Saturday, July 23, 2011

Book Review: The Vegetable Gardener's Container Bible by Edward C. Smith

Book Review: The Vegetable Gardener's Container Bible by Edward C. Smith

Here is another great book to read if you only have a small area to grow vegetables.

Chapter 1:  For the best results, choose self-watering pots to grow vegetables in and traditional pots for herbs.  Vegetable plants need a constant water supply and my taste bitter and dwindle in growth if the soil becomes dry.  Herbs like to have a variance in soil moisture and it helps to make the herbs more flavorful.  With a self-watering pot, you will still need to water the plant, but you will have to do it less often since there is a reservoir built into the bottom of the pot.

Best plants for traditional pots:  cilantro, dill, fennel, oregano, rosemary, sage and thyme.

Best plants for self-watering pots:  Basil, broccoli, brussels sprouts, bush beans, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, eggplant, lettuces, onions, pak choi, peppers and tomatoes.

Chapter 2: What's in the pot?

Do not use topsoil.  It does not contain many nutrients.  In a self-watering pot, you will mostly want to use sphagnum peat.  If you are using a traditional pot, you will want to mainly use sedge peat or coir.   Most ready-made planting mixtures have one or the other.  Add a compost mixture to the planting soil in equal parts to make the soil for your pots.  You will also need a fertilizer when you plant your plants.

Chapter 4:  Getting Started.

Plants that need full sun: artichokes, basil, bush beans, celery, corn, cucumbers, dill, eggplant, fennel, marjoram, melons, okra, peppers, sweet peppers, squash, tarragon and tomatoes.

Shade-tolerant plants: arugula, cilantro, kale, lettuces, mustard, oregano, parsley, sage and spinach.

Chapter 5: Of Seeds and Six-Packs.

Start your plant shopping early in the season, at least two to three weeks before it is time to transplant outdoors.  You can put them in larger pots once you get home. This way, they will not be root-bound.  If you wait until it is time to plant to buy your plants, they may be root-bound.

Tip 1: Try to find plants in 4 inch pots rather than in small pots or six-packs.  The larger pot ensures that the seedling has enough soil to maintain a steady supply of moisture and nutrients while it is growing.

Tip 2:  Choose short, bushy plants over tall, willowy ones.  The tall ones have been starved for light; that's what they are stretching for.

Tip 3: Avoid plants that have blossoms.  In a young tomato, pepper or eggplant, for example, blossoms are a sign not of health and vigor, but of stress.  It is way too early for a little plant with a tiny root system to be getting on with the job of setting and maturing fruit.  Without the roots to supply water and food, the poor plant will produce few fruits, and only small ones.  If, by the time they are ready for transplanting to containers, any of your plants have blossoms, pluck them off.  Give the plants time to grow roots.

Tip 4: Look for stems and leaves that are deep green.  Pale green or yellow leaves often indicate a nitrogen deficiency.  A purple cast to older leaves points to phosphorus deficiency.

Tip 5: Check the stems and the undersides of the leaves for aphids and other insect.  Discolored, misshapen, or partially eaten leaves are an indication that all is not right with a plant.

Try to transplant on a cloudy day  in the late afternoon or evening so the tender plants will not have to cope with the heat of the day.

Melons, eggplants and peppers need bottom heat when grown from seeds.  It is more convenient to buy these as plants.

To fertilize plants, the author recommends a liquid seaweed fertilizer.

Here is a list of plants that should be sown directly into the container they'll spend the season in:  beans, beets, carrots, corn, dill, garlic (cloves), onion (sets), peas and radishes.

Chapter 6:  Designing for Containers.

Replant often:  arugula, bush beans, carrots (when grown for harvest when still young- just as the deep color develops), mustard, spinach.

Chapter 7: Caring for your container gardens.  Water often, feed fertilizer and check for pests.

Chapter 9:  Harvesting the Bounty.

Pick vegetables before or when they become ripe.  If you leave it on the plant too long, the plant will stop producing vegetables.

Chapter 10:  When winter draws near.

Clean your containers out before the new planting season.   You can reuse the old soil (minus the roots) by mixing it with new potting soil.

Chapter 11:  The best vegetables.

Beans: Use a self-watering pot for best results.  Grow pole beans for a produce more beans than bush beans, but they need a trellis.  They do not like cold weather.  Beans planted in cool soil germinate more slowly and are, later in life, more susceptible to disease.    You can start your beans in containers indoors earlier and move everything out when the temperatures get up to 60 degrees.   Sow bean seeds 4 inches apart and an inch deep after the danger of frost has passed. Water regularly and pick often.  Harvest at least every third day.

