Container Gardening for Your Salads

If there’s a bunny on your balcony, it’s probably a pet.

The beauty of container gardening is that it brings nature to the smallest urban spaces. A growing number of new gardeners aren’t using their window boxes and garden urns for flowers, but to grow food. Even the yardless want to savor the freshest tastes of summer.

Even if you don’t have a patch of earth, crops grown on rooftops; on balconies, in window sills, on small back decks can freshen up your salads all summer long. As an added bonus, your plants will still attract bees, butterflies and birds, without inviting the attention of rabbits, ground slugs and many other (although not all) unwanted guests.

Truthfully, any container from recycled yogurt cups to peanut butter jars to can provide a home to a food giving plant for at least part of its lifespan. If you live in an apartment or condominium, you may be restricted to a standard size and shape of window boxes that must sit in pre-formed designated planters as part of your residency agreement. Bring the dimension and colour requirements to the gardening centre and they will be able to help you find compliant containers.

Commercial planters are available in a variety of styles, sizes and at any price point. Fashions in planting containers change as often as fashions in clothing, but there are also classics designed to provide a garden style that is in keeping with the architectural period of your house.

First-time container gardeners, and those on a limited budget, should save their investment for high- quality soil or compost and healthy seedlings. Choosing containers to recycle as planters can be the first creative choice a new gardener makes. Generally speaking, herbs like chives, parsley and basil will do well in houseplant pots. Cherry tomatoes can thrive in yogurt tubs and everything from peppers to zucchini and baby potatoes will grow in old buckets. Thrift store aquariums have been known to become mini greenhouses for salad leaves and many a pea shoot and beanstalk have gotten their starts creeping up along balcony rails from jam jars brought home from school as Mothers’ Day presents.    

One of the most important issues to keep in mind is drainage. Commercial pots will have holes in the bottom to allow rain water to drain away. Be sure to elevate the pots off the ground so that excess moisture can drip down and out of the container. When using other kinds of containers, either poke holes in the bottom, or fill the first few centimeters with stone or gravel and put them under cover when more than a light summer shower is in the forecast.

Purchase high-nutrient soil or compost for vegetables to fill the pots you’ll transplant your seedlings into. If you’ve been planning ahead, you might save your eggshells and crush them up to add to the soil. Not only will it enrich the soil, but it will help with drainage and help to teach young children about how our organic food scraps break down and return to earth.   

By mid-August container gardens can provide even the most crowded urbanites with a daily sun-ripened tomato, a handful of herbs, a few fingerling zucchinis, and enough leaf lettuce to satisfy the human craving for summer tastes fresh from the warm earth.