It’ll be several months more before DF and I can put any plants in the ground, but we’re definitely looking forward to seeing green rather than white outside. My desire to play in the dirt was exacerbated by the arrival of a media kit from Renee’s Garden, purveyor of more delicious-looking seeds than you ever imagined.
Or maybe you can imagine quite a lot – especially in light of the particularly ugly winter weather in much of the Lower 48. Maybe you’re dreaming of things like Peppermint Stick Chard, Lace Perfume Dianthus, Black Cherry Tomatoes, Baby Snack Peppers and Heirloom Chocolate Daisies.
If so, now’s the time to plan those dreams into vases and onto your dinner plates. Not everyone is able (or willing) to care for a giant backyard spread, but why not consider container gardening and/or edible landscaping? Even condo dwellers can harvest small versions of greens, vegetables and herbs, and food crops can do double duty in terms of visual interest and palate pleasing.
Put another way: You can even grow zucchini in containers. Honest.
Edible landscaping includes (but is not limited to) greens and herbs as accent plants, fruit- and nut-bearing trees, berries as shrubs and edible flowers. A good resource is the National Gardening Association’s “Edible Landscaping Primer.”
Don’t have a yard in which to landscape? Grow some of those greens, herbs, miniaturized vegetables or edible flowers in deck containers or windowboxes. You may not be able to replace all your fresh food needs this way, but containers can yield a surprising amount of salad makings, greens and herbs, especially if you stagger the plantings so that every week or so a new batch is coming to maturity.
Besides: Even miniature zucchini are likely to overproduce. In a good way.
Your library likely has books on small-space and/or container gardening. If not, ask that some be purchased or at least obtained through inter-library loans. The Internet is full of similar resources.
Here are a few to get you started:
- Cooperative Extension System: Every state in the union has one of these, and all of them have tons of advice to share.
- National Gardening Association: For the word in your region, go to the left-hand column and click on “Regional Gardening Reports” in the left-hand column.
- Renee’s Garden: Download a .pdf file that focuses on container gardening.
- The Urban Organic Gardener: Formerly of New York and now in Los Angeles, Mike Lieberman offers tons of free advice for beginners. His homemade self-watering container is particularly valuable, since a container has relatively little soil medium and can dry out while you’re at work.
Don’t have a deck or even a windowsill? Seek out a community garden and apply for your own little patch of heaven. The Cooperative Extension office in your region should know where these gardens are, or search a database maintained by the American Community Gardening Association.
Frugal hacking your garden
How much will it cost? That depends.
Starting from seed is a lovely antidote to the winter blahs; plan to start them about eight weeks before the last expected springtime frost. This can also be more cost-effective than buying seedlings, especially if you split the costs with other gardeners. However, you do need space and decent lighting for this. Check with one or more of the above resources to find out if this is a good fit.
If you’ve got flowerpots or containers, you’re on your way. Ask the deli manager for empty pickle or potato-salad tubs (drill drainage holes and scatter gravel on the bottom). If you’re a churchgoer, ask if you can have the pots once this year’s Easter lilies have faded.
Containerized plants do better with commercial potting soil than with dirt dug from the back yard. Check the dollar store (I’ve seen soil sold there) and start pricing it at greenhouses, home improvement centers and department stores. If you’re buying from a Home Depot or Wal-Mart, pay with a discounted gift card. Or cash in gift cards from rewards programs like MyPoints or Swagbucks, or from rewards credit cards.
Regular watering and fertilization are essential. Talk with someone at Cooperative Extension or use books/online resources to find out more. Compost is ideal, but not everyone has room for a box. Worm composting takes up very little room and it doesn’t smell (really!).
Start reading, keep dreaming, make plans and think of spring. It will be here eventually. Greet it with a trowel.
Readers: Have you ever gardened in a windowbox or deck container? Got any tips to share?