Garden, Plant, Cook!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Container Gardening - My "BIG" Mantra

Dear Folks,

If you have been following me for a while you know when someone asks about container gardening or gardening with raised beds or pots - I ALWAYS say BIG!

The reason is always our temperature extremes.  We can swing about 100 degrees through the year, and while this year's hard freezing temperatures were unusual, our summer heat is not.  A small container is simply an exercise is how the Native Peoples made adobe bricks.

Choosing a big pot allows proper root growth, enough soil to act as an insulator to temperatures, and the ability to have several things in one place for those who need ease and simplicity.

AND, as always, if you plant at the right time you do not need to shade or protect our edibles in the garden.

Here is a picture of one of my big pots I use to experiment and/or grow different things.  The pot is approximately 2 feet wide and about that tall.  In it I planted parsnips (the real big leaves), Purple Dragon Carrots (the frilly leaves) and Johnny JumpUps, for fill (one of the many edible flowers).  I checked my calendar and the seeds went in December 6th.  The next picture is yesterday, April 25 when I harvested some of the parsnips and carrots for a stew.  By the way, the purple and red carrots have higher antioxidants than their orange cousins.

The ancient / original carrots were NOT orange, but  purple or red.  More modern carrots (500 years ago) were cream or white, before the Dutch developed the orange varieties to make them less bitter than their yellowish cousins.  The reds and purples we can grow now are wonderful sweet.

As with other red fruits and vegetables, the red carrots have lycopene and the purple ones have the same anthocyanins as blueberries etc. (so does the purple varieties of basil for you herb lovers).

Here is a fun site - the carrot museum in England

Cold does not normally effect our desert winter garden edibles.  I could have harvested the carrots a while back, but I kept looking at the top of the carrot forming (it protrudes above the soil line a little) and wanted some bigger.  I will let one or two of each of the parsnips and carrots go to flower and seed so I can capture the seed for planting late summer/early fall for the new winter garden.

When planting in containers or raised beds ALWAYS plant at least 6 inches from the sides so the soil can do its insulating job.

Check out my irregular newsletter for more information on gardening in the heat click here

Don't forget my "Edible Landscaping..." book contains a month-by-month planting calendar.  Also available as an e-book.  Publishers Site.

Besides the Mesa Farmers Market - Fridays - Center Street south of University - I am participating in a Farmers Market this coming Thursday for you folks in Gilbert.  The Mercy Gilbert Hospital is hosting a farmers market for employees and the public in their Healing Garden from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.  See a facebook page here.

 Have a great time in the garden!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady


Sweet Life Garden said...

Thanks Catherine, great info on carrots! I didn't know about all that! have a great summer!

Catherine, The Herb Lady said...

All this fun stuff for the garden, just makes it more interesting :-)

Catherine, The Herb Lady said...

David O. shared this recycling idea.

One tidbit I would contribute: back about 30 years ago, I found some neat containers. I am not sure if it still works this way, but tropical fish stores used to get shipments of live fish from the orient. The fish were packed in water/oxygen filled plastic bags and then the bags were packed in styrofoam boxes to maintain temperature during the overnight flight to America. These styrofoam boxes were very similar to the ice chests you could buy at grocery stores and K-Mart -- with a few important differences: they were squared-off, not tapered, so they stacked easily; and they were very thick, 1.5 to 2 inches, unlike the flimsy grocery store variety. Once the tropical fish store unpacks the fish, they didn't know what to do with the foam boxes, so many of them sold them to customers for a dollar or so. (I have noticed that today perishable medications and frozen steaks are shipped in similar boxes, though they are usually smaller.) The boxes were white, so were reflective; thick, so very good for insulation; rectangular, so no wasted space; lightweight, if you needed to move/carry them around. The only disadvantages are that after a few years, they begin to disintegrate in the sun; and aggressive roots will eventually break through the soft bottom. (My solution to the root problem was to place the boxes on concrete or on thick landscape plastic sheeting and check the bottoms every 3-4 months and root-prune if needed.) Hey, for the price, you can replace them every few years.

When I lived in southern Arizona (Tucson and Sierra Vista) in the late 1970s, I obtained a number of these boxes and used them for growing about 10 varieties of mint -- highly successfully. Line them up in a row along the driveway, fill with simple cheap potting soil (probably would have done even better if I had Catherine's advice back then), run a soaker hose across the line of boxes with a steady drip going. I moved them from Tucson to Sierra Vista by loading them into the bed of my pick-up.

I wonder if the tropical fish stores still sell these?