Patio Farming: Growing Great Edible Gardens in Small Spaces

container-garden-at-summerwindsFinding space to grow food can be challenging in urban environments, especially for renters and apartment dwellers. Container gardens are a wonderful way to grow beautiful and productive edibles in small spaces. Fun and easy for aspiring and seasoned gardeners alike, container gardens offer flexibility and manageability that in-ground gardens lack. In fact, the endless possibilities can make container gardening addictive.

Start by selecting some functional containers. In order to choose the best containers for your plants, the following questions need to be considered:

1. What do you want to grow? In general, the pot ought to be slightly wider and slightly taller than the mature size of the plant you want to grow. Tiny succulents can grow well in coffee cups or shallow bowls, but a tomato plant will need a lot more space.
2. Drainage: The pot needs adequate holes in the bottom to allow for water to drain out of the pot.
3. Toxicity: Avoid growing edible plants in containers that are made of or once held toxic chemicals. Don’t use treated wood or pallets for edible gardens, as they contain preservatives and other chemicals that may be toxic to plants and harmful to humans, as well.

As long as it meets these three criteria, anything that can hold soil can be a plant’s home. Feel free to be creative and select containers that are both fun and functional.

Potting Mixes

Once you have selected your containers, you will need to fill them with potting mix. A great potting mix is the foundation for a successful container garden. To make an effective potting mix, start with organic potting soil or compost.

wetting-the-potting-mixTo the potting soil, add some perlite and vermiculite. Perlite resists water and helps to maintain good drainage in your containers. Vermiculite holds water, and releases it back into the soil when conditions are dry. Mix one part potting soil, one part perlite and one part vermiculite to create your own all-purpose potting mix that is free of synthetic chemicals, provides good drainage, and contains organic matter to provide your plants with nutrients.

Wet the potting mix ingredients and mix them well. It is important to begin wetting the ingredients prior to mixing, as dust from the potting soil and perlite are not healthy to breathe. You will notice that it takes a lot of water to wet the potting mix thoroughly. The goal is to get the mix as wet as a wrung-out sponge.


Gather your transplants and fill containers to within one inch of the top with potting mix. Make a hole in the soil for the plant that is slightly wider and as deep as the root ball.

Gently turn the plant upside down and ease the root ball out of the nursery pot, being very careful not to damage the stem. Tease roots apart, snip off any circling roots, and place the plant in the hole. Make sure that the root ball makes very good contact with the potting mix, leaving no air gaps or pockets.

Return displaced dirt to the hole to fill in empty areas. Do not press or force the dirt into the hole. Gently water. The soil may settle, revealing low spots. If low spots appear, add a little bit more soil, as necessary, and water in again.


In warm weather and dry seasons, containers tend to dry out quickly, particularly small pots and clay pots. Mulch the top of the soil with wood chips or pebbles to decrease evaporation. Water your plants until liquid runs out of the bottom of the pot to prevent mineral build-up in your soil. To facilitate draining, place the pot on small legs or in a shallow dish filled with gravel.

Allow the soil to nearly dry out before watering again. Roots need air, so a water-logged plant will die just as quickly as a dehydrated plant. Too much water also encourages the growth of mildews and molds.


container-garden-in-pink-potsCommercial potting soils generally have enough nutrients to last a couple of months. Following this initial period, add a balanced, water soluble organic fertilizer. For patio plants that are watered often, nutrients are flushed away rapidly. It may be helpful to refer to the directions on the fertilizer package, adjusting to fertilize twice as often at half the recommended strength. This provides a regular nutrient drip for plants that are contained and thus reliant upon the gardener to meet their nutritional needs.


Just about any container that can hold soil and water can become a plant pot – including buckets, boots, reusable grocery bags, and wine barrels. Have fun creating your unique patio garden, and enjoy the benefit of having your own fresh produce, right outside your door!

Thanks to Kari Spencer of TheMicroFarmProject.com for participating in the [Grow] Network Writing Contest.

We have over $2,097 in prizes lined up for the Fall 2015 Writing Contest, including all of the following:

– A 21.5 quart pressure canner from All American, a $382 value
– A Survival Still emergency water purification still, a $288 value
– 1 free 1 year membership in the [Grow] Network Core Community, a $239 value
– A Worm Factory 360 vermicomposting system from Nature’s Footprint, a $128 value
– 2 large heirloom seed collections from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, valued at $103 each
– A Metro-Grower Elite sub-irrigation growing container from Nature’s Footprint, a $69 value
– 2 copies of the complete Home Grown Food Summit, valued at $67 each
– 3 free 3 month memberships in the [Grow] Network Core Community, valued at $59 each
– 4 copies of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, valued at $43 each
– A Bug Out Seed Kit from the Sustainable Seed Company, a $46 value
– 4 copies of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, valued at $33 each
– 4 copies of the Greenhouse of the Future DVD and eBook, valued at $31 each

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