Filet Beans: Very tasty, sold in upscale markets.

Maxibel is a slender, 7 inch bean that doesn't develop strings, meaning you can get away with  a little longer span between picking.

Straight 'n' Narrow is a tasty bean on a compact plant and just and the name suggests, very straight; consistent blue-ribbon winners for us at the county fair.

Snap beans: These are  your standard, garden-variety beans, usually in shades of green, but also yellow or purple.

Jade: compact plants and exceptional flavor.

Provider: easy to grow, even when the weather is not ideally sunny and warm; germinates better in cool soil than other beans do.

Rocdor: a yellow or wax bean with straight pods; germinates in cool soil.

Pole Beans: If you choose to grow these in a container, be sure to give them a sturdy trellis to c limb.  There are many pole bean varieties, but I find most of them too large to grow in containers.

Scarlet Runner: a beautiful plant with gorgeous flowers.  It's edible in many stages; as flowers, snap beans, shell beans and if you have some left at the end of the season, dry beans.

Carrots: Containers should be at least 8 inches deep.  Sow seeds 1/4 - 1/2 inch deep around 1/2 inch apart.  Keep seeds moist at all times. Germination time is around 3 weeks.  Best grown in a self-watering pot.  Thin by cutting extra plants at the soil line with scissors. A series of small succession plantings three weeks apart will keep you in tasty, fresh carrots all summer.

Kinko: easy to grow, sweet and early, best when harvested young; only 4 inches long, so they're perfect or fairly shallow containers.

Mokum:  a tasty, sweet carrot for fresh eating.

Nelson: Sweet, not too long, and early

Parmex: cute, little round carrots that can grow in most any container: harvest when they are about 1.5 inches in diameter.

Yellowstone: butter yellow and about 8 inches long.

Celery:  Grows best in a self-watering container with a rich, compost-based soil.  Grow celery plants in a container with other celery plants and nothing else.  Shallow roots.   Give liquid sea-weed fertilizer regularly.  Sow seeds 1/8 inch deep.  Germinates at about 75 degrees. Sow the seeds 1/2 inch apart 10-12 weeks before the last frost.  Harvest stalks from the outside of the plant as needed or cut the whole plant at the soil line.

Conquistador: A Utah type noted for its taste, able to tolerate a it more adversity than can some other celeries.

Redventure: A cross between Ventura and the heirloom Giant Red.  Provides a spot of color with tender red stalks and emerald green leaves.

Ventura: Dependable and easy to grow once it gets past the fussy germination stage.  Disease resistant with an upright growth habit and a tender heart.  Dark green leaves and stalks.

Cucumber:  Love heat.  Need a consistent supply of food (and thrive in a compost-based potting soil).  Need lots of water.  Use a self-watering pot.  Use a trellis.  Direct-seed cucumbers once soil temperature reaches 70 degrees.  You could also start seeds indoors or buy started plants.  Plant seeds 1/2 inch deep, 4 inches apart.   Do not like to be transplanted, so be careful with the roots.

Boothbay Blonde: Matures to yellow with a mild, sweet flavor.

Diva: Award-winner for its taste.  Easy to grow, produces only female flowers that don't need to be pollinated to set fruit, is not bitter and is resistant to mildew.  Tasty and tender-skinned fruits are best if picked when they are small, about the size of a pickle.

Little Leaf: a compact plant that will climb a trellis all by itself.  Produces well even if weather is less than the perfect warm, dry and sunny that cucumbers prefer.  Sets fruit without pollination.  Classified as pickling type, but are tasty in salads too.

Eggplant:  Love heat.  Thrive in containers.   Can start seeds indoors, but it is better to buy from local nursery or mail-order.   Easily stressed by transplanting, so it is best to start them in 4 inch pots.

Bambino: round, 1.5 inch fruits on a compact, 12 inch plant, bears early compared to other eggplants.

Fairy Tale: Tender, long and purple  striped, with a compact plant and fruits that grow in clusters.

Neon:  Bears deep pink fruits that fall about halfway between short-and-plump and long-and-skinny.  Fairly described in one seed catalog as an edible work of art.

Orient Express:  Asian-style long, thin black fruits.

Leeks:  Best grown in a self-watering planter  filled with a compost-based soil.  Sun lovers.  Grow leeks alone.  They do not compete well with other plants.

King Richard:  White stems with medium green leaves.  Tolerates light frosts.

Lincoln:  a miniature variety grown from seed, sow thickly and harvest when the plants are about finger-size.

Lettuce:  Lettuce grows well or better in containers than in the earth.  Need constant moisture and moderate temperatures.  Best grown in a self-watering planter.   A short period of dry soil will not kill a lettuce plant, but it will affect its taste,introducing a bitterness that subsequent watering will not remove.  A series of plantings in smaller containers can easily keep us in salad greens through the summer.  Plant the seeds about 1/2 inch apart.  When harvesting, cut the whole plant an inch or more above the soil.  It will regrow once and sometimes twice.  This is the best method for leaf types planted close together.

Leaf lettuces: Berenice, Black-Eyed Simpson, Red Sails and Red Salad Bowl.
Romaine Lettuces: Freckles and Winter Density.
Butterhead Lettuces:  Buttercrunch, Deer Tongue and Tom Thumb.
Summer Crisp Varieties: Loma and Magenta

Peppers:  Love heat and consistent moisture.  Best grown in self-watering planters.  May be difficult to grow from seeds.  Buy as a plant.  Prune any blossoms that appear before transplanting to redirect the plants energy to root growth.  Your harvest will be a bit later, but substantially larger.

Ace: Dependable, productive red bell pepper.

Chilly Chili: a mild-flavored and very colorful chili on an attractive, compact plant.

Islander:  ripens through stages of violet, yellow and orange streaks to deep red.

Jingle Bells:  a compact plant with an upright growth habit.

Numex Twilight:  a colorful pepper that starts off purple, then moves through all the colors of a sunset from yellow to orange and finally red.

Sweet Chocolate: early bell pepper that ripens to dark brown.

Tomatoes:  Grow best in self-watering pots.  They drink lots of water.  Love heat and the sun.  Best to buy plants instead of seeds.  If the tomato plants you buy at a garden center have blossoms, clip them off.  Seedlings need to grow roots before they have the strength to set fruit.  Buy tomato plants as soon as they appear for sale.  Buy in a 4 inch pot.  Buy short, stalky plants, not tall, lanky ones.  Leaves should be dark green without holes,  missing pieces, brown or black spots or curled edges.  Plant tomatoes in containers deeper than they grew in pots, trimming off any leaves that will be buried.  (Tomatoes have the ability to grow roots from buried leaf stems; each time you transplant them deeper, they grow more roots.)  In  a relatively shallow container (eight inches), lay the plant down, so most of the stem will be buried, and make a pillow of soil to force the top of the plant gently upward.  The plant will get the hint and take off straight up in a day or so.  If you're using a container mix plus fertilizer, fertilize again in about 6 weeks.  Use tomato trellises.

Jet Star: full-size, 7-8 ounce fruits; a compact growth habit; relatively short growing season.

Micro Tom: a more of a novelty than a food source; the plant is only about 6 inches tall and the few fruits are the size of marble; it's cute and will live in even a small hanging planter.

Rose:  an heirloom variety, reputed to be Amish in origin; excellent flavor.

Siletz: an early full-size slicing tomato on a compact plant.

Sun Gold:  Sweet, prolific cherry with a deep golden color.

Sweet Baby Girl:  a red cherry with a compact growth habit.

Sweet 100:  a prolific red cherry tomato.

Tiny Tim:  a very compact cherry that doesn't need a trellis.

Window Box Roma:  a compact plant bearing full-size paste tomatoes, does not need a trellis.

CHAPTER 12:  Herbs

Basil:  Grow in a regular pot.  Love sunlight and heat.  Plant seeds around 4-8 inches apart.

Genovese:  an Italian basil with some resistance to bolting.

Chives:  Plant in a self-watering pot.  Very easy to grow, they will take over a garden if you let them. Buy plants.  Seeds take 1 year to get to harvestable size.

Fine leaf:  the standard culinary chives for eating fresh.

Cilantro:  Used in salsa or as a garnish.  Plant in a traditional pot that is at least 8 inches deep.  Plant seeds in the pot they will grow in.  Pick in late spring and early summer.

Santo:  a slow-bolting variety grown primarily for its foliage.

Mint:  Will take over any area it is given.  Use a self-watering pot.  Start with a small plant from the nursery.

Chocolate mint: a chocolate-flavored spearmint.

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