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Adventures in container food gardening

Several years ago I had to give up my backyard vegetable garden because the trees nearby were casting too much shade. I was lucky enough to find a community garden plot, which is where I now grow my tomatoes, peppers, and other plants that really need full sun. I’ve got some fruit and herbs in the sunny but deer-infested areas that remain in my home half-acre, and I still like to have some vegetables close at hand, so in spring, summer, and well into the fall I use every spare inch on the deck for container growing. It’s not a full-sun space, but I still manage to get okay yields from my salad table and various pots.

Here’s some of what I have out there this year.


Ever try to grow eggplants in the garden, only to have them nibbled to death by flea beetles? If you don’t have a choice of location, then I recommend using a floating row cover from the moment of transplant until the plants are a couple feet tall and flowering. But for me what works best is a container on the deck. This gets the plants away from the soil, which is where the flea beetles hang out. I don’t cover the eggplants at all, and they do just fine – no damage, and plenty of fruit. This year I’m growing a container variety called Patio Baby, which is pumping out the little round eggplants, plus Chinese Long (moderately productive) and Listada di Gandia (nothing yet).

Greens and beans:

I’m trying out fabric pots for growing succession crops, and finding them a good choice as long as they’re kept well-watered. They are certainly much less expensive than the typical container, and will store folded and flat (though not in my shed, because the mice chew on them). I grew various greens in these pots in the spring – bok choy did particularly well, kale and collards pretty well, and kohlrabi poorly, though I think that was due to overcrowding. It’s tempting to stick lots of transplants into these 3-10 gallon pots, but restraint is a better strategy and I’ll go for that next year (maybe 4 plants to a 10 gallon pot). I also oversowed bush beans a bit as the replacement summer crop, but they are growing well and producing, just not as well as I’d like.


I’m also trying potatoes in the fabric pots. They are still (surprisingly) green on top and not ready to harvest yet, so success is uncertain, but we also grew some fabric-potted potatoes at the demo garden and harvested those a couple of weeks ago. I’d say the yield was moderate, not great. We’ll see how these ones turn out.

And yes, of course I’m trying some more unusual plants as well! One is Acmella oleracea or toothache plant.

This is maybe not strictly an edible plant; the leaves are supposed to be good in salads (though having tasted them I’m reserving judgment) and the weird little flowers are an amuse bouche that sets your mouth tingling and your saliva flowing for several minutes, hence the common name (though I wouldn’t use them for an anesthetic). They’re also called eyeball plant because of the flowers’ appearance, and they are fun to grow, but that’s really it.

I’m also growing Talinum paniculatum, or Jewels of Opar, which is a highly attractive plant with light green leaves and pink flowers that become jewel-like seeds.

The leaves are edible and lettuce-like, though not very exciting. I’m growing it in the same pot as Malabar spinach, and they’re doing well together.

The salad table is currently producing Swiss chard and perilla, and I’ll go back to lettuce for the fall. And there’s parsley and basil out there as well. Container gardening is a great way to grow some food in the space you have available.


By Erica Smith, Montgomery County Master Gardener

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