Sometimes you just don’t have space for a garden. Or maybe you do, but like the idea of having a pot of herbs ready on your porch or patio to pick fresh while you cook.
Either way, container gardening is a thing, especially now, with plenty of options for all kinds of spaces.
“I think it started before COVID, but COVID has helped, (and) people are growing their own food,” says Carol Renis, designer for Pine Hill Nursery in Torch Lake. “Now, with the shortages we’re having, people think it’s a smart thing to do. And people who don’t have a lot of space tend to grow their herbs and vegetables in pots, which is technically a vegetable garden.
Megan Gilger of Traverse City can tell you all about container gardening at her many farms. A lifelong gardener – she learned from her grandfather and father growing up – says on her website, fraisexchange.comwhere she explores the cultivation of aromatic herbs, the raising of chickens and related subjects.
“I teach people how to garden,” she says, noting that she teaches online and in-person classes in addition to providing resources on her website. “It’s about wanting to help people feel like they can garden in a way that can help the environment.”
Container gardens can be housed in anything from a raised bed to various sizes of pots, planters and bags, says Gilger.
“A container garden is a great option when you’re not sure where you want your garden to be,” she says. “I suggest people that if they don’t know where to put their garden, consider making pots or growing bags or things like that as containers.”
If you have a porch, patio or balcony, you can garden, says Gilger.
“It’s great for someone who is insecure or has a small space to grow or if the space you have for a garden isn’t ideal, maybe there isn’t not enough sun, a lot of wind, different things like that,” she said. “A back patio can do a lot in terms of growing food.”
The types of containers are endless
The variety of containers suitable for planting is as limitless as your imagination.
“As long as it has good drainage, you can use almost any material to grow something so you can get really creative,” says Gilger.
Jen Shepard, general manager of Garden Goods in Traverse City, also says any type of container will do.
“Some people do it in planters,” she says. “Other people make them in big pots.”
EarthBox is a system that provides a self-contained container garden with drainage.
“They are self-watering, they have a small basin at the bottom. You can even make tomatoes in EarthBoxes,” says Shepard.
Gilger likes to use small aluminum feeders of varying lengths. They are available at farm supply stores.
“You just have to drill holes in the bottom and you can mount the inside of the trough like a trellis,” she explains. “You can grow peas and cucumbers there. You can grow lettuces and flowers even with cucumbers. You can do a lot in this single trough. Using this vertical space gives you plenty of opportunities to grow things. »
She is also a big fan of bags, usually made of some type of fiber, similar in appearance to a laundry bag but designed for plants.
“I love grow bags because they use recycled materials, they last forever, and they’re really versatile in terms of size and shape,” says Gilger. “You can grow anything from potatoes to tomatoes, flowers to herbs to lettuce.
“You don’t have to worry about drainage because they drain very well. What’s great about them is that they help aerate the root system – they do what’s called air pruning, which is one of the best ways to develop a strong root system.
When the season is over, the bags can be emptied, flattened and stored away, taking up very little space.
Renis says raised beds are also considered container gardens.
“You can make it attractive,” she says. “Very often in retail, I can make a tomato and herbs and stick edible flowers on it.”
The key is to ensure that the containers you select are large enough.
“You’re going to be watering tiny little pots multiple times a day,” Shepard says, “where if it’s a bigger pot it gives them more room to grow and you’re not watering as much.”
Whatever you choose for a container garden, soil is one of the most important elements and should include clean topsoil and several inches of good manure.
“You want to hand-mix this with your topsoil and it’s going to create some really good nutrients,” says Gilger, whose manure of choice is Michigan-based Morgan Composting Inc.’s Dairy Doo. Garden stores usually sell one type of raised bed. mix in bulk or in bags.
What to plant
Most herbs can be planted together in the same container. An exception might be mint, which grows quickly and is best put in its own pot, Shepard says.
“I would put the tallest herbs in the center, say rosemary or lemongrass, and then you can have something like thyme or oregano trailing to the side,” she says. “Usually I have rosemary, parsley, thyme and oregano.”
Shepard likes lemon verbena because it has a strong lemon scent and helps deter insects. She also likes to add flowers to her herb pots to make them look prettier – for example, pansies with lettuce, as they can handle the early cold. It starts the season by planting window boxes, then expands to other container gardens as the weather warms.
Gilger says planting a variety of salad mix in the same bag is an easy option.
“You can have fun with different varieties of lettuce and herbs,” she says. “It can be fun to grow cilantro, dill and different types of lettuce together and then chop it all up together and it has this lovely grassy, earthy flavor that makes salad taste amazing.”
It also produces seed potatoes in bags of different sizes.
“Some are large and designed specifically for tomatoes, so you can put a tomato in there with lettuce,” she says. “You can grow carrots there because they’re quite deep and they come in all shapes and sizes and have the ability to make them upright.”
In fact, when planting container gardens, Gilger tries to keep in mind the types of ingredients she likes to be able to harvest and immediately bring to her kitchen to eat.
“Some plants like to live together and work best when they live together,” says Gilger.
A fan of homemade pasta sauce, she suggests a mix of tomatoes and basil, which she says help each other taste better. She could add marigolds to the container to help repel mice, squirrels, and even birds that might want to nibble on the tomatoes.
A garden with fresh salsa ingredients is another option, though she says cilantro can be tricky to grow.
“Cilantro is actually a cool weather herb, not a hot weather herb,” says Gilger. “They try to grow at the same time as the tomatoes, so it’s a different season.”
Shepard says new tomatoes, along with peppers and cucumbers, are being developed into dwarf varieties so they can do better in containers.
Other plants that do well in containers include strawberries, which often bloom all summer long, as well as bell peppers, advises Renis.
“We produce a lot of berries in containers,” she says. “We even have a little raspberry bush that you can put in a pot and a little blueberry bush that’s only the size of a container. They are quite attractive and flower before fruiting, so you have something to look at.”
Even root vegetables like radishes can thrive in a can or jar.
“They don’t have a deep root system,” says Gilger. “You can take them out and eat them.”
Some squash and kale extend container gardening season well into fall, notes Gilger.
“Then you could add other fall herbs like sage and thyme and things like that, it would taste really good,” she says. “I like to think about what would be good together in a dish.
“Usually when these things are together it’s almost like growing the dish itself.”
Megan Gilger Pasta Sauce
4 bed. chopped tomatoes
1 onion, chopped
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 C. of dry white wine
1 handful of fresh basil
1 tablespoon of butter
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 C. reserved pasta water
Use pasta of your choice cooked according to package directions.
In a heavy bottomed saucepan, heat the butter (or oil of your choice), add the chopped onion and cook until translucent and fragrant. Then add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the carrots and cook for 2 to 3 minutes over medium heat. At the start of cooking, add the wine to deglaze the pan. Add tomatoes and balsamic vinegar. Salt and pepper the mixture.
Let the sauce cook for 4 to 5 minutes over medium heat so that it bubbles but does not burn. Allow the liquid to cook until thickened so that there is no more liquid. This will depend on your tomato variety.
When the sauce thickens, remove from heat. Add chopped fresh basil to the sauce.
When ready to serve, place over desired pasta and add just a little pasta water to help the sauce coat the noodles with the sauce. Serve with fresh basil on top and Parmesan cheese if desired.