first garden: weeks 31-40

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2015: photos and updates from the last quarter of the container garden’s life, plus a list of setbacks.

week 31: pretty veggies. i love laying out a day’s harvest on our back porch like this, and taking a look – makes me feel proud. this week, i harvested the rest of the green onions, the last of the peppers, and my daily handful of purple beans. i cut all the remaining marigolds down to use as centerpieces for our annual oktoberfest party!

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week 32:

finally cold  in North Georgia. there’s something special about waking up, wrapping yourself in a sweater, and walking outside to see the heavy dew on your plants. after the decimating heat of summer, with all the mangy and sun-burned leaves, the lush green plants are a welcome sight for the eyes.

quiet right now in the garden. my only chores have been fertilizing and thinning seedlings. at this point, we are eight months deep into this container garden. i keep thinking nothing will grow, but everything keeps on thriving. i keep amending the soil and planting more food.

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week 33:

lately, i’ve been forgetting i have a garden. i mosey out there a couple times a week with my basket, pick some beans, young lettuce, and kale, then forget all about it when i walk back inside.

gardens don’t have to equal hours of back breaking labor. they don’t even have to be more than an hour of work per week. growing your own food is easy, and can be scaled up or down to accommodate anyone’s living situation. i think there’s a stigma about growing food that you have to be a certain type of person, or have a certain yard, or live in the perfect climate. that makes me sad. i’m proof that all those assumptions just aren’t true. i didn’t grow up on a farm. i lived in a city until three years ago. but where there’s a will, there’s a way.

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week 34:

pumpkins (that i didn’t grow) and kale (that i did grow).

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week 36: still picking cayenne peppers.

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week 38:

the rains have finally stopped. this has been quite hard on my container garden, since the heavy rain leeches nutrients out of my potting soil. you can see how the plants  look “burned” – some plans are showing signs of phosphate deficiency.

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despite the rain, the plants are still producing! the bin above is my “asian” bin – it contains mizuna, baby bok choi, and daikon radishes! when everything is ready for harvest, I’m going to make a delicious stir fry.

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brussels sprouts are basically everything to me.

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week 40:

first hard frost. luckily, I had taken advantage of sun the day prior and performed a total sweep of the garden. i harvested half my carrots, all my radishes, all my broccoli rabe, bok choy, mizuna, arugula, and lettuce.

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the garden is on the north side of our house, so it’s not seeing much light. this was taken at 2 PM, so that gives you a good idea of the sun situation.

40 weeks of growing food in my first garden. we grew hundreds of dollars of food in a suburban wasteland using our powers of creativity, perseverance, and frugality.

container gardening setbacks:

Soil degradation

This is my number one issue with the container garden. To avoid compaction and improve drainage, you must use a mixture of dirt, perlite/ vermiculite, and sand, in addition to any amendments (compost, castings). All that extra stuff means less nutrient rich growing material. Also, all these additions help the soil to drain efficiently, but unfortunately nutrients drain out with the water. We’ve experienced heavy rain all year, which has accelerated the soil degradation.

Luckily, this is pretty easy to fix. Once a month, I feed my plants with organic fertilizer. Every other week, I feed with seaweed emulsion. Finally, every couple weeks, I side-dress every container with castings from my worm bin. I carefully watch my plants for signs of nutrient deficiencies, and address as needed. I would refer to The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible for more info, but in the meantime this page is helpful too.

This is more effort than growing in the ground, but hear me out. If you eat fish, you can make your own emulsion fertilizer using inedible scraps. You can also keep worms or a small compost pile to make your own castings or compost. These methods take virtually no effort and recycle your food scraps. You can also skip the fertilizer – this is mainly for heavy feeders like tomatoes.

Stunted growth

I grew freaking okra in containers. Betcha didn’t think that was possible. Okra is a large plant, and mine grew to about 5′ tall. Even though the plants produced, they didn’t look perfect. The leaves were certainly stunted. I also grew some pretty deformed carrots this spring. Root vegetables need to be quite thinned out in containers, because not only are the plants competing with each other, but they’re also running into the sides of the container.

Susceptibility to weather

This is another big one. Containers lack the insulation of the earth. When it gets cold, you bet those roots are shivering. And when it gets hot, the roots are practically frying. We had a late cold snap this spring, and I had to cover all my bins with blankets. The summer heat also made it nearly impossible to grow any leafy greens. When it rains heavily, the potting mix can’t handle the rain and it leaves the plants with “wet feet.” This will kill some plants, especially herbs. Finally, heavy wind can be a challenge. I lost my entire pole bean crop because the wind pulled the trellis out of the container. If it had been in ground, I could have drove the posts deeper.

Compaction

I’m not sure compaction directly caused any issues in my containers, but when I pulled the summer crops out – dang. I had to spend a lot of time digging up and aerating the soil, mostly with my hands. You can’t use a shovel or a rake in a container! This was a huge pain in the ass. Aerating the soil by hand did give me a good opportunity for working lots of castings into the soil before planting for autumn!

Leeching

I don’t even want to go here. I have a good feeling that the plastic from the Rubbermaid bins is leeching into the soil. Ick. Number one reason I wouldn’t do this again.

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