The Impermanent Garden: Tips for Landscaping a Rental Home (Part 3)
Sunny Spot Edible Gardens
This week we will touch on some vegetables and fruits that do well in sunny container gardens. Of course this list is nowhere near exhaustive, but hopefully it will give you some ideas!
Lettuce is a great option for people just getting into edible gardens. Many of the types of lettuce are easy to grow, and in the right conditions it can grow all year. Imagine fresh salads off your balcony!
- Black Seeded Simpson, Loma, Sierra, Buttercrunch, and Cardinale varieties all perform very well in the SF Bay Area
- The California lettuce varieties like direct sunlight during cooler weather, and partial-shade to shade during warmer weather
- Lettuce does best with moist but not wet soil. If the conditions are too dry, it will result in bitter tasting leaves
- If you do not want to first grow seedlings inside your home and then transplant, look for a nursery that carries lettuce seedlings
- Lettuce thrives with a good organic fertilizer
- With most lettuce, you can get several months out of each plant by using the cut-and-come-up-again method. When the leaves are standing around 6-8 inches high, cut the lot with kitchen shears an inch or two above the soil line. New leaves will continue to grow! Once the leaves become bitter, it is time for a new planting
Broccoli is a step up on the difficulty ladder, but with the right steps and one of the more forgiving varieties, you can experience tasty broccoli from your container garden.
- Some good varieties to start with are Green Goliath (hardy to heat, plus you will get side shoots for extra harvesting), Flash (fast growing, hardy to heat, and produces side shoots once the main head is harvested), and Calabrese (an Italian heirloom variety with harvestable sideshoots)
- A container that is around 15 inches wide will do well for one broccoli plant. Since Broccoli Roots are not very deep, you will not need a particularly deep container
- Broccoli needs full sun to thrive, but keeping the soil moist (but not wet!) is necessary. Like most plants, you want a container with a good drainage system in place
- In the cooler parts of the Bay Area, you can have both Spring and Fall harvests.
- Most Bay Area residents can sow their spring seeds in early February, but North Bay residents should wait until Mid-March due to the later average frost dates. If where you live gets hot in the Spring, then you may want to consider Fall harvests only.
- For Fall harvest, it is best to sow seeds around 90 days before the first frost. For residents within a few miles of the coast or Bay, you would want to plant in early October. For the greater Bay Area, frost begins earlier, so planting should begin August or September. The farther from the water, the earlier we plant.
- A few inches of mulch can help keep temperatures down
- Watch out for white moths around your broccoli - these are are signs on cabbage worms. If you see them, you can pick them off and the plant should be just fine. If the issue is continuous, you can cover the plant in garden fabric. (Ask your nursery for the best type for the growing season)
Runner Beans and Pole Beans
There are a lot of green bean varieties, but the California climate seems to be especially good to pole and runner beans. Aside from growing well in containers, these little treats are fantastic because you can continue to harvest many varieties throughout the grow season. Plus, growing vines against the side of your home can help contribute to cooling - a small plant will not likely make a major difference, but it could help!
- Scarlet Runner, Blue Lake, Kentucky Wonder, Fortex and Chinese Long Beans all perform well in the Bay Area
- All pole and runner beans need some type of trellis to grow on. Four bamboo poles tied together in a container (like the image to the left) works well. Four plants at each pole will result in a good number of beans
- Beans can be sown anytime after the last frost in your area. If you want to harvest all summer, sow seeds every two weeks
- Beans will perform best in consistently moist but well drained soil; soaked foliage can lead to rot
- Careful with fertilizer; too much results in fewer beans
- Picking beans while they are still young will give the best flavor and texture. Mature beans will become dry and fibrous
Miniature Fruit Trees
Peaches, lemons, limes, kumquats, oranges, apples, cherries -- all of these plus more can grow in small spaces when you choose ultra-dwarf varieties. And we shouldn't underestimate these diminutive trees. While small in stature, they produce more buds in a smaller amount of space then their full-sized cousins, and produce lots of fresh, tasty fruit for you to enjoy.
- Miniature fruit trees often produce more fruit sooner than full-sized versions, and need little to no pruning to encourage flowering
- If you are in a cooler part of the Bay, stone fruit varieties can have less flavor and take longer to grow. You can help this by placing mature trees on a south-facing wall in direct sunlight. Additions like white gravel can help reflect more light to encourage ripening
- Make sure the soil remains moist, but not soggy
- Wine barrel containers (especially with wheels!) like the ones mentioned in our last post (Impermanent Garden Part 2) are a great option for miniature fruit trees. They provide plenty of space, don't absorb too much heat, drain well, and are more readily mobile if you chose the caster option
- Young trees need protection from direct sunlight. Painting the trunk of the tree up past the first several branches with a white latex paint will help reflect light away from the tree
- It is best to remove the immature fruit from the tree during its first season; this will help stimulate root growth. Going forward, thinning the fruit growth (removing a few of the early fruits from each limb) will ensure the remaining fruit has enough room to grow to a good size
Strawberries can be either Short-Day: producing large crops in late Spring, or Day-Neutral: smaller berry crops continuously from Spring through Fall. Personally, I like the day-neutral, that way I can harvest some tasty berries every day during the grow season. Checking with your local nursery can be a good way to see what variety is best suited to your area.
- Short-Day strawberry varieties for Northern California include Chandler, Camarosa, Sequoia, Pajaro, and Douglas. Most of these seedlings are planted in Fall and early Winter
- For season-long harvesting, you can try Fern, Hecker, Selva, Irvine, and Muir varieties. The best planting time for these vary widely, from Winter through Spring sowing
- When choosing a container, try to select an option that gives a depth of 12-16 inches, and a wide area to grow. These plants love to sprawl; 10-12 inches between plants should provide a good amount of space
- Strawberries like loamy soil mixed with peat moss, shredded bark, and a little sand. Adding an organic fertilizer to the soil prior to planting will help growth
- These berries like a good amount of direct sunlight, so try to plan for 6-8 hours per day
- Moisture is very important for the roots of this plant, but you don't want to get the plant itself overly wet, as thos can lead to rot. A straw-based mulch will help on both sides of this, keeping the soil moist, while protecting the fruit. Good drainage is very important as well, so raised containers (like window boxes) are often a great choice
- The first year, it is best to pinch off blooms, juvenile fruit, and "daughter" runners (new plants growing off the original). Doing this will ensure a strong root system that will provide better berries the following seasons
- Each plant usually has a life of around three years. Once you have a few seasons under your belt, try to replace some of the plants with new each year. This way the quality of berries will not degrade over time
- When the growing season is over, cut the plants down to right above soil level, and cover with a few inches of a straw-based mulch. After the last frost, remove the mulch and begin regular watering practices to enjoy delicious strawberries during the new season!
Blueberries have long had the stigma of being hard to cultivate, but new cross-breeds and container gardening has made these delicious and healthy berries a sight to see across the country.
- In Northern California, both along the coast and into the central valley, Southern Highbush varieties grow very well. This hybrid was created to stand up to hotter summers as well as low winter chills, perfect for our "Mediterranean" style weather patterns.
- For small outdoor spaces, breeds that grow upright and compact are easiest. Sunshine Blue is a great option for patio/balcony gardening, and has the best tolerance for soil balance
- If you have space and plan to use a larger container, then the O'niel, Reveille, Misty, and Georgia Gem varieties will work well
- Soil is the most important element to growing blueberries, because they require a relatively acidic soil. Typically a mix of soil intended for azaleas, shredded bark, and peat moss will reach the right pH balance of (5.5). Your local nursery should be able to help you put together the best mix
- Adding organic fertilizer monthly during the Summer growing months is a good idea.
- Blueberries need to stay moist, but have good drainage. Wine barrels on casters would likely be a good choice if you have the space. Mulch can help keep the soil moist
- Direct sunlight is best for this plant, unless you are in one of the hotter parts of the Bay Area. If so, then make sure your blueberry plant can get some partial shade during the afternoon
- During the first season, removing blossoms and pruning dead branches will result in a strong plant and root system
- Pruning back and re-potting every 3-4 years will stop the quality of berries from degrading
- Most of these varieties will continue to produce fruit for the Spring and Summer seasons
Next week: Fruits and Vegetables that can hold up to shadier backyards. Just because we don't have southern exposure doesn't mean we can't grow delicious edibles!
We would love to hear from you -- What has worked and not worked for you in your container garden? Any fruits or vegetables that you think have really thrived in that environment?