This time last year, I was determined to live out my homesteading dreams within the limits of the 20 feet of sidewalk that leads to the apartment I currently rent. With a mix of determination, stubbornness, and my inability to walk away from an orphaned plant I ended up with 80 or so buckets of homegrown goodness. I had visions of growing to be a crazy old bucket lady who painted faces on said buckets and named them. Sigh. This year I have been fostering a tiny human who likes to keep me awake at night and thinks that 5 AM is a great time to play. As you can imagine, I have traded my morning time of gardening, yoga, and meditation for naps on the floor of my office and figuring out how to conquer the world while baby-wearing.
This year’s container garden was certainly guided by the wisdom gained from last year’s experiment as well as my current life circumstances. Last year, I grew a bit of everything and a TON of tomatoes. This year I thoughtfully chose a few of my favorite vegetables: cucumbers, peppers, and only 7 tomato plants (last year there were thirty), and stuck mostly with herbs, and a few flowers. My choice to focus on herbs has many layers:
- They are pretty low maintenance.
- They do really well in containers.
- Many herbs appeal to pollinators.
- It takes a lot less effort to dry an herb than it does to preserve/can fruits and vegetables.
- Growing my own herbs is an inexpensive way to supply my herbal tea addiction.
Container Garden Companion Planting
As I created my mental list of the herbs that I wanted to grow, I started to think of companion planting. Companion planting is planting things together that play well and support each other in varying ways.
A few things to keep in mind when companion planting are:
- Light: Make sure that what you plant together have the same light needs.
- Root depth: Pairing a deep rooted plant with a more shallow one will prevent plants from competing for nourishment.
- Many flowers and herbs provide natural pest control for your vegetables.
After a quick flip through "Carrots Love Tomatoes" on what might mingle well, I started lining pots on the sidewalk. This next part felt like a giant garden puzzle to me as I grouped my plants by veggie, herb, flower to help give me an idea of what I was working with. From there I started to mix things up and place the happy pairings in front of a bucket. Once I felt satisfied with the pairings and everyone had a playmate (the mints were potted by themselves since they tend to take over quickly and are difficult to reign in) I put my son to work filling up buckets with soil. As each bucket came back filled with rich soil (I like a nice mix of potting soil and compost), I potted each plant, labeled them, and let the rain moving in that day take care of the watering.
For inquiring minds, here is what I planted together:
- Tomatoes were paired with one of the following: Borage (deters tomato worms), calendula, basil (repels flies/mosquitoes), zinnia, or nasturtium.
- Cucumber and nasturtium, though a bird flew off with my poor cucumber start. The nasturtium repel cucumber loving insects (specifically the squash bug).
- Peppers and basil (increases flavor and repels bugs).
- Chamomile and echinacea
- Sage and rosemary
- Chamomile and Holy basil
- Thyme and lavender
- My son made his own “garden sanctuary” and scattered common milkweed, virginia stock, and portulaca
Container Gardening Challenges Ahead
My greatest challenge last year was watering my buckets of plenty. In all my eagerness, I got to planting and then noticed that there was no outside water source. I found an old 3-gallon water jug and schlepped it between my tub and back about 20 times. Since container gardens dry out more quickly, I was doing this twice a day during the hotter parts of the summer. I did start leaving out buckets to collect rain water and after the first go around I quickly learned to check for cracks and holes. My goal this year is to get a head start on collecting rain water to reduce the tub to garden trek.
Another challenge was the wildlife in my backyard. There is nothing that turns me from Snow White to the Exorcist quicker than a critter eating from my garden. My garden lacks leafy greens this year which was what seemed most appealing to the critters. I am hopeful that this will deter the creatures this year. Of course, it did not keep my cucumber from flying away.
All that is left at this point is to water, wait, and continue to dream of a summer full of tomato eating and herbal tea drinking.