Choice of containers for Vegetable Growing
Plants require not only light, water and nutrients, but also adequate space in thefor their roots to spread out and anchor themselves. In most cases, the smaller pot sizes and shallow trays are not adequate to enable the root systems to develop in a way which supports the plant’s growth above ground. Seeds can be started in small pots or seed trays, but as the develop into plants and the plants come to maturity, it is necessary to pot them on into larger containers. Advice is given in later sections on pot sizes for individually potted plants and on spacing plants grown together in a large tub or trough, according to the type of vegetable grown. Arranging to provide sufficient surface area and depth of soil does not mean that your home will become crowded with huge, immovable tubs. A 7in (17cm) or 9in (23cm) pot size is in most cases the maximum container size to house a maturing plant.
You can use purpose-made plant pots in terracotta (clay) or plastic. Improvised or decorative containers may include wooden boxes and plastic or ceramic jugs and bowls. Avoid irregularly-shaped containers which will not allow roots to radiate evenly from the plant base through the soil.
Good drainage is essential to the success of container-grown plants: in a warm indoor environment the growing medium in the pots may dry out quite quickly and the plants need regular and often frequent watering, but they certainly will not do well if allowed to become waterlogged. If you are using containers which are not constructed with drainage holes, you will have to make provision. Punch or drill holes in wooden or plastic containers and stand them in trays which will collect the water that drains through the soil. If you are using more decorative pottery ware, put a layer of brick chtppings, pebbles or coarse gravel in the bottom and either insert the growing medium on top of this or grow the plants in plastic pots placed inside the ceramic containers.
What you need
Your stock of containers can be judged according to the space available for vegetable growing and the type of plants you intend to cultivate. Basic stock should include seed trays, which are available in small and large sizes, and 3in (8cm) pots for sowing and germinating the seeds, and a selection of pots up to the 9in (23cm) size for potting on growing plants in stages. Tubs andare sometimes advisable for larger plants, or for easier handling of small group plantings, but are not always essential. Keep in mind that the larger containers are very heavy once filled with soil – even more so when they have been watered. Make sure that you will be able to move them if necessary and that they are well supported if standing above floor level.
The indoor gardener does not need special gardening tools other than a small hand trowel and fork. As a dibber for making holes in the potting mixture to insert seedlings, a pencil is perfectly adequate. A small hand-held water spray is indispensable and you will find a sharp knife and a pair of scissors useful. You can improvise tools from old kitchen implements; spoons of all sizes are handy for topping up the soil in the containers and a soup ladle is invaluable for scooping growing medium out of its bag and into large pots with the minimum of mess.
Plastic propagators are available in various sizes for protection of germinating seeds and emerging seedlings; these basically consist of a seed tray fitted with a clear plastic cover. You can sow the seeds direct in the propagator tray, or stand smaller seed trays or pots inside it. Individual plastic propagator tops are also made to fit the standard pot sizes. If you are raising a number of crops, the outlay on these items can be quite expensive. An effective alternative is to put each pot in which seed is sown into a clear plastic bag and seal it around the pot rim with a strong rubber band. To create space above the soil, the bag can be supported on two hoops of wire set at right angles to each other and anchored by pressing them into the growing medium close to the sides of the pot.
An electrically-heated propagator is certainly not essential, but if you are interested in the more exotic vegetables and keen to start your sowings early in the season, you may find it a useful investment. Remember to take account of running costs as well as initial purchase price when you are looking for a suitable model.
For supporting plants, you will need garden canes and garden twine or soft string for tying in the plant stems. A quicker way of securing plants is to use the plastic-covered wire closures supplied with plastic bags for food and refuse. These are easily twisted into place and have the advantage that they are more easily loosened if necessary as the plant grows and can be re-used after the plants have finished cropping.
Plant labels are useful for identifying the type of seeds in the various pots or the particular variety of vegetable you are growing. It is remarkable how quickly you can forget what was sown in which container when you are starting off several crops. Use an indelible marker pen or pencil for writing on the labels, as the moisture in the atmosphere can otherwise make the writing indistinct.
A good general fertilizer in liquid form is the final requirement. This does improve the quality of the harvest (although I recommend using a specially formulated feed for your tomato plants to get the finest results). A liquid is the easiest type to use, as it can be added to the water at regular intervals during your routine watering of the plants. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions accurately, as an overdose of fertilizer can be damaging to a plant’s roots.