Contributed by Adam of Home Harvest. Check out their amazing work here.
Container gardening is a great way to explore your green thumb and grow in temporary locations. Container gardening offers mobility options, requires minimal investment and is an effective strategy for growing food over contaminated soils. Fabric pots, in particular are easy to transport and set up. In addition they take up very little space during winter storage. If you've never heard of fabric gardening containers, check out Aero Soft Grow containers at Farmtek.com.
Container should be placed in a spot that receives maximum sunlight. Fruits and veggies should receive at least six hours of direct sunlight a day. Salad greens, kale, collards, and herbs are good options for spots with less sunlight. Containers should be filled up to three inches from the top with a compost/soil mix. This topping space is needed for watering to allow water to pool up and filter through the soil.
You want to fill your container with a mixture of equal parts quality compost and garden soil. Note: avoid using manure or potting soil. Manure is a different product than compost, and potting soil is a light mixture used in greenhouses and it doesn't have sufficient stability or nutrients. Good compost is light, dry, and earthy smelling. It should not be excessively wet or contain visible wood chips. When buying garden soil, look for ‘loam’ which describes a soil blend that’s ideal for plant growth. Good places to buy compost and soil in small quantities in the Boston area are City Soil in Jamaica Plain, Lalicata’s in Arlington, and Cambridge Bark and Loam. The last thing you need to add to soil is nitrogen. Good sources of nitrogen include blood meal, alfalfa meal, or feather meal. Apply per instructions and while plants are growing shoots and leaves but stop when fruits and veggies start to form.
In New England, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants need to be started in greenhouses during late winter, then transplanted to gardens in late spring as seedlings. All other crops can be grown either from seed or planted as seedlings. Be sure to start seeds outdoors as soon as temperatures allow. Check the UMass extension Vegetable Planting Chart for general planting schedules. Be aware that cool season crops can be started both in spring and again in late summer. Seed packets will list seeding technique, spacing, temperatures to start crops, and days to maturity.
Watering requirements always vary depending on location and type of container. Keep seeds constantly moist for 7-10 days until growth begins, and be careful not to wash seeds away with the force of a powerful hose. In the summer, mature fruiting plants will want a deep watering everyday if not more. Get to know your crops' needs by checking the soil for moisture 3”-4” down using your finger and watch the leaves for drooping. The porous sides of fabric containers will cause soil to dry out faster than soil in in-ground garden beds. Mounding leaf mulch around the outside of fabric containers will help retain moisture.
Before growing plants directly in the ground or using any on-site soil (aka soil you've dug up yourself) to fill containers, you should do a soil test to check for lead. Contact HomeHarvest or see UMass extension office for details on soil testing. Dust residue from contaminated soil on the leaves and fruit is actually a bigger risk to human health than plants taking up contaminants into the plant tissue. If your container is on top of contaminated soil, a thick (4”) application of leaf mulch on the ground surrounding the container will prevent this dusting from occurring. Always wash produce before eating.
HomeHarvest is always excited about helping people grow food in their garden. We encourage you to give it a try and not be afraid of making mistakes. Every growing season is different; some crops succeed while others fail. It’s a wonderful experience and we’re here to help!