban Harvest. Learn about gardening classes, community gardens and orchards, farmers' markets and more at This article was written by Suzy Fischer, who is a co-founder of Urban Harvest and a registered Landscape Architect and principal of Fischer Schalles, a landscape design/build firm. Contact her at