My Very Own Edible Container Garden

Goodlifer: My Very Own Edible Container Garden

Ever since managing to kill the evergreens in my window boxes, I had planned on replanting them with something perhaps a bit more interesting, if not easier to manage. Although beautiful, flowers just seemed kind of like a waste to me. Since I was going to spend all this time tending to these plants, could I not grow something more useful? I do have a history of killing many a potted herb plants (every single one I have ever owned, in fact), but maybe that was just because I didn’t really know how to take care of these precious things?

Fueled by a disdain for the current food system and desire for a degree of food sovereignty, I entered the gates of the New York Botanical Garden, pen, note pad and camera in my bag, ready to learn how to do this. How hard could it be? There was a festival at the NYBG that weekend, with lectures and happenings all around. I eschewed Martha Stewart on the main stage to go hear Rose Marie Nichols McGee talk about container gardening, a subject on which she has written a book and is an enthusiastic supporter of. Nichols McGee runs Nichols Garden Nursery in Oregon, and has a profound understanding of the added challenges wannabe gardeners face today, cramped living quarters lacking outdoor space being the main one.

Rose Marie Nichols McGee of Nichols Garden Nursery in front of a group of excited future gardeners at the New York Botanical Garden.

Rose Marie Nichols McGee of Nichols Garden Nursery in front of a group of excited future gardeners at the New York Botanical Garden.

There are many advantages to growing food in containers. First off, one does not have to worry about the quality of the soil in the location, but can simply go out and buy a bag of good organic potting mix and start planting. If one would move, the container gardens could come right along without much effort. The main advantage to edible gardens is, of course, that you can enjoy the fruits (and herbs and lettuces) of your labor. There is no tomato that tastes better than one that you have planted, tended to and, finally, harvested. Friends and family will be also very impressed when you tell them you are serving dinner made from home-grown ingredients. And, if you grow these edible plants well, they will look as beautiful on your balcony or in your window as any purely decorative flower.

My tomato plant, waiting patiently on the fire escape.

My tomato plant, waiting patiently on the fire escape.

The tomato in it's new home, on my fire escape. I choose a plastic pot (even though a terracotta one would have been much nicer) because it is lightweight.

The tomato in it’s new home, on my fire escape. I chose a plastic pot (even though a terracotta one would have been much nicer) because it is lightweight.

Nichols McGee suggests stacking pots one inside the other to add vertical growing space. She says you don’t have to be so neat about it, but make sure that the drainage holes match up and the roots of all plants have room to grow. She advocates planting themed gardens based on what you actually enjoy to eat. A Herb garden could contain basil, oregano, tarragon, chives, rosemary, parsley and cilantro (start with seeds). Most of these will continue to grow larger as you chop off some to use for cooking, she refers to this practice as “cut and come again.” The Southeast Asian garden  has three kinds of thai basils, kaffir lime, Vietnamese koriander ( a special breed that she will be selling at the nursery next season), sai san pepper and in the middle a meyer lemon tree. The latter requires a bit more effort, such as top and root pruning, but she says meyer lemons are good for beginners and can be taken inside in the winter.

Extracting the dead evergreens from my windowboxes.

Extracting the dead evergreens from my windowboxes.

Adding some good potting soil mix.

Adding some good potting soil mix.

Gardening in cramped spaces requires a fair amount of body contortions.

Gardening in cramped spaces requires a fair amount of body contortions.

In the Fruit Bowl garden, she plants pink panda berries, lemongrass (looks for stems at the Asian market that still have root nubs and may grow roots in planted in moist soil or soaked in water) and edible flowers such as pansies, violas, calendulas and nasturtiums. Edible flowers are a fun way to add some color and excitement to any salad. In the Salad Bowl garden, she plants arugula (start with seeds), leaf lettuces, kale and tomato, the latter in a larger container placed in the middle of the big pot since it needs room to form deeper roots. When it comes to growing lettuce she advocates choosing toothier varieties that can complement your regular salad greens, because if you eat a lot of salad, you will not be able to grow enough for more than a few meals.

Remove plants from plastic pots and loosen the roots before planting.

Remove plants from plastic pots and loosen the roots before planting.

Lemon thyme going into the soil. Gloves are good to have since some plants can be poky. I happened to have these yellow gloves at home and figured I'd use what I have instead of buying new ones.

Lemon thyme going into the soil. Gloves are good to have since some plants can be poky. I happened to have these yellow gloves at home and figured I’d use what I have instead of buying new ones.

The parting advice Nichols McGee gave us was to use a good potting soil mix, fertilize when needed (she recommends Dr Earth products), make sure your pot has proper drainage holes, don’t overwater your plants, which can cause the roots to rot. This can be quite tricky since the top soil may feel dry even though there is plenty of water inside the soil, she suggest poking fingers into the soil to feel it or lifting the pot to see how heavy it feels (the heavier it is the more water is in the soil). Finally, she says, have fun with your plants (sine you will be spending a lot of time tending to them).

The start of my edible container garden! Needless to say, I have major envy for my downstairs neighbor's garden.

The start of my edible container garden! Needless to say, I have major envy for my downstairs neighbor’s garden.

Putting the windox boxes in place on the sunny side of my apartment.

Putting the windox boxes in place on the sunny side of my apartment.

Then, she said: “who wants plants?” People in the audience of about fifteen looked at each other, surprised and unsure if they should make a dash for the table upfront to beat the others to the good stuff. I’m not sure who managed to score the lemon tree, but I walked off with a thai basil, a tomato plant (I am still not sure exactly what variety) and a few lettuce starter plugs. For my windowbox garden, I would complement this with lemon thyme, lavender, greek oregano and arugula seeds from the NYBG garden store.

Thai basil, soon to be accompanied by lettuces.

Thai basil, soon to be accompanied by lettuces.

The second one is put in place and my garden project is complete! Now I just have to care for my plant babies to keep them alive

The second one is put in place and my garden project is complete! Now I just have to care for my plant babies to keep them alive

After this lecture I felt much better about starting my little garden, and not so scared that I would end up killing all my plant babies. But, just in case, I purchased a copy of Rose Marie Nichols McGee’s Bountiful Container, a book she co-wrote with Maggie Stuckey in 2002 but has, she says, sold more copies this year than ever before. I guess that’s a sign as good as any that container gardening is really starting to take off.

About author
A designer by trade, Johanna has always had a passion for storytelling. Born and raised in Sweden, she's lived and worked in Miami, Brooklyn and, currently, Ojai, CA. She started Goodlifer in 2008 to offer a positive outlook for the future and share great stories, discoveries, thoughts, tips and reflections around her idea of the Good Life. Johanna loves kale, wishes she had a greener thumb, and thinks everything is just a tad bit better with champagne (or green juice).
2 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. Once that Lemon Thyme takes root and starts growing, sprinkle some of the leaves on vegetables before roasting them, yummola!

  2. Good Luck, Johanna, With your little garden. I think it´s gonna be okey.

1 pingback on this post
Submit your comment

Please enter your name

Your name is required

Please enter a valid email address

An email address is required

Please enter your message

About

What constitutes the good life? It’s a question we’ve asked ourselves since the dawn of time and something we all strive for. To us, the good life is not a destination but a journey. We want to see more positivity in the world. Thinking happy thoughts makes for happy people, and happy people are more productive, innovative and at peace with the world. We believe in the transformative power of good news.

Goodlifer © 2020 All Rights Reserved

Designed by WPSHOWER

Powered by WordPress