Fresh fruits and vegetables are necessary for a healthy, balanced diet. Your local grocery store contains a large variety of “well-traveled” fruits and vegetables. Those little stickers on your tomatoes often tell you their place of birth. How long does it take for your tomatoes to be picked, packaged and shipped all the way from California or Florida? A better alternative is a local farmer’s market where the produce sold there is likely grown in your community. An even better choice is to grow your own!
You don’t need acreage or even a back yard to grow your own salad vegetables. Delicious salad staples can be grown in containers on a patio or even a balcony. The satisfaction of cutting fresh lettuce and tomatoes from your own homegrown plants is second only to how fresh the taste is.
To get started with container gardening you will need a few basic supplies: containers, soil and seeds. You don’t need to invest a lot of money to get started. Repurpose a five gallon bucket by drilling a few drainage holes in the bottom. You can cut gallon-sized milk jugs in half horizontally, poke drainage holes and fill with soil to start seedlings. The options are endless once you start thinking before you toss that item in the trash. Soil can be purchased from your local garden center or you can dig your own if you have access to rich soil. Seeds can be purchased just about anywhere these days. I prefer heirloom seeds as you can save them from your vegetables and replant them again and again. The $3 you spend on seed could keep you in seeds indefinitely.
Start with lettuce seeds. I grow my lettuce in a window box and use a lettuce leaf variety mix. This grows very quickly and every time I harvest leaves they seem to grow back within a few days. The color variety is beautiful and very tasty. Nothing tastes quite like lettuce freshly picked, washed and on your plate within minutes.
Another important salad vegetable is the tomato. There are many varieties to choose from and the colors are endless when you use heirloom seeds. I plant San Marzano and Marglobe tomatoes in five gallon containers (2 plants per container). Be sure to either place stakes or a tomato cage in your container when your tomatoes emerge from seed, if not sooner. If you do this too late you run the risk of disrupting the roots or breaking delicate stems. I also plant a marigold plant in the tomato pot. It deters pests that love to eat tomato plants and it brings color into your garden.
Cucumbers can also be grown in containers. Look for a compact variety if space is an issue. Have a trellis securely fixed in your container before seedlings emerge and they will enjoy climbing up and over it while producing many pounds of heavy cukes! You will also enjoy the beautiful yellow flowers that bloom on this vine.
Be sure to save a few smaller containers for your herbs. You can grow a nice basil plant in a small container and hang it up, mount it to the wall or set it on a ledge or porch railing.
My new favorite vegetable is the radish. While only needing about six inches of soil to develop a nice sized vegetable, they are suitable for containers as well. The beautiful red radish will be ready to eat in under six weeks and that’s nearly instant gratification for growing something from seed.
A little ingenuity and elbow grease and you can soon be getting your salad from your back porch instead of from a bag in the grocery store. Picking just what you need means it’s always fresh and you won’t have to throw anything out that spoiled in the drawer of your refrigerator. You will also know that the only thing sprayed on it was water and not harmful chemicals or enhancements. It’s also an inexpensive alternative to what you will pay at the checkout line. The difference in taste will make you a believer.