Question: My son wants to grow tomatoes and other vegetables, but we live in an apartment. Can you give us any tips?
Answer: The first order of business for any vegetable garden is location, location, location. If you can provide a site that gets sunshine most of the day, you'll have a successful crop whether you garden in containers or directly in the ground.
Here are some keys to successful container gardening:
- Use pots large enough to accommodate the root mass of the plant you intend to grow. To keep mature plants from toppling over, the pot should be about one-third as deep as the mature plant is high. A 5-gallon container is just about right for a full-grown tomato plant; smaller containers will support patio-sized or cherry tomato plants. Be sure the containers have drainage holes.
- Use a commercial potting mix, preferably one containing some vermiculite or perlite to keep it light. Avoid using garden soil, which can contain disease organisms or insects.
- For your first season, choose reliable, compact crops. Lettuce, bush beans, bush zucchini, cucumbers, determinate tomatoes, and marigolds would be good choices. (If you plant vining, "indeterminate" tomatoes, you'll need to rig up a system so the vines can climb.)
- Be diligent about watering; keep soil moist but not soggy. Also, be sure to feed regularly with a balanced fertilizer. (If possible, use some compost in the mix at planting time.) It's also important to water heavily enough to flush the fertilizer salts out of the containers every month or so to prevent the salts from damaging roots and leaves.