Never has gardening in small spaces been more popular, or frankly, more important. If you have a sunny balcony, porch or patio, you have space for a healthy and abundant harvest! In fact, you can enjoy a plethora of edible delights right at your fingertips when you grow herbs, small fruits and vegetables in containers. Here are five tips to get you started.
Tip #1: Maximize your patio space
Turn your porch, patio, balcony, or even a small space in your landscape into a multi-purpose space that combines native plants, ornamentals and edibles. In this photo, Proven Winners used Gardener’s Supply Company’s eight-foot-long, reclaimed wood outdoor planter bar and filled it with aromatic herbs and strawberries that can be conveniently plucked for craft cocktails when entertaining. Ornamental begonias, lantana and moss roses add a punch of color to the space in the surrounding containers.
In this photo, Proven Winners used grow bags on a balcony to maximize space for harvest that is also aesthetically gorgeous and interesting.
Tip #2: Choose smaller varieties to grow in containers
Dwarf varieties of fruits and vegetables that are just the right size for growing in containers are now widely available. Be selective when you buy and choose those that only grow a foot or two tall but still produce a decent yield like cocktail or cherry tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, strawberries and snack peppers.
One major advantage to growing edible plants in containers is they are easy to rearrange if necessary to catch the best light. If your peppers don’t seem to be ripening, pick up and move the pot to a sunnier location. That wouldn’t be so easy to do if they were planted in the ground.
Tip #3: Grow and feed ornamentals and food crops in separate containers
Who needs to worry about supply chain issues when you can grow your own organic strawberries? When you grow your own food, you know it is safe and healthy. Do your best to grow what you eat organically, feeding them with organic nutrients like compost, compost tea, fish emulsion and certified organic fertilizers. What you feed your edible harvest is very different than what you feed your petunias and other ornamental flowers. By keeping your ornamental and edible plants in separate containers, it’s easy to feed each the type of plant food they prefer.
Tip #4: Grow herbs and edible flowers together
Make the best use of the space you have by combining edible flowers and herbs together in containers. Basil pairs well with calendula flowers, for example, as in this photo from Proven Winners. Since both plants will be harvested for consumption, feed the whole container with organic fertilizer. The flowers will keep the arrangement looking full while you’re waiting for the herbs you’ve harvested to grow back in.
Tip #5: Look around your landscape to find more edible flowers
In addition to the fruits, vegetables and herbs you are growing in containers, you may discover that some of the plants in your landscape are edible, too. If you garden organically, you’ll know it is safe to harvest from them.
For example, lavender flowers make a delightful addition to sweet breads, shortbread cookies and lemonade. Hibiscus and bee balm flowers can be dried and used to make tea. The freshly picked petals of roses and daylilies can be sliced thin and added to green salads and fruit cups. Calendula petals will add a slight peppery flavor to your corn muffins and soups.
Learn much more about edible flowers in these two useful books: Backyard Foraging by Ellen Zachos (Storey Publishing, 2013) and Eat Your Rosesby Denise Schreiber (St. Lynn’s Press, 2011).
Common Sense Guidelines:
- Always be 100% sure that what you are eating is edible. Not all flowers are edible.
- New foods can trigger an allergic reaction in some people. Use edible flowers in small amounts.
- Do not eat plants that have been sprayed with pesticides, insecticides or any other chemical.
- Use organic nutrients like compost and fish emulsion to feed your edible plants.