In the (Container) Garden, 2023 Season

Last year I decided to try something new by growing a container garden on our back patio. After seeing how well plants could grow out there, I decided to do it again this year. Let’s see how things turned out!

This year’s garden. While last year the cucumbers were the plants that took off, this year it was all about the tomatoes. Image: a patio with plants growing in 5-gallon buckets.

Last Year’s Container Garden

My goal with last year’s garden was to determine whether anything could grow out there at all, so I kept it relatively simple. Initially, I worked with partial shade plants. As I got a better sense of the light quality, I added more full sun plants. The cucumbers did especially well, more or less taking over the space.

Image: Cucumber vines growing vertically

Changes from Last Year’s Garden

Although the results of last year’s garden were impressive, especially considering it was my first time attempting anything like it, I made some changes for this season. I noticed that squirrels kept digging in my containers for seeds, for instance, so I created chicken wire coverings to protect them during the late winter and early spring. Once the plants were established, I removed the cages and put them in storage for next year.

Image: 5-gallon buckets covered with chicken wire cages.

I also increased the variety of crops I wanted to grow. In addition to the cucumbers and lettuce I grew last year, I decided to try tomatoes and peppers. I even tried some container-friendly corn.

I started the peppers and tomatoes indoors. Image: a tray filled with seedlings.

My choices in crops meant this year’s garden was more involved. Since Virginia is too cold in the spring for peppers and tomatoes, I started them as seeds indoors. I used a heating pad to sprout them and then kept them under a lamp for several weeks. Once it was warm enough to take them outside, I hardened them, setting them out for a longer period each day until they could handle the weather full-time. When it was warm enough to transplant them outside, they were well on their way to becoming mature plants.

What Worked

Many of the new plants I tried worked out really well, and Brandon and I incorporated them into our cooking throughout the spring and summer. The peppers were especially successful. Both the sweet and hot pepper plants produced many fruits, which Brandon used for homemade salsa.

The tomatoes also did well. Like last year’s cucumbers, the plants grew taller than I expected. They also yielded fruits longer than I had anticipated, with my final harvest happening in October. Like the peppers, Brandon often used the tomatoes for salsa. He also made tomato soup, which I enjoyed immensely.

I also found success with crops I’d struggled with previously, taking what I’d learned from last season and applying it to this year’s garden. The most notable examples were the radishes. Last year I only harvested greens because I had failed to thin out my crops, resulting in narrow roots. This year, I made sure to thin the containers, and as a result, I managed a radish harvest. I turned the greens into soup, which I then garnished with roasted radishes.

What Didn’t

All that said, not everything worked as well as I’d hoped. In contrast to last year, the cucumbers were a bit of a disappointment. The ones that came in were excellent, but because I let them mature, the vines stopped producing. As a result, we only got one jar of pickles, which, although very tasty, didn’t last very long. Next year, I’ll make sure to harvest the fruits sooner.

The tomatoes, for all their success, were also mixed because of their different maturation rates. I had planted Roma tomatoes with the idea of making sauce from them. While we did grow enough tomatoes for sauce, they didn’t all come in at the same time. As a result, we never had enough tomatoes at any one time to make pasta sauce. We made plenty of other things, but they weren’t what I originally had intended. If I grow tomatoes again next year, I’ll keep this lesson in mind and adjust.

Arguably my biggest disappointment was the corn. While the plants emerged just fine, they never grew very tall, and only one of the plants formed an incomplete ear of corn. In hindsight, I waited too long to plant them, and they didn’t get enough sun. If I plant them again, I’ll move them out to the front yard, which gets more uninterrupted sunlight.

Next Year’s Container Garden

Like last year’s garden, this year’s container harvest was a learning experience, and I’ll definitely change some things for next season. Rather than grow a wide variety of produce, I might focus on two or three plants, such as tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers. That will increase our chances of getting enough produce for the sauce, pickles, and other foods we want to prepare.

I might also consider making more use of the front yard. In some ways, this year’s garden was about discovering the limits of my patio. As lovely as that space is, the full sunlight it gets is finite, especially considering we’re surrounded by trees, and that will always affect the amount of produce I get. In future seasons, I use the front yard for certain crops.

Ultimately, Brandon and I have the privilege of not depending on the garden for our food. If the garden doesn’t work, we can get what we need at the store. Still, I’d like to see the garden be successful, in case we ever get to a point where growing our food is a necessity rather than a hobby.

Image: a pile of homegrown tomatoes and hot peppers.

On the whole, though, it wasn’t a bad year. With fruits and vegetables looking as good as these, I can’t complain. Especially when I managed to grow them myself.

Categorized as Misc.

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