Like the idea of growing your own vegetables, but think you just don't have the room for it? Guess what? I actually think you may have the room, at least enough to grow the makings of a few fresh salads anyway. All you need is a spot somewhere that's sunny, warm, and about the size of a clothes hamper and you're on the way to your own little vegetable garden. I created mine recently, and now you can start yours too by following the steps below.
Find a Spot and a Container for Your Garden
To start with, figure out where you'll be placing the vegetable garden. It can be anywhere outside that will get at least 5-6 hours of sun a day. If you start the garden when the temperature is below 50 degrees at night, you may want to choose a spot that's close to your door so that you can easily drag it inside at night.
As for the container, choose any shape and material you want -- it can be made of plastic, wood, or even cloth. The container I used is made of a heavy canvas material and it looks like a small clothes hamper. As for size, the container should hold 10-15 gallons of soil, or even more if you have the room for it.
Once you have your container, you'll need to poke or drill a few holes in the bottom for drainage. Since it will be draining water, you may want to also find a saucer to go beneath it. You can use a large plant pot saucer, a lid, a plate, etc.
Starting Your Salad Garden
Now that you have the location for the garden and you have your container ready, it's time to get it growing. Fill up the container with soil. You can choose from the following mixtures for a good start:
Growing from seeds:
One equal part of each: vermiculite, potting soil (or soil that's been fertilized for vegetables), and perlite.
Growing with starters:
Three quarters potting soil (or soil that's been fertilized for vegetables), and one quarter vermiculite.
If you have compost, add at least one quarter compost to any of these mixtures in place of the soil. Also, if vermiculite or perlite are not available near you, you can get by with only using the potting soil. It may be a little tougher to start seeds in, but starting them indoors may help.
Planting the Vegetables
Once you have your soil in the container and it's all mixed well, lightly wet it and plant your seeds or starters (see next section on what to plant and varieties). Place your taller vegetables towards the back of the container so that they won't shade out the other plants. This way you can also put a small trellis in the back if needed for plants that need support. Your lettuce plant can go anywhere -- just make sure it has about 4-5 inches around it so it has room to fill out.
Once you have everything planted, put mulch or straw around the plants to help keep moisture and warmth in.
What to Plant
You'll be surprised at just how much you can fit into your container garden if you plant them in the right spaces and choose the right varieties. Below is what I use and their position in the container so that I can get the most out of the area I have.
Placement: Back of Container
Tomato - Sweet 100
This is a small, sweet cherry tomato that grows straight up, is not bushy, and will not need a tomato cage. These produce 100 or more little tomatoes during their season, thus the name "Sweet 100."
You can pick your favorite pepper -- most grow tall and are not very bushy, especially the Camelot sweet green peppers, or any banana pepper or jalapeno plants.
Sugar Snap Pea
The sugar snap pea is a great addition to your container. It will grow straight up the back and between your pepper and tomato plants. Pick the first few snap peas off within a few days of growth, and the plant will then keep spitting them out like crazy. You can eat them whole in salads or pop them open and just eat the peas.
Lettuce - Butter Leaf (also goes by Bibb and Boston)
This lettuce is similar to romaine and perfect for salads. If you pick it off at the base, largest leaves first, it will keep producing for months. It needs about 4-5 inches to grow.
Cucumber - Bush Crop
This compact cucumber plant will grow a very small base and then vine out of your container if you wish it to, or you can wind the vine along the interior space and place it wherever it's best to produce. You can add one or two of these to your container. If you add two, put one on either side of your lettuce.
Placement: Edges and Anywhere Inbetween
Carrots - Amsterdam or Miniature
Any type of miniature carrot will work great. If you can't find a mini carrot variety, a normal carrot size will also work fine; just plan to plant fewer of them and give them a little more room if planting other root vegetables nearby.
Any red, white, or yellow, will work fine in a container garden. You can even try leeks. Want a little variety? Plant a few of each type around the container.
Chives and/or Garlic
See any open areas around the pot? Toss in some garlic and chives. Not only are they great additions to a salad, but they're also a great way to help keep some insects away that may attack your veggies.
By choosing the right varieties and planting them in the right places, you can grow the makings of an entire salad in just one small container.