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James M. Stephens2 1. This document is HS708, one of a series of the Horticultural Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Revised March 1994. Reviewed May 2003. Revised March 2010. Visit the EDIS Web site at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu. 2. James M. Stephens, professor Emeritus, Horticultural Sciences Department, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville FL 32611. The use of trade names in this publication is solely for the purpose of providing specific information. It is not a guarantee or warranty of the products named, and does not signify that they are approved to the exclusion of others of suitable composition. Vegetable gardens range in size from plant containers (mini-gardens) all the way to fields of an acre or more (maxigardens). What makes them all gardens rather than farms is that the produce is consumed by the grower, or his family and friends, rather than being marketed. Minigardening is practical for those who do not have sufficient yard space for a larger garden. Even persons living in apartments and condominiums can grow at least a few vegetables by planting a minigarden. Many Florida 4H members grow radishes in containers as a school project. Areas suitable are along fences and in fence corners, in and around flower beds, adjacent to walks and drives, near the foundation of the house, on patios, porches and balconies, and even on roof-tops. Such small-scale container culture can be both practical and ornamental if properly and imaginatively done. Even boat dwellers cruising Florida's waterways have been known to have a few container gardens at railside. Minigardening involves growing plants in containers which contain soil or any one of a variety of soil substitutes. Hydroponics is one form of container culture that involves either water culture or aggregate culture. The object of hydroponics is discussed in other publications. A wide assortment of containers might be used, ranging from hanging baskets and flower pots to tubs, bean hampers and refuse cans. Most any container is suitable as long as it is sufficiently durable and large enough to hold the fully-grown plant or plants. In this respect, gardeners are limited only by their imagination. An old bathtub might yield the prize tomatoes of the neighborhood, while an old plastic beach ball cut in half could become an excellent herb container. Table 1 provides examples of some commonly available containers.
Minigardening (Growing Vegetables in Containers) 2 Many entire gardens are successfully grown throughout Florida on raised, constructed beds. They are particularly useful in Dade County where topsoil is preferred over the native rockland that is difficult to cultivate. When you plan the size of the beds, it is a good practice to keep your area in a simple-to-figure number of square feet. For example, beds 5 x 20 feet long total 100 square feet. This makes it easy to figure how much fertilizer or mulch you will need. In a smaller garden a bed that is 2 x 5 feet (for a total of 10 square feet) makes garden calculations simple. The most popular size is 5 x 10 feet (for a total of 50 square feet). An advantage to having permanent beds is that structures such as trellises and fences can be permanent as well. This allows you to build them for the long run out of durable materials such as pressure-treated pine, redwood, cypress, or cedar. Many gardeners are concerned that the chemicals in treated lumber might be hazardous to health. So far, there is no evidence to support such concern. To improve drainage and garden neatness, beds can be raised with brick, rot-resistant lumber, landscape timbers, railroad ties, or concrete blocks. Railroad ties lend themselves especially well to stacking for beds as high as 1 to 3 feet. This reduces the distance you have to stoop. When combined with wide, hard-surfaced paths, such high beds make gardening possible for those confined to a wheelchair. Beds 18 to 24 inches high are best for ease of access by the handicapped. Many gardeners shovel soil from around the raised bed. This extra soil combined with liberal amounts of organic amendments creates the raised bed. Soil depth should be six inches minimum, and twelve inches if possible. Metal containers should be painted on the inside with asphalt paint, and clear glass containers on the outside with dark paint. Be sure to punch holes at interval 13 inches above bottom of container to allow for drainage of excess moisture. Baskets could be lined with plastic film to keep soil mix from spilling through cracks. Small slits should be made in the plastic to permit drainage. Fill container with growth medium. Use a good garden soil, a prepared mixture, or a soil substitute such as sawdust or wood shavings. Keep in mind that the lighter materials enable easy movement of containers. A first time minigardener probably should start with a commercial mix which is already mixed in the proper proportions of ingredients. But for those who wish to make up their own medium, Table 2 gives some tested mixtures. Several commercial mixes on the market are listed in Table 3. Some of the many combinations of aggregate materials which have been tried successfully with tomatoes are as follows: sand; 1 part sand to 1 part perlite or vermiculite; 1 part sand to 1 part rice hulls; 1 part sand to 1 part redwood bark; 1 part sand to 1 part pine bark; and 1 or 2 sands to 1 peat moss. Other organic soil amendments: sawdust, wood shavings, yard-waste compost, and animal manures. In general, the more porous growth media, such as sand and gravel, most closely approximate hydroponic culture. These tend to dry out fast and do not hold nutrients very long. Therefore, frequent plant feedings are necessary. Normally, the nutrient solution must be added and drained in the containers once or twice a day. During especially hot, dry weather, the aggregate may need more than two drenchings daily, sometimes as many as five.
Minigardening (Growing Vegetables in Containers) 3 Soil substitute mixes which contain ample organic materials, and which have fertilizer included in the mixing process, also will need additional fertilizer from time to time, but at much less frequent intervals than with porous sand or gravel culture. Once every week or two may be sufficient. Either drench with soluble fertilizer or apply dry common garden fertilizer to the soil surface and water thoroughly into the root zone. Don't apply too much or fertilizer burn will result. Usually, 1 level teaspoon of dry fertilizer per square foot of soil surface is adequate at each feeding. Where ready-mixed soluble fertilizers are purchased, follow label directions for application. A suggested solution is made with one ounce of 20-20-20 analysis water-soluble fertilizer in 5 to 6 gallons of water. For tomatoes, substitute calcium nitrate for the complete fertilizer every 2 weeks. Mix at the rate of one ounce per 3 gallons of water to insure adequate calcium and to prevent blossom-end rot. It may be used on other crops as well as tomatoes. This describes a method of can culture used successfully in a home garden in central Florida. The principles used were sound, and the results were outstanding. There is every reason to believe that the system will work just as well for you. Containers: The gardener used 5-gallon square cooking oil cans. Anything similar, such as bushel baskets or plastic garbage cans may be used but not smaller containers. Location: A four-foot wide strip of black polyethylene was laid out on the ground. It was long enough to accommodate about 24 cans. The cans were placed on the mulch in full sunlight. Containers may be placed wherever they might be most attractive. Since the containers have their own soil, they can be placed on hard surfaces such as concrete patios or wooden decks. Soil: Sawdust was used as a soil-substitute. It is important to use well-rotted aged sawdust for best results. Although this gardener did not put anything else in the sawdust at the time it was placed in the cans, it is advisable to mix about a half cup of dolomite in each can to provide sufficient calcium. Varieties: Plants were set directly into the sawdust. The varieties used were `Floradel,' 'Walter,' 'Big Boy,' and 'Stakeless.'' Best production was obtained from 'Walter' and 'Floradel' and least from 'Stakeless.' 'Big Boy' was only fair. Other varieties suggested for use are 'Betterboy', 'Better Bush,' 'Florida 91,' 'Lemon Boy,' 'Tasti-Lee,' and 'Totem.' Also, the small-fruiting varieties such as 'Sugary,' 'Sun Sugar,' and 'Summer Cherry' do well in can culture. The latter will also permit growing into the warm summer months. Certain varieties were developed for container culture. The following are examples of Florida varieties for this purpose: 'Florida Basket' A dwarf tomato for hanging baskets. Produces 1-inch fruit or 6-inch plant. 'Floragold Basket' Grow 3 plants in a 12-inch hanging basket to produce lots of yellow cherry-size fruits 'Tiny Tim' Round, red 3/4 inch fruit on 18-inch vine. 'Micro-Tom' an extremely dwarf type for 4-inch pots. 'Sweet 100' Big plant, small fruit in clusters. Fertilizer and Watering: A fertilizer solution was prepared and applied daily to each can. The fertilizer solution was mixed in a five gallon container. The gardener mixed two tablespoonsful of high analysis soluble fertilizer (Nutri-Sol) into five gallons of water. One gallon of this solution was poured into each tomato can once each day. At the end of each week, the fertilizer was omitted and, instead, each container of sawdust was given a thorough wetting with the garden hose. The purpose was to wash out accumulated salts from the fertilizer, since soluble salt buildup can cause root injury. Alternatives to the methods of fertilizing used might be mixing a slow-release (osmocote) fertilizer into the sawdust before planting; or twice weekly light applications of dry common fertilizer such as 6-8-8 to the sawdust surface followed by watering in.
Minigardening (Growing Vegetables in Containers) 4 Staking and Supporting: All varieties should be supported so that they are made to grow in an upright position. Regular methods of supporting such as staking and string-trellising may be used. Further care:The usual care and attention was provided as the plants grew. Some pruning was done to remove unwanted suckers. Pesticides, as needed, were sprayed onto the plants. Weeds were not a problem, since the black plastic kept the weeds away from the area around the cans, and the sawdust contained no weed seeds. General cultural information on varieties to plant, spacing, when to plant, etc. is available in the "Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide." Also, see "Grow Your Own Vegetables Without Soil (Hydroponics)", and "Organic Vegetable Gardening" and "Growing Strawberries in Barrels." The book "Vegetable Gardening in Florida" provides all of the information in one place.
Minigardening (Growing Vegetables in Containers) 5 Examples of some commonly available containers Containers Diameter Height Volume Vegetables suggested Pot (plastic) 4 inches 3 1/2 inches 1 pint Individual small-size plants (ex. parsley); clumps of plants (ex. chives); or transplants. Pot (plastic) 6 inches 5 1/2 inches 3 pints Herbs, compact varieties, clumps, or groups of leaf lettuce, green onions, summer radishes, and transplants. Pot (plastic) 6 inches 6 1/2 inches 1 gallon Same as 6-inch pot. Suitable also for hot peppers and strawberry. Planter (plastic) 8 inches 8 inches 1 1/2 gallons Same as 6-inch pot. Also suitable for cherry tomato, romaine, and like vegetables. Planter (plastic) 10 inches 10 inches 3 gallons Same as 8-inch planter. Also suitable for carrots, spinach, broccoli, bibb lettuce, and bell pepper. Basket ( 1/2 bu) 13 inches 9 1/2 inches 4 gallons Ideal for tomato, eggplant, cucumber, pepper, squash, beans, peas, and vegetables already mentioned. Bucket (plastic) 11 inches 12 1/2 inches 5 gallons Same as basket. Basket (1 bu) 17 1/2 inches 11 1/2 inches 8 gallons All vegetables. Barrels/drums 24-30 inches 36 inches 30-55 gallons Excellent for strawberries and lettuce. Boxes, pyramids all sizes All vegetables. Suggested synthetic soil mixtures (1 bu. to 8 gallons). 1 bushel of vermiculite 1 bushel of peat moss 1 bushel of peat moss 1 bushel of peat, cow manure or aged compost 1 1/2 cups of dolomite 1 1/2 cups of dolomite
Minigardening (Growing Vegetables in Containers) 6 Suggested synthetic soil mixtures (1 bu. to 8 gallons). 1 cup of 6-8-8 fertilizer with trace elements 1 cup of 6-8-8 fertilizer with trace elements 5:3:3:1 volume mix 5 parts Florida Peat 10 bushels 3 parts Builder's sand 6 bushels 3 parts Hort. Grade Vermiculite 6 bushels 1 part Perlite 2 bushels Fertilizer (see below) 1 bushel (approx.) Total 25 bu (approx. 1 cu yd) Dolomite 10 lbs. Osmocote (18-6-12) 12 lbs. Superphosphate 5 lbs. Lime (Hydrated) 5 lbs. Micronutrients (Perk) 5 lbs. Some Commercial Mixes Synthetic Soils Pro-Mix BX Peat moss, perlite, vermic, dolomite, NPK, P, Ca, FTE, wetting agent. Each 5.5 cu. ft. bale = 10 cu. ft. loosened Pro-Mix A Same, except no perlite Pro-Mix C Same, exept no perlite and NPK (has P) Fertile Bag Same, ready for bag culture (2 cu. ft.)
Minigardening (Growing Vegetables in Containers) 7 Some Commercial Mixes Synthetic Soils Jiffy-Mix Peat, vermic, and NPK Jiffy-Mix Plus Same, except has Mag-amp (7-40-6) Metro-Mix 200 Peat moss, perlite, vermic, granite sand, NPK, wetting agent, pH 5.6 6.5 Metro-Mix 300 Same, plus bark Medium Synthetic Soils Redi-Earth Peat moss, vermic, wetting afetn, macros and micros Peat-Lite Mix Peat moss, plus Peat Mix and vermic Super Soