Growing Things: Downsizing? Container gardening offers variety of veggie options

I was talking to a friend and his wife the other day who had recently downsized and moved into a townhouse with a very small yard.

They were lamenting the fact that they did not have a vegetable garden any more, and the thing they missed the most were their carrots because they enjoyed the sweetness of grow-your-own carrots over store-bought. I told them that they could easily grow their own carrots in containers, and the more we talked the more excited they got at the possibility of growing their own veggies again.

On my way home I thought that there must be others in the same position, and thought this would make a good column. I know we talked about this five or so years ago, but the timing seemed right to revisit the topic. This downsizing is a trend I am seeing more often as our population ages and people begin downsizing.

The good news on the gardening scene is that container vegetable gardening is not only possible but highly successful. Plant breeders continue to develop dwarf vegetable varieties for containers, and more and more gardeners are experimenting with growing all types of vegetables in all types of containers.

Growing root crops such as carrots in containers is an ideal situation because the containers can ensure a deep root run. This is opposed to the heavy clay soils that many Edmonton gardens have that can inhibit good root crop growth. Now, having said this, the container needed to grow root crops would need to be deeper to accommodate the long roots but carrots, beets, parsnips and turnips are all possible.

I would recommend a container that is at least 18-24 inches deep with a couple of drainage holes. This depth allows them plenty of room for growth, and you will likely be harvesting them earlier anyway since you will want to enjoy the young, sweet carrots. You can plant successive crops in different containers every few weeks in the spring. Remember that good drainage is essential, as carrots do not like sitting in wet soil.

Carrots prefer a looser and lighter soil. A good quality potting mix is your best bet, and I would add compost to the mix at a ratio of two parts potting mix to one part compost. Do not use bagged topsoil or soil from a garden, as it has a tendency to compact and the carrots will struggle to grow through it.

I have always found that when planting carrot seeds the seeds themselves can be hard to see, especially when they are sitting on the soil. So it can be very easy to overseed a container. The telltale sign, of course, is after they begin to sprout and you can then easily see the overcrowded seedlings. If you try to thin out the seedlings by pulling them out it is very easy to damage the ones that you are intending to leave growing.

A good tip I learned many years ago is to cut out the overcrowded ones with a sharp pair of scissors, rather than trying to pull them out. The root left behind will die, feeding the soil and remaining seedlings. Just take your time when trimming out the unwanted seedlings.

Thin the seedlings to between one and four inches apart, and remember that they do prefer the cooler days of spring. In the hot summer months you should offer your carrots some shade. Keep the container well watered — carrots like to have a moist soil, but not wet. Fertilize your carrots with a fertilizer lower in nitrogen, such as 5-10-5. Depending on the variety of carrots they will mature in 60-75 days. You can harvest them earlier though for a sweeter and more tender carrot.

You can grow almost everything that you grew in your garden in containers, and just like the downsizing you did with your home you can downsize your garden into containers. I have grown potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, kale, lettuce, spinach and many other veggies successfully in containers. Good luck and happy gardening!

[“source=edmontonjournal”]