Saturday, March 19, 2011

My Container Garden, The End of Season One

With the hot weather approaching in the Arizona Desert, my first container garden season is drawing to a close. Overall I would say it was a success in that it provided valuable learning experience for me. As most of my vegetable gardening experience was derived by directly planting in the soil which meant I had to learn all over again.

While container gardening does have its limits it also has some distinct advantages. The main limit, I discovered, was that the productivity of the plant is directly proportional to the size of the container. For instance, my tomato plants became stunted when the root mass filled the container it was in. When this happens, the root system cannot support the entire plant and the leaves begin to yellow and die. Another drawback to too small of a container as that there are smaller fruits because the amount of water and sugar needed to produce a larger fruit is limited. The largest tomato container I used this year was three gallons and the other two were one gallon. The results were evident with the 3 gallon plant producing the largest and the most fruit. Ironically this was an heirloom tomato which should produce less fruit. Next season I will use planters made from two five gallon buckets stacked together with the lower bucket being a water reservoir for the upper bucket. This will proved more space for the roots and provide more water for them as well. The result should be larger fruit and more of it.

The warmer temperatures have begun to take a
toll on the tomato plants as evident with this
heirloom tomato.

The benefits of a container garden are that first of all there is better control over watering and feeding. We also had several freezes this year and the plants were able to be moved to a safe area to prevent damage. There was also very little insect trouble and the plants can be moved around to maximize sun exposure.

The peppers did quite well this year with the acceptation of the Red Bell Pepper which only produced one fruit. The Anaheim Peppers were abundant but lacking in size. Next year they will be in one gallon containers instead of ½ gallon. This should be just about the right size. Another thing about peppers is they grow well in this climate so I will plant more of them.
The Jalapeno Peppers Produced Well.  The sun is beginning to
turn some of them red.

The Anaheim Peppers were small due totoo small of a container
but were very flavorful and abundant.

The Cilantro I planted did fantastic and the troublesome Rosemary, Thanks to the guys at Dos Arbolitos, has finally taken off and begun to flourish. So the will certainly be an expanded herb garden next year.

Finally, a successful Rosemary Plant!

Seeds for next year's Cilantro Crop

So with this season at an end it was time to start thinking about next season. As I have said all along I will practice only sustainable gardening meaning nothing will go to waste and nearly everything will be returned to the garden. This will be the only season I buy seeds for crops I have produced and next year the only seeds I will buy will be for new veggies and herbs not produced this year. . I will not plant Hybrid tomatoes next year but will instead focus on the heritage variety. I have saved about 100 seeds from the tomatoes. I have also saved seeds from the peppers and herbs which will be used for next years crop.

As for food preservation I found several ways to use the tomatoes. I was able to make several containers of Marinara sauce which turned out to be delicious. I also made some more Pico de Gallo, and what I didn’t give to my neighbor I am drying in the sun to be used in several recipes which I will share later. The peppers that were not used in the Pico de Gallo are being dried. The Cilantro also was dried and stored in containers. Incidentally, dried cilantro works very well in recipes too. As far as the stems and leaves, they will be composted and then placed in a worm box to be turned into next year’s soil. All of the soil from this year’s garden will then be amended with the worm composted soil.

The Arizona Sun works perfectly to make Sun-Dried Tomatoes.

To summarize my first container season I would like to say that many valuable lessons were learned and that I am greatly encouraged by the ability to use containers to maximize food production in small areas. Next season a small Aquaponics Garden will be incorporated as well which will mean fresh fish. I am very optimistic that home food production will be a viable means of self preservation in the future and I am hoping, through my efforts, to help many people produce a portion of or all of their food in the years to come. This has been a wonderful learning experience. Until the next time, Happy Gardening!