Container gardens are really an easy way for someone in an apartment or townhome to enjoy the benefits of fresh herbs, vegetables and fruits. I personally always have my “italian” container garden which includes, basil, parsley, tomato, oregano. I also grow jalapeno, cilantro, rosemary, lemon verbena, lemon balm, lavender. You can mix the plants or put a few in one container. I usually plant only one tomato (cherry) in a medium size pot and parsley and basil in another medium pot (one plant each) and the oregano in another. They each require the same sun exposure with shading required in the summer months. I also have fruit trees, orange and lemon but honestly, they only produce after a year or so and not a great amount, but the blossoms smell divine! You can also easily plan green onions and mint. Green onions can share a pot with any herb and the mint needs its own pot (does not have to be deep). Try to buy non-GMO seeds or organic plants, so the next year you can use the same seeds. If GMO, they are designed to not produce the same size the next year (tomato, cucumbers, etc.) plus natural is always best. Here is what you will need:
Several Pots (they do not have to be more than six inches deep for mint, a bit deeper for tomatoes and herbs). The fruit needs the largest pot. Make sure there are holes in the bottom of the container. Then add some small rocks, twigs, cardboard to support drainage (do not go over half the container) and then add garden soil mixed with potting soil. Again, opt for organic it is worth the extra price.
To plant, fill the container and make a hole about four inches deep, take the plant out of the temporary container and gently open the roots up from the bottom. Place it in the hole and cover with dirt, press lightly all around the plant. If using seeds, follow the instructions for starting the seeds and then move them to the pot when instructed. If using seeds, you need to start now. You should also start now for starter plants. Make sure to mark the plant with the stake that comes with the plant or create one for seeds. This is particularly important if you have never done this before. Save the packaging or write the instructions down regarding sun exposure and transplanting. Full sun works for most of the herbs, tomato and fruits and most veggies but beware when the temperature gets too hot, particularly in the summer with the afternoon sun…you may need a shade cloth or need to move the containers where they will not be in full sun in the afternoon (June-August). If it gets over 90 degrees, tomato blossoms will fall off and thus there will be no tomatoes.
For pest control, you can put eggshells in the garden around the plant and use natural insecticide. You can also cut up some oranges (with skin), boil and simmer, strain and then add to a spray bottle dilute by 3 (1 part orange liquid, 2 parts water) and spray this on the plants (not in full sun, morning is best). You will want to get rid of aphids (little green bugs often on stems or under leaves as soon as you see them, they multiply fast. You can pick them or rub them off initially, but if there are too many try an insecticide and move the container away from other plants. Healthy plants do better against pests. Try to use organic fertilizer or organic matter (compost, manure) but follow the instructions. For baby plants do not over fertilizer when they are young. Some use Miracle Grow (not organic) but it does work well for greens (herbs, kale, lettuce, spinach).
To harvest, start taking off herb growth by pinching off the last few inches always at a branching spot so you are not just pulling off leaves or leaving a blank stem. Initially, pinch off to make the plant thicker, versus Leggy (long spindly with fewer leaves).
Jalapenos will turn red after they are green and may be hotter. Don’t overwater peppers or they will be bland. Harvesting cilantro, you can use the stems and leaves. Rosemary is great if you stuff it in a chicken and roast or steep with green tea to bring out more of the benefits of the tea. Tomatoes from the vine are fantastic. I usually pick them earlier (yellowish) and put them inside on the windowsill (birds like tomatoes and will poke holes in the red ones). Parsley, basil, cilantro can all be added to sauces, salads, wraps, etc. be creative. Basil is also great with fresh mozzarella, fresh tomato, and extra virgin olive oil (caprese). Tomatoes are great in sauces (Italian or Mexican) and bruschetta (extra virgin olive oil, dried oregano, salt, tomato).
Having a garden is at times trial an error but it is relaxing, delicious, healthful and provides bounty to share. Start with a few herbs and go from there. Send us pictures of your results!