Crowd Sharing Patio Garden
How to create a prolific vegetable garden with limited space
By: Lynne Perry
Patio Growing: Crowd Sharing the Crops
My whole back yard is taken up by a pool, decks and patios. There is no real available land for gardening. I come from a family of avid gardeners, so about ten years ago I thought I’d try my hand at patio gardening vegetables. Over the years I’ve experimented and expanded, and wanted to share one of my favorite patio garden methods. I call it “Crowd Sharing”.
Vegetable “Crowd Sharing” is maximizing the availability of dirt in pots to support multiple plants.
Pro’s: The ability to grow produce you can harvest from your patio.
Con’s: Requires more frequent watering during dry times. I water daily when it doesn’t rain around 4:00
or 5:00pm. Sometimes twice a day on days when the temps hit the upper 80’s & 90’s.
I’ve learned that soil depth is not as critical as water and really good soil. I keep my soil in the pots to overwinter, and then mix them all together. It makes for a very nice, rich, loamy soil. Mixing all of the soils together also helps prevent the soil from any specific veggie pot from getting “tired”. (Think: crop rotation). Usually I have enough soil for that year’s layout, but occasionally I need to add a bag of new soil to stretch it out. I started out with organic soil, and have stayed with it.
I mix organic plant food and water crystals into the soil of each pot, and feed the plants with organic plant food every 3 or 4 weeks unless it’s rained really hard, then I give them a little extra dose of food once the rain has subsided.
To help keep the soil from drying out too much, I mix water crystals with the soil. Water crystals are about the size of bb’s. They absorb water and swell to the size of marbles, and they hold their water until the soil around them dries and starts to absorb the water out of the water crystals. So I always know after a daily watering that even if the top soil in the containers is dry, the soil underneath still has/had some extended moisture. The water crystals do not harm the plants roots.
I also use grow pots, it seems that the root systems are pretty happy with the more breathable pots than with standard plastic pots. And grow pots are more environmentally friendly, as well.
The crowd shared veggies discussed below are the ones that give you the biggest return for the least amount of growing space and soil, and are the easiest to grow.
Bush Beans - Green and Yellow
I love these plants for several reasons. They are very well suited for hanging baskets, they make a gorgeous display, and the more you pick… the more they grow. Reasonably pest resistant, they do require a lot of watering. They do best in full or partial sun.
Direct sow 8-10 seeds into moist soil.
Tiny Tim Tomatoes
These little tomatoes are sweet, similar in taste to grape tomatoes. They have an abundant produce, and take up very little space. I start these in doors in small cow pots. When the weather is right and they are at least 3" high, I just plant them (cow pots and all) in hanging baskets, four plants to a basket that can hold at least 6 gallons of soil. They like at least 6-8 hours direct sun.
I like growing Rutgers because they are very productive, a nice size, a good slicer, excellent for canning, and have a nice meaty flavor. This year, they are the only variety of full size tomatoes I chose to grow, though in the past the same method has worked with other full size tomato varieties as well.
I start these indoors in cow pots, and when they are at least 6" tall and the roots have grown through the cow pots I plant them in 7 – 8 gallon grow pots, two or three to a pot, and cage them.
These tomatoes also need quite a bit of watering. They won’t take up much horizontal space, but they can get to be 4 feet tall and taller. So you might have to stake some of the branches that grow taller than the cages.
The biggest drawback is that squirrels and chipmunks seem to like them as much as I do and will eat a low growing half a tomato in no time flat. After years of frustration about this, and unable to thwart them with chicken wire or other types of barricades, I found that fine mesh bridal lace wrapped around the plant is a great deterrent! You can buy it at places like JoAnne’s Fabrics for pennies by the foot. I bought 10 yards of it, and this is the third year I’ve used the same lace. I’ve seen them attempt to get in, but they don’t like getting their little claws caught in the lace. Eventually they just give up.
*Note: If you see little black spots forming on the bottoms of the tomatoes, that is calcium deficiency. You can grind eggshells into a fine powder to add to the plant to help feed them some calcium, or use a packaged calcium supplement like Vigaro’s Tomato & Vegetable Supplement with Calcium. To lessen the potential for calcium deficiency, add calcium to the soil in the pot that you will be transferring the tomatoes to.
Cucumbers are determined climbers, they glom onto anything to spread. I’ve learned that allowing them to climb on each other doesn’t harm them at all.
I start these indoors in cow pots and when the weather is right and they have at least four mature leaves, I plant the cow pots in a 15 gallon grow pot, four to a pot spaced out about 6" apart.
I put a cage on them, and as they grow taller I train the branches that
want to grow out and away from the cage to stay inside of the cage.
Cucumbers also need a lot of water.
Peppers, Peppers, Peppers
I’ve found that all species of pepper plants do fine with the same formula. My pepper rows are on a table top, and include bell, jalapeno, banana, habanero, sweet Italian, and some weird variety (I’ve forgotten the name) that grows upside down on the plants.
Peppers like warm sunny weather, they grow very slowly, and need a reasonable amount of watering.
They are fairly compact for the amount of peppers they produce, rarely growing taller than 3 feet. All of mine this year stayed under 2-1/2 feet.
I start them indoors very early in cow pots under grow lights, and when I see their roots are beginning to poke through the cow pots, I plant them four to a 6-8 gallon pot (which I don’t put outside until the nights are consistently above 50 degrees).
Sweet corn is so easy to grow in pots! I start them indoors, 1 plant to a large cow pot, and when their roots start to poke through the bottom of the cow pot, I transfer them cow pot and all to their “forever pot”. I’ve
learned that you can plant them very close together, about 6" apart.
Corn needs a lot of nitrogen, and beans put out nitrogen in the soil, so I plant a bush been for each stalk in the pot. Though if you see your corn is not a deep dark green, you should feed it more nitrogen.
I grow two varieties, bread & butter corn and silver queen. I plant them in “waves” so that they aren’t all ready to harvest at once. This year I planted three waves, two weeks apart. Each wave consisted of six bread & butter corns and five or six silver queen corns, planted in 20 gallon grow pots.
Corn needs to be watered regularly, too – but it is a bit more drought hardy than the other veggies.
Once the corn has tasseled at the top, you may need to do something to discourage sparrows from roosting in it the tassels and picking at them. I use shiny old Microsoft software disks attached to long bamboo poles in such a way that they dangle and spin around the tops of the corn. The sparrows seem to be spooked by the spinning reflections and steer clear of the corn.
A couple of side perks to growing corn is that it makes a good privacy fence at its peak, and at the end of
its season you have dried husks to use for decorative accents for Halloween and Thanksgiving!