I'm sure I don't have to tell y'all that the new sticker shock site is the grocery store, especially the produce aisle. And, if that doesn't wreck your day, how about those recall announcements after you've eaten what's under suspicion? Sadly, I wouldn't look for relief anytime soon, unless you take the bull by the horns and join the growing community of home gardeners. Raising your own veggies, fruits and herbs is a lot easier and cheaper than you think, and (take it from me) container gardening is definitely the route to take!
Almost any fruit, vegetable or herb that can be grown in a typical backyard garden will do great as a container-grown plant -- even fruit trees! And space is not a major obstacle. Nearly any size area will do, including balconies, porches, backyards or even inside by a sunny window. As to which plants you should grow, launch those incredible edibles with just a few starter plants that you and your family eat most.
Our family consumes an incredible amount of tomatoes in foods like spaghetti, salad, salsa and so many other dishes. So tomatoes are number one on our list. We also love spinach, cucumbers and pickles, broccoli, squash, bell peppers, jalapeños and so on. As far as herbs, we love Italian and Mexican foods, so we plant parsley, cilantro, basil, oregano, rosemary, onion, dill and garlic.
Starting to sound expensive and time consuming? Well, don't break a sweat because the great thing about container gardening is that you don't have to spend bushels of money on special or matching containers, and you won't be working overtime tilling the ground, preparing the soil and constantly weeding. In fact, the cost of one starter plant or seed packet is about the same as one store-packaged container of the same item, but your garden plants will continue to produce long after you've eaten that one store-bought item.
Getting Started with Container Gardening
For first-timers, your best bet is to buy starter plants from a reputable garden center or nursery. This will ensure that the plant or tree has had good care, and the instructions you receive are reliable. Be sure to tell the nursery employees that you're using the plants in a container garden so they can assist you with information as to appropriate sizes or types of containers.
As far as your container choice, look around in your garage, storage shed, or at a garden center for used pots, planter boxes, plastic barrels, trash containers or gallon cans. Select the proper size containers by referring back to the advice you were given at the nursery or the information included on the seed packet or starter plants. Then, clean each container well and be sure that they have adequate drainage by punching or drilling holes on the bottom. Fill with about one inch of gravel before adding dirt. Also available are the upside down hangers for tomatoes and peppers, as well as the reusable potato sack grow-kits.
After several years of growing in containers, Larry and I gradually created a more decorative garden that we just love looking at and walking through. The heavy-duty, plastic planters we chose were purchased inexpensively from a national chain discount store. And let me tell you, the grandkiddos love helping us pick and are more willing to eat what they gather themselves than something that comes out of a can.
Believe me, you'll be amazed at what fresh-picked tastes like, and sleep a heck of a lot better by avoiding produce panic!
Container Vegetable Gardening
Vegetables, even those that "vine," thrive incredibly well. Tomato cages or small trellises can be used in or next to the container. Some vegetables that are well adapted to container gardening are carrots, bush-type beans, broccoli, cabbage, cucumbers, eggplant, lettuce, onions, peas, peppers, potatoes, radishes, squash and tomatoes.
Herbs can be a real ego boost and a major cut in your grocery bill. Even if you're positive that you have a brown thumb, plant herbs. They're some of the hardiest and highly-used ingredients in recipes, and the most expensive to buy in the grocery store. Herbs that are well suited for container gardening are sage, rosemary, chives, dill, basil, saw palmetto, thyme, cilantro (coriander), garlic, mint, oregano, tarragon, marjoram, sesame and ginger.
Berries also do incredibly well in containers, like the dwarf blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries. Plant according to the directions, and be patient. Some berries don't produce for two to three years.
Fruit trees should be dwarfs, miniatures, or patio dwarfs, which grow three to four feet in height, and produce regular size fruit. Trees available in these sizes include apple, apricot, peach, pear, cherry, fig, lemon, lime and nectarine, and produce thirty or more fruit per tree. Your fruit tree will do best in a 25-gallon container, or one that's approximately two feet square and two feet deep and is constructed of thick-walled plastic, resin or wooden, half barrel-type. The region in which you live will determine the variety of fruit tree that prefers your climate best. Trees such as citrus and fig prefer a warmer climate and tolerate little freezing weather. However, as with any of your container plants, you can grow your tree(s) indoors, or move the tree from inside to outside with the change of seasons. If you intend to move your plant from area to area, remember the containers are heavy, so consider placing them on plant stands with wheels for ease in movement. One-year old trees are best to start with, and generally begin to produce fruit around the second or third year.
For more information, check out the following website at Texas A&M University: www.tamu.edu/research. Click the Research icon, and type "produce container gardening," or any specifics that you're interested in.
Fried Green Tomatoes
- 4 large green tomatoes cut into half-inch thick slices
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
Combine the beaten eggs and milk in a bowl. Pour the flour into a separate bowl. Dip tomato slices into the milk and egg mixture, then place in flour, completely coating the tomato. Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet and drop tomatoes into the oil. Fry until golden brown. Great when served with Ranch Dressing or dip.
Makes about 16 slices.
Combine the beaten eggs and milk in a bowl. Pour the flour into a separate bowl. Dip tomato slices into the milk and egg mixture, then place in flour, completely coating the tomato. Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet and drop tomatoes into the oil. Fry until golden brown. Great when served with Ranch Dressing or dip. Makes about 16 slices.
Olive Oil, Tomato and Herb Sauce
- 1 cup butter, melted
- 1/2 cup virgin olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 Roma tomatoes, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon fresh basil, finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano, finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh tarragon, finely chopped
In a small saucepan, mix all ingredients together and simmer over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Serve over cooked angel hair pasta, cooked chicken or pork. Makes 3/4 cup sauce.
In a small saucepan, mix all ingredients together and simmer over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Serve over cooked angel hair pasta, cooked chicken or pork. Makes 3/4 cup sauce.Serves 4 or more.
Editor: Texas gardeners will enjoy our book review of Touring Texas Gardens.