August 30, 2015

How to maintain, harvest and enjoy a Vegetable Container Garden

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At this point in the season, garden care for a container garden is pretty minimal – all the hard work of planning and planting is done, and it’s mostly time to enjoy, but there are still some really important things to think about to keep your plants healthy in order to get the most from them – like plant food, pest management, pruning, etc.

The other day, Theo and I harvested the first carrot from our patio container garden. It was such a feeling of success and pleasure, I have to share it with you.  Although the carrot itself was no bigger than Theo’s chubby index finger, it was sweet and earthy, and the memories of stealing carrots from my mother’s garden came flooding back.

Garden care for vegetable container gardens – www.foodess.com

We have been enjoying fresh herbs (basil, chives, oregano, two varieties of mint, and rosemary) all summer, but this was our first big treasure.  It was also the first carrot that Theo ever willingly swallowed, which says so much about getting kids involved in the process.

Garden care for your vegetable container garden

1. Watch your garden grow. Trust me, it’s more fascinating than watching paint dry, although it progresses much more slowly.  By watching it, I mean you should spend time amongst your pots every day, checking them for the first signs of stress, disease or pests (for example, white spots = powdery mildew, teeny tiny bugs = probably aphids, tiny specks and/or webbing = spider mites, yellowing or wilting of foliage = under- or over-watering, squiggly lines on leaves = leaf miners). It’s much easier to treat a problem at the first sign than it is to take back control once it causes significant damage.  Trust me.

2. Feed and Cut back.  Like I’ve mentioned before, plants in pots have higher needs for plant food than their buddies in the ground, because they are confined to a small space and nutrients get washed out when you water them.  Feed your veggie plants with the plant food of your choice. I was given Miracle-Gro Shake ‘n Feed Tomato, Fruits & Vegetables which I used on my tomato and cucumber plants – it’s formulated to help produce more fruit & veggies, plus the calcium helps prevent blossom end rot, which I’ve had problems with in the past. That particular product is slow-release and lasts for four months, which is great – sprinkle and forget. Whatever you’re using, be sure to follow the instructions on the label for amount and frequency.

As your plants grow, pruning them can help you get the most from them.  Cut back the tall stems of your tender herb plants (and eat what you cut!) to encourage bushier growth and prevent early flowering.  Watch videos on how to prune your tomato and cucumber plants – pinching off “shooters” will help concentrate the plant’s energy into fruit production.  Later in the season, pruning from the tops maximizes the final harvest by forcing the plant to ripen up the remaining fruits on the plant, rather than wasting energy on new growth.

Garden care for vegetable container gardens – www.foodess.com

3. Harvest your bounty.  One of the most disappointing experiences newbie gardeners face is watching their beloved plants bloom and produce vegetables… only to bite into a dry radish, a mushy tomato, or a forkful of über-bitter arugula. I did it myself this year, with a beautiful container of lettuces! The pot was so pretty, I kept delaying the harvest… and then they bolted (which means they started flowering – the stems harden and the leaves become bitter at this point).

So while you’re visiting your garden every day, pay close attention to when things are getting ready to harvest.  Snip off tender greens leaving a bit of the crown above the soil surface, and they’ll grow back again a couple of times.   Watch your peas and pluck them when their pods swell, before they get hard and starchy.  Nab every last tomato while the skins are taut and shiny, before they pass their prime.  Rip out those radishes as soon as you can see their little round heads poking out. Tug out your carrots as soon as you fancy.

Garden care for vegetable container gardens – www.foodess.com

4. Learn and enjoy the process.  Get really familiar with the plants you’re growing – experience surpasses all else, but if you spend some time reading about their individual preferences, you’ll have far fewer disappointments.   Keep a gardening journal to document your successes and failures, and what you’ve learned along the way.

Most of all, draw as much pleasure as you can from  the miracle of using your own two hands to produce something from (almost) nothing.  I can’t even describe the sweetness and bliss in the first juicy bite of each beautiful tomato that I successfully grew myself.

What are your gardening success stories or challenges this season? I’d really love to hear your stories in the comments! Or share pictures of your veggie plants with me on twitter and I’ll happily retweet them! If you use the hashtag #igrewit, you can share with a larger gardening community at Scotts Miracle-Gro (I’m part of their Gro Crew). So, fellow veggie-loving gardeners – any pearls of wisdom to share?

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Hi, I’m Jenn! I’m in the Foodess kitchen making a spectacular mess + making something delicious, in roughly equal parts. So happy that you’ve joined me!

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October 22, 2015
Garden Clean-up and Dreaming for Next Year

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May 25, 2015
How to Grow a Veggie Container Garden

Everything you need to know to grow a veggie container garden on your patio or anywhere!

May 3, 2015
Planning a Vegetable Container Garden + a Gardening Giveaway!

There is no satisfaction sweeter than biting into something that you grew yourself. When I was little, my mom had a veggie patch. I’d routinely sneak out on balmy summer days and nestle myself among the tall pea plants, popping sun-warmed sweet peas from their shells and eating until I gave myself a tummy ache. When I got really brave (as I didn’t have the cover of dense foliage), I’d rip a few carrots out of the soil and trot away as quickly as I could to rinse them under the running hose. I thought I was being so naughty… when in retrospect, my mom was probably laughing at me from the kitchen window. The only kid who sneaks vegetables. I think gardening is absolutely magical, which is why I was super excited when earlier this season Scotts Miracle-Gro reached out to me wondering if I’d like to join their Gro Crew! I was glad to have the nudge to get started on this year’s garden (I skipped last year due to a big move and small-ish baby), and to have a community of experts on my side sounds pretty darn good to me. I’m really hoping you’ll garden along with me! I’d love to see what you are growing, and if you’ve never done it before, I hope maybe I can give you the extra encouragement and little bits of wisdom you need to get started. Now is the time to plan! Figure what you want to plant and when to plant it, read up on any questions you have, buy your supplies, etc. Scotts Miracle-Gro has a great garden guide to use as a starting point. I’ve spent the past few weeks reading gardening books, buying seeds, and mapping out my space. I live in downtown Vancouver, so the outdoor area I’m working with a patio – it faces West and is about 8′ square. I get a good amount of direct sun from early afternoon to sunset. (Even if you don’t get tons of sun, there is still plenty you can grow). My first project was to sort through my seeds and decide (mostly prioritize!) what I want to grow. It’s a small area, especially once you factor in a BBQ and a beloved toddler splash table. I went out and bought several bags of Miracle-Gro Potting Mix (they also have an organic version called Miracle-Gro Organic Choice that I was excited to try, but my local store didn’t carry it), six 8″ pots for herbs and flowers, four 12″ pots for vegetables, and some little biodegradable seed starting containers that you can plant directly in a pot rather than disrupting the roots by transplanting. I also picked up a small notebook, and I’m planning my containers like you would plan where to seat guests at a wedding – with diagrams that map out which plants are good companions for one another in what size pots. I’ve consulted the Farmer’s Almanac guide to planting dates for seeds, to decide what I’m going to start indoors and what I’ll plant directly outdoors. I’m excited for you to get started on your own gardening path with me! If you share any pictures, tag them with #IGrewIt! And I have a fantastic gardening giveaway for you to get you started! It includes a gardening bag filled with tools, vegetable seeds, Miracle-Gro Organic Choice Multi-Purpose Plant Food, Miracle-Gro Flower Magic (which is a mix of 29 flower seed varieties + plant food + mulch – just shake and a flower garden grows!), and a $50 Home Depot gift card to get you started with soil, planters, etc.GIVEAWAY DETAILS: Enter via the Rafflecopter form below. There are several ways to enter, one mandatory, plus four bonus entries. Follow the prompts to log in, then complete just the first task, or do them all for multiple entries (many you can do once each day). Contest ends Sunday, May 10, 2015 at 11:59 PM PST. The winner will be contacted shortly after by email and must respond within 24 hours or another winner will be drawn. Required action for the winning entry must be verifiable, so please make sure to follow the instructions. Contest open to Canadian residents only. (I’m sorry US and overseas readers! Gardening/soil/fertilizer products have different regulations in different countries, so although the products are available in both, they are not interchangeable. I tried to make it work, but it wouldn’t this time. I promise another good giveaway for you soon! Please garden with me anyway! xoxo) Good luck!a Rafflecopter giveaway