Happy Earth Day! Earth Day was first celebrated and created in 1970 as a “teach-in” designed to get students all over the United States involved and interested in environmental protection and renewal. Today it is considered the largest secular holiday in the world, celebrated by more than a billion people in 192 countries.
If the summer gardening season, like Earth Day, has snuck up on you, never fear—I have a solution that could have you well on your way to enjoying the upcoming gardening season this very afternoon. However, if you had dreams of transforming your backyard into several rows of vegetable beds, complete with pathways and a shady corner to sip tea, well, it’s probably too late. It takes a lot of work (and blisters) to create a garden, and if you started today, you probably wouldn’t finish in time to actually get the seeds in the ground for a summer harvest.
If, on the other hand, keeping it simple is more up your alley, then it is never too late to start a summer garden. Unless it’s after Memorial Day. Then it’s too late.
Sure, with the proper space and ambition you could easily build one raised vegetable bed this weekend. But if you’re lacking the space and/or the ambition, it’s still entirely possible to grow a decent vegetable garden: in a container garden.
Stop in on your local nursery this afternoon (they may even have Earth Day specials going on!) and have a summer garden started before dinner tonight. Here are my top four tips for starting a container garden:
1. Choose Your Pots Wisely
Look for pots that have a hole in the bottom for water drainage. Excess water in the soil will keep air from reaching the roots of your plants and will cause root rot. If your pot does not have a hole in the bottom, you can always use a drill to make one.
Remember to set a saucer underneath your pots to avoid water damage to your floors or patio. If you’d like to set your basic potted plant into a more decorative container, line the decorative container with a little gravel to help water from the basic pot flow out and through the decorative pot. Do not put gravel in the same pot that your plant is planted in—it will cause water to sit above the gravel and stagnate.
2. Focus On A Small Number of a Variety of Plants
Let go of the idea that you need several rows of carrots and tomatoes. Restrain yourself to having one or two plants of each: Two cherry tomato plants, a pot of cilantro, a pot of basil, and a jalapeno plant is an example of a perfect summer garden for the small scale or late-to-the-party gardener. Only grow what you truly love and grow the bare minimum. Any more than that and you are only going to regret not building those raised outdoor beds in February all the more.
3. Buy Good Potting Soil
It’s not a good idea to use the soil out of your backyard in your container garden. First, bacteria and weeds from your soil could harm or overrun your potted plants. Store-bought potting soil is sterile and weed-free, which eliminates a lot of hassle, worry AND weeding. Second, your backyard soil will likely compact in your containers, making it difficult for water to drain and for roots to spread out.
4. Choose a Sunny Location
Whether your container garden is in your house, on your patio or in your backyard, choose an area that gets at least six hours of sunlight a day. If need be, you can supplement your sunlight exposure with a lamp and a natural light bulb.
Keep these four tips, and plenty of water, in mind and you will be well on your way to enjoying your own fresh and organic vegetables this summer.
Darla Antoine on a recent visit to Washington State
Darla Antoine is an enrolled member of the Okanagan Indian Band in British Columbia and grew up in Eastern Washington State. For three years, she worked as a newspaper reporter in the Midwest, reporting on issues relevant to the Native and Hispanic communities, and most recently served as a producer for Native America Calling. In 2011, she moved to Costa Rica, where she currently lives with her husband and their infant son. She lives on an organic and sustainable farm in the “cloud forest”—the highlands of Costa Rica, 9,000 feet above sea level. Due to the high elevation, the conditions for farming and gardening are similar to that of the Pacific Northwest—cold and rainy for most of the year with a short growing season. Antoine has an herb garden, green house, a bee hive, cows, a goat, and two trout ponds stocked with hundreds of rainbow trout.