Selecting the right container gardening vegetables is one key to a successful balcony farm. If you choose the right vegetables for container gardening, you’ll have far fewer problems, and bigger and better yields.
© Steve Masley…Click IMAGE to Enlarge
A vegetable container garden has limited space, so you’ll want to focus first on the vegetables you like the most. Make a list.
You’ll also want to grow vegetables that give you a continuous harvest, like green, leafy vegetables that allow you to pick a few leaves as needed, or vegetables that kick out a few ripe fruit a week, like tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash, eggplants, and peppers.
Fast-growing vegetables like radishes, beets, and turnips are also good choices for container gardens.
Avoid container gardening vegetables that give you a one-time harvest at the end of a long season. Home-grown onions are great, but each plant produces a single bulb at the end of 3-4 months in the pot, so you have to ask if it’s worth devoting the pot space to them—especially when they’re cheap and easy to find in farmer’s markets and stores.
The same is true for cauliflower and long-season “storage” cabbages (“mini” cabbages grow more quickly and make better container gardening vegetables). A single head after 3-4 months in the pot, but the plants are pretty. All of these vegetables can be grown in pots, but is it worth the space?
At least with broccoli, you’ll get side shoots after the main head is harvested, and the tender leaves near the top of the plant are delicious.
Once you’ve decided which container gardening vegetables you’d like to grow, the next step is picking varieties.
Some vegetables, like leafy greens, are ideally suited to growing in containers.
Lettuce can thrive in as little as 3” of soil, in a rich organic container garden soil. It will do slightly better in 6” (15cm) of potting soil, but there’s little difference between lettuce plants grown in 6” (15cm) of soil and lettuces grown in 24” (60cm) of soil.
Butterhead Lettuce © Steve Masley
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Spinach, Asian greens, and European greens are all well-adapted as container gardening vegetables. With leafy greens, you don’t have to be too picky about varieties: Any and all varieties will work.
Larger plants have larger root systems, and have to be grown in bigger pots with more soil to accommodate them.
As long as they have enough soil volume, peppers, chiles, eggplants, tomatoes, and cucumbers make excellent container gardening vegetables. They thrive in 5-gallon (27cm) or 7-gallon (35cm) pots.
Squash, melons, and indeterminate (vining) tomatoes are trickier. These heavy feeders need really large containers—24” (60cm) deep wooden boxes, 10-15-gallon tree pots or Smart Pots, or wooden half-barrels.
Even with a rich organic potting mix and this huge soil volume, there’s not much point in trying to grow pumpkins, watermelons, or larger winter squash varieties in containers. You’ll get a plant that takes over half your balcony, and gives you 3-4 small fruit. You could grow corn in a pot, but why?
On a balcony farm where space is limited, you can’t have any space hogs.
For squash and melons, choose small-fruited, compact bush varieties.
Bush varieties have been bred to produce vegetables on short, sturdy plants—exactly what you want in a container vegetable garden.
Small-fruited, early varieties are usually better container gardening vegetables than larger-fruited varieties.
In the restricted root-zone of a container, large-fruited varieties will produce only a few fruit, even in a rich potting mix.
For example, if you’re growing tomatoes in pots, don’t waste your time trying to grow large, beefsteak tomatoes—unless you’re growing them in a huge pot. Instead, choose bush varieties like ‘Patio’ or ‘Balcony’, cherry tomatoes like ‘Sweet 100’ or ‘Sungold’, or salad tomatoes like ‘Early Girl’, ‘Carmello’, or ‘Jewel Enchantment’.
The table below matches root depth, the type of container typically found in that size, and the kinds of vegetables that grow well in that size of container. The best varieties for container gardening are listed after each vegetable.
Note: Vegetables that grow at shallower soil depths can also be grown in deeper containers of any depth.
| Typical Container|
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|Types of |
|Vegetables that Grow Well|
|Salad Table Trays||Lettuce, Spinach, Mache, Tatsoi, Mizuna, Frisee, Scallions|
| Window Boxes
Deep Salad Trays
6-8” (15-20cm) Terra Cotta Pots
3-gallon Smart Pots
| Spinach —all varieties! |
Asian Greens—Tatsoi, Pak Choi, Mizuna, Red Mustard, Gai-lon, ‘Zen Green’, ‘Celtuce’
European Greens—Arugula, Frisee, Radicchio, Endive, Mache
Container Carrots—‘Babette’, ‘Adelaide’, ‘Romeo’
Bush Beans—‘Jade’, ‘Maxibel’, ‘Roc d’or’ (yellow), ‘Provider’, ‘Soliel’ (yellow), ‘Tavera’
Radishes—any and all varieties
Herbs—Basil, Summer Savory, Thyme
|Deep Wooden Planter Boxes
4-5 gallon Plastic, Terra Cotta, or Smart Pots
Chinese (Napa) Cabbages—‘Rubicon’, ‘Bilko’
Kale—‘Lacinato’, ‘Red Russian’ (12”)
Italian Leaf Broccoli—‘Spigariello Liscia’ (12” pot)
| Deep Wooden Planter Boxes
5-7 gallon Plastic, Terra Cotta, or Smart Pots
| Peppers, Chiles, Eggplants—any and all varieties! |
Cucumbers—‘Bush Slicer’, ‘Lemon Cucumber’
Bush Tomatoes—‘Patio’, ‘Balcony’
Celery—‘Tango’, ‘Utah Green’
Pole Beans—‘Spanish Musica’, ‘Fortex’, ‘Rattlesnake’
Broccoli—‘Purple Sprouting’, ‘White Sprouting’, Italian Leaf ‘Spigariello Liscia’
‘Mini’ Cabbages—‘Gonzales’, ‘Famosa’ (savoy)
| Deep Wooden Planter Boxes
10-15 gallon Plastic Tree Pots, Terra Cotta Pots, or Smart Pots
Indeterminate (Vining) Tomatoes—‘Sweet 100’, ‘Sungold’, ‘Carmello’, ‘Jewel Enchantment’, ‘Sweet Cluster’, ‘Early Girl’, ‘Stupice’
Summer Squash—‘Sunburst’ yellow patty-pan
Zucchini—‘Raven’, ‘Bush Baby’
Winter Squash—‘Discus Bush Buttercup’, ‘Honey Bear’ Acorn, ‘Bush Delicata’ Squash,
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Growing Vegetables in Containers
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