Food in a flower pot

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Every year I have a container garden, and every year I change it up.

I started container gardening when I lived in an apartment with a large patio. I have grown tomatoes, green beans, peas, and peppers in containers. I always have basil. Sometimes I start it from seed, sometimes I buy plants. This year, I have:

Two cherry tomato plants (doing very well, they each have flowers and tiny green tomatoes)
Two basil plants (bought the plants this year, one is flourishing, the other needs frequent encouragement)
Bell pepper seedlings (planted the top and core from a bell pepper, now I have about thirty seedlings)

I live in a house and would love a “real” garden but I don’t have a tiller, and the ground is hard earth mixed with red clay and an interwoven layer of tree roots. So I still plant my garden in containers.

I’ve focused a lot on flowers this year. I always have sunflowers and moonflowers. I’ve tried for a couple of years to grow lavender from seed and haven’t gotten anywhere so this year I bought two lavender plants. They’re blooming and I’m going to start cutting the overblown blooms soon to dry. Most of my flowers, I planted from seed. They’re wildflower mixes and butterfly-attracting mixes. Since it’s gotten hot, they’re growing visibly every day. I put a butterfly “puddle” next to the pots of wildflowers. I also planted sweetpea and marigold seeds and I expect to see blooms in a month.

I tried thyme and chive from seed last year, got nothing, decided to stick with reliable basil as my only herb this year. Some years I’ve planted them with the tomatoes, but this year I decided to keep them separate so that the tomatoes would produce more fruit for a longer period.

I always fry a couple of green tomatoes every summer, the first tomatoes that barely start to ripen. I coat them in cornmeal and fry them in olive oil. I let the rest of the tomatoes ripen, and I use them in salads or just sliced as a side dish, topped with fresh basil, and Parmesan cheese. Sometimes I use the ripe tomatoes and fresh basil in an omelet.

If you have a lot of basil like I always do, you’ll probably want to dry some of it. It’s simple to dry basil. Put it in a small brown paper bag, roll it up, stick it in your bedroom closet. It needs to be kept in a dry space so a bedroom closet is better than a kitchen that gets humid. If you purchase something that comes with a little bag of desiccant, put the desiccant into your paper bag of basil.

The next time that you slice the top off of a bell pepper and you have the core with seeds and a couple of green baby peppers, stick it in the dirt and keep the soil moist. It’s better to start pepper seedlings indoors towards the end of winter. I don’t know if my pepper seedlings will have time to mature and produce fruit this year. If they do, the peppers will be small, but that’s okay. The object of container gardening is to enjoy a few meals that include food and herbs that you’ve grown.

I do not use pesticides in my garden. I use plant food when I first plant or transplant. If I see some type of insect infestation on any of my plants, I use a mixture of lemon dish detergent and water in a spray bottle to get rid of them or at least discourage them.

Start container gardening with a cherry tomato plant, a basil plant, and some marigold and sunflower seeds. Fry that first green tomato. You’ll be addicted to gardening and for years to come you’ll try something new every summer.

It sounds silly, but you CAN recycle potting soil. Just cut back/pull up the dead plants and then leave the pots of soil out in the elements for the fall and winter. Dry dirt that’s been sheltered on a porch or in a shed all winter will be lacking in nutrients and almost useless unless you mix it with fresh soil.

I’ve tried overwintering basil inside but even with starting new plants from cuttings, it doesn’t seem to work. The cuttings either die, or the plants become woody and dry up.

It’s not to late to start a container garden this year. Buy a tomato plant and a basil plant. Learn how to care for them. They’ll always be the basic plants in your container garden.

Must haves:

LARGE planters
A plastic watering can
2 large plastic spray bottles, one for water, one for the dish soap/water mixture
A spade and a three-pronged tool for turning up last year’s soil
Large scissors for use outside only
Plant food

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