Why and what of container gardening .
- 1. Lower your current grocery bill. There are a number of vegetables and herbs that are cost effective to grow at home. Herbs are a great example. For example basil is very easy to grow and has a relatively short shelf life when picked. The short self-life makes it very pricey per pound to purchase fresh. For most people just one plant will give them all the basil they will use over a given summer. Another example is cherry tomatoes; some varieties can produce hundreds of small tomatoes from just one plant over the growing season. You also have the advantage of picking as they ripen because there usually are several days from when they are ripe and when they are overripe. One can easily grow enough cooking herbs to last a summer and still have some for drying and/or freezing in just a few containers.
- 2. How about growing better tasting food. Tomatoes from the store are generally picked before they are ripe. Therefore they never develop the natural sugars that they vine ripened tomatoes develop. Fruits and vegetable that are sold need to last and ship well in order for them to be marketable. Also, many are designed so that they all ripen at the same time to make harvesting more effective. Flavor and textures are not the primary factors for fruits and vegetable that are sold commercially. That is one factor in the slow food movement. People found that we were losing the flavor in foods as society worked to make food a cheap commodity. Containers are a great way to grow many small fruits and vegetables.
- 3. Increase supply of open pollinated seeds for trading. I have found certain heirloom seeds to be hard to obtain and/or expensive to purchase. Growing a single container of heirloom tomatoes with a couple of plants grown from different seeds can supply me with enough seeds to last years and still have seeds to trade with. By growing in containers it is much easier to move the container far enough away from my other tomatoes so I do not create hybrids with my other tomatoes.
- 4. Understand growing habits and needs of selected variety of plant. Many people are purchasing survival seed banks. But can they really grow these seeds in their area. Growing just one container of a given variety will tell you a lot about that plant. You can learn it growing habits, soil requirements, watering needs, etc. More importantly it lets you FAIL small when you can afford to make mistakes. If you kill you container of plants you will learn for the next time. Fail fast and fail early, you are learning and you can afford to try things and experiment.
- 5. Learn to identify insect species that attack selected species of plant. Many times even a single container of a plant variety will be attacked by insects if they are native to an area. You can learn their life cycle and experiment with ways to deal with them. I have found containers very effective when I am trying to setup a mobile trap crop to kill off insects without using pesticides on my food crops.
- 6. Learn to identify diseases that attack selected species of plant. Again, if diseases are in your area many times they will show up in a single container. I have found it a good idea to test a new variety in a container before I put in full row in a garden. Better to fail fast and small then lose the farm.
- 7. Test different potting mixes and amendments to soil for selected species of plant. I have conducted a number of experiments involving invasive tree roots. I used tree bags and underground containers. I had to test a number of amendments for my very poor soil. Containers provided a cheap means to evaluate ways to improve my soil using locally available resources. Again you fail fast and work cheap.
- 8. Develop a storehouse of Mycorrhizal Fungi for selected species of plant. Many plants benefit from mycorrhizal fungi which work with the roots of plants. You can buy these and establish perennial plants with these and use the soil when starting plants they use the same fungi. This way you can build a bank of fungi to use when you cannot order fungi.
- 9. Develop a storehouse of nitrogen fixing Bactria for nitrogen fixing plants. You can buy these and establish perennial plants with these and use the soil when starting plants they use the same nitrogen fixing bacteria. This way you can build a bank of fungi to use when you cannot order nitrogen fixing bacteria.
- 10. Keeping a colony of good nematodes going. Again, you purchase these and keep a working colony of these going. In some cases you can feed these insects you raise to keep the colony active. Your container can provide a controlled environment to keep them active and alive. You may also need containers if you have a lot of harmful nematodes. You can create clean soil without the nematodes. You can also use containers to experiment with ways to kill and/or reduce harmful nematodes such as growing annual rye.
- 11. Provide rootstock that is moveable. For example a sweet potato is grown from a root but you plant the rooted vine. All you need is one growing sweet potato vine and you can grow many sweet potatoes. So long as you have one good container of sweet potatoes you have the possibility of growing a whole row of sweet potatoes. Also some plants like tomatoes can be grafted. You can use disease resistant root stock and graft mature tomatoes varieties on to this root stock. If you have plants in containers you can move these plants quickly.
- 12. Ability to grow in clean soil in areas where ground may be contaminated. A few people still live within 30-kilometer zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant back in 2006. They had gardens and raise poultry since the nuclear accident in 1986. In America there are a large number of brown soil sights that have been reclaimed. There are many ways that soil can become contaminated. In many cases you can get access to water that is not contaminated such as rain water. If you have clean soil you can safely grow food in containers. You can even keep the waste isolated and create clean compost for use in your containers.
- 13. Containers can be moved into and out of heated areas to extend the growing season. Many times we can get a late frost in spring or an early frost in fall. If you have containers you can move and a protected place you can move them to you can beat the frost.