Welcome to the Resilient Container, a monthly blog about my ongoing adventures in container vegetable gardening.
First, a few disclaimers and a bit of background:
I’m neither a scientist nor an agricultural specialist. I’m an ordinary person who’s been growing food in containers for nearly 20 years. I started off growing on a blazing hot tar roof then graduated to a blazing hot balcony. For the past year, I’ve been growing on a backyard patio blessed with the same hellish conditions as my old roof top and balcony. While I hope to grow in-ground at a community or allotment garden someday (or maybe move out of the city altogether), I’ve come to appreciate the specific challenges and rewards involved in raising container-grown vegetables and herbs. I can’t imagine abandoning this method of food production, ever.
As you will soon notice, I’m definitely not a professional photographer. I’m more interested in keeping a documentary record of what worked and what didn’t, what an unfiltered garden replete with bugs, bloopers, adaptations and work-arounds really looks like. Expect plenty of dirt, uncoordinated decor, the world’s ugliest chicken wire plant cages and some swearing when the inevitable storms, insect plagues, diseases, weeds, crop failures and a constant parade of furry critters come calling (because they always do).
What do I grow? I’m really interested in growing nutrient-dense greens – lots of them – especially varieties that can withstand or adapt well to heat. I focus on crops that will yield the most food in a small space (over a growing season or several successions), and are expensive to buy. I grow both open-pollinated and hybrid varieties to discover which cultivars work best in my growing space. I practice crop rotation in my containers, where I’ve re-used the same potting soil for the past 12 years (with the help of various organic amendments, most of them free or cheap). To help control insect pests, I cover my containers with row cover, pick off/squash the insects or spray water at them. Occasionally, I’ve used a homemade spray but mostly, I pay attention to the spiders. If predators have moved in and the plants are healthy, I tend to keep my interference minimal, keeping in mind that there’s ALWAYS something that gets frozen, fried, chomped to the ground or generally fails to thrive. I’m learning to accept this as an integral part of gardening and distract myself from the losses by planting something else.
Food gardening is a skill that I believe will become more critical in the years ahead. Like many of you, I’ve seen the effects of climate change at work in my own garden and community and want to figure out ways to become more food resilient. For me, the questions evoked by gardening are both intriguing and urgent. I love to experiment with different cultivars and ideas but I also plant and grow strategically, with an eye to maximizing food production and resilience. I’ve got kids in my life. This stuff is real to me.
Can a family of two people be completely self-sufficient with such a small growing space? Probably not. Can we be self-sufficient in one or more food category, like greens and herbs? For how much of the year? What about winter growing, when store-bought produce is at it’s most expensive? How long will container plants last outside? How much food can a small indoor garden produce? These are some of my guiding questions and I’ll be talking more about them here. I’ll also chronicle the journey of setting up and growing an indoor food garden and document the various successes and failures that are part of any garden along the way. I’ll be transparent about costs and share ways to cut them so you can experiment at home without breaking the bank.
Feel free to drop by on the last Monday of each month on this blog and every Monday and Thursday at https://www.instagram.com/resilientcontainer
The Resilient Container: One writer-farmer, one concrete patio, many containers.