It’s here! Its spring!
Once the cherry blossom trees are in bloom in Victoria the city comes to life. Watching those barren, graceless branches give rise to pink and white blossoms marks the transformation from winter to spring. But spring is more than flowers and butterflies. Spring also brings asparagus, rhubarb, and a whole lot of seedlings!
In preparation for spring I attended Lifecycles* Container Gardening Class. Matthew from Lifecycles expertly talked us through the basics of container gardening, and took away any anxiety I had previously felt. My small balcony-less apartment has struggled to support any sort of plant life thus far. This year I am going to make it happen, and here is Matthews full guide on Container Gardening. Alternatively here are my top tips picked up from the class.
*Lifecycles is a non-profit organization dedicated to cultivating awareness and initiating action around food, health, and urban sustainability in the Greater Victoria area.
My Top 8 Container Plants To Grow Indoors
- Rosemary – You will probably be wanting a lot of this robust herb and as rosemary can grow to be several feet high, it requires a rooting system that can support this. For this reason choose a large 5 gallon pot for your rosemary plant to live in. Rosemary is perennial and may live for many years. Sage and thyme are grown in much the same way.
- Beans – Beans are great because they can grow in a pot 25cm or 12″ deep. Start planting now – May. They like to climb so give them some string, a stake or a trellis to climb up.
- Tomatoes – Cherry tomatoes are the only ones worth growing in a container. Tomatoes will need lots of sun and at least a 5 gallon container. They will also needs lots of nutrients so compost/fertilise at least once when the flowers start to emerge. Once the plant starts to fruit, trim the bigger leaves to encourage fruit development. Don’t forget to put a tomato cage around your plant while it is still small!
- Lettuces – Loose leaf lettuce is the best variety for container gardening (compared with Romaine and Butterhead). Find a container that is around 30cm deep and a spot in your house with partial shade. Mid day hot sun can cause your plant to set seed making it taste super bitter. You can choose to plant your seeds closer together – 5-10cm apart for a dense carpet of baby greens. Alternatively follow package directions for full sized plants. Lettuce likes to be planted with radishes and Johnny jump ups.
- Kale – Kale is super productive and can be one of the easiest greens to grow. You will need a pot that is at least 30cm deep. Start planting seeds early spring. Once they start to grow, thin the plants to 15-20cm spacing, favouring the most vigorous. Kale can be continually harvested -take the oldest and lowest leaves to encourage new growth.
- Arugula (Rocket) – This baby green is great for container gardening and can grow year round (although things grow really slowly, if at all in the winter). It prefers a sunny, south facing windowsill and can grow in a container as shallow as 10cm deep. Plant the seeds tightly, as close as 1.5″ apart to grow a dense carpet of arugula. Once the greens reach 3-5″ in height, cut to 1.5″ from the soil.
- Basil – Basil can be grown indoors so is great if you don’t have a balcony like me. Find it a sunny, south facing windowsill in a pot that is about 20″ deep. Basil is an annual plant, as is cilantro (coriander).
- Sprouts – Sprouts are probably the easiest edible to grow inside and you probably already have the “seeds” in your cupboard. Lentils, quinoa and sunflower seeds can all be sprouted. Start by soaking seeds overnight in a canning jar filled with water. The next morning drain the water and add new water. Cover the jar with a cheese cloth and enclose the mouth of the jar with it, fastened with an elastic band. Let sit on an angle to allow the water to strain off somewhere in your house with light. Rinse the seeds once per day.
Matthews Tip – Don’t bother growing from rosemary from seed. Rosemary tends to take a long time to sprout so best to purchase seedlings from your local farmers market. Rosemary can survive through the winter, but think about cutting it back in late winter so the plant can work on storing more energy in its roots.
Matthew’s Tip – Bush beans can grow in shallower soil than runner beans.
Matthews Tip – Starter plants are easier than growing from seed – “tumbler tomatoes” are a hybrid that is often encouraged for containers. Ask your seller to recommend a good variety for container growing.
Matthews Tip – Lettuce will grow back a few times over the season – make sure to keep it 1.5″ from the ground when cutting. The more you cut lettuce, the more bitter the greens will taste. Stagger the planting of your seeds to around every 3 weeks to ensure continuous lettuce greens all summer long. Lettuce can be grown indoors.
Matthews Tip – If you prefer you can grow kale plants for baby greens by growing them in smaller pots. Chard can be grown in much the same way.
Matthews Tip – Other greens such as mizuna, kale, chard and mustard greens can be grown the same way. These are all great edible plants to be that can be grown indoors!
Matthew’s Tip – Chives and parsley can be grown in similar conditions to basil the big difference being they are biannual plants so will grow back two years in a row. Even better mint, lemon balm, oregano and thyme are perennial plants. These can all be grown indoors.
Rachel’s Tip – See blog post Sprouted Spring Salad – The How To and Health Benefits of Sprouting Food for more information on sprouting and the nutritional benefits.
Of course there are many other plants that can be grown in a container. Radishes, leeks and peas are worth a crack. Other vegetables including cucumber, broccoli and potatoes can also be grown in containers but Matthew suggests to focus your efforts elsewhere. Broccoli and cucumber will both need big pots (bigger that 5 gallon) and as cucumbers are climbers, they will need some vertical space. Potatoes can be grown in a bag or box.
Matthew From Lifecycles Top Tips For Container Gardening This Spring
- If you want a productive container garden don’t bother growing from seed. Instead purchase seedlings from your local farmers markets. This is especially true for slow growing perennials plants such as rosemary, thyme and sage.
- Container size matters! Bigger plants like bigger containers. One 5 gallon pot is recommended for one tomato plant. Try salvaging a container pot – find an old oil drum, drill some holes in for drainage and voila!
- If you are growing lettuce or kale in a trough, you can plant them closer than the instructions say – try 4” apart. The plants will be smaller but just as good. Plan in succession so you get to eat your greens at various times during the growing seasons.
- Homemade compost is important to ensure good soil for your container gardens. If you don’t have access to a compost, the only other option for container potting soil is Sea Soil Container Garden Mix. Unfortunately this is made with fish waste from fish farms, wood waste from pulp mills, coconut husks, perlite, and some mineral additives. This was the only bagged mix Matthew knew of that has enough nutrients to grow vegetables if you don’t have access to a compost.*
- Water! This is super important! On average plants need to be watered every second day. Water daily when it is hot out. Best to water your plants in the evening so the water does not evaporate.
*My veggie man (Cook St. Village Veggie Shop! He’s the best) recommended Islands Finest Potting Soil from Nanaimo, BC – this will set you back $8 for a bag. I also picked up Reindeer’s Natural Plant Foods Organic Seaweed Fertilizer. Fingers crossed these local delights do the trick!
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Rachel Dickens, The Conscious Dietitian, is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She graduated with her Masters in Nutrition and Dietetics in 2010 from Griffith University. She strives to provide evidence-based nutrition information with a focus on plant-based nutrition, and share some of her favourite seasonal recipes and sustainable eating tips.