The Beginner’s Guide to Container Vegetable Gardening

Imagine: You’re making a salad, and all you have to do is step onto your patio to clip some lettuce, grab a bell pepper, and pluck a few grape tomatoes. BAM! Eating doesn’t get much easier, healthier, or more local than that. Vegetable gardening really is attainable without an expert green thumb and lots of time. All you need is some space, a few essential supplies, and lots of good light and water.

Space

Container gardening is popular because it’s convenient and takes up less space than a full garden bed. For the novice it’s also nice that you can better control the soil and water supply (fewer complications).

Deciding what you want to grow will determine the amount of space you need. Start small, and choose what you like to eat! You’ll want small-fruit or early varieties with a continuous harvest, so you can enjoy meals as the summer goes along, rather than wait for one big end-of-season yield.

Generally speaking, a veggie plant needs about one square foot of space to grow*, so if you have three plants (lettuce, pepper & tomato), you need one 3 sq. ft. container, or three small ones (root depth requirements vary by plant). Then, find an area of your yard that gets good sun. Lettuce requires at least four hours of sun, while peppers and tomatoes need eight (*look at the plant label for specific care tips).

Supplies

Starting from seeds is an option, but using mini plants that have already been established is the easiest (and quickest) route to success for an amateur. Your local garden center will have all sorts of plants, plus containers in many colors, shapes, and sizes. If aesthetics are less important, you may also have a container around home that will work; just make sure it has good drainage holes and depth. You need:

  • Container(s)
  • Veggie plants
  • Potting Soil (Do not use garden or topsoil.)
  • Fertilizer (Find water-soluble, for edibles/vegetables.)
  • Garden gloves & a small trowel

Care

Follow the suggested planting tips on the labels, focusing on plant depth and distance between plants. Then water thoroughly and give your plants a first dose of fertilizer. Light and sun are then key. Check the soil moisture daily, and if it’s dry to the touch, add water. Gardens generally require an average 1” of moisture per week. Of course, you can skip a day or two, if Mother Nature is doing the watering for you.

As with many things, learn and tweak as you go. If a plant is wilting, water more. If the leaves are turning yellow, you may need to water less, and even protect plants from scavenging critters. Regardless, enjoy your reward, and know you’re taking another great step to a healthier life!

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Kelly Fitzgerald has a BA in Journalism and MA in Creative Writing, and is the Managing Editor of the Anytime Fitness blog. She’s an avid reader, writer, and life-long learner who describes herself as a curious, sporty Twin Citian who is always observing, perpetually tired, and plagued by common sense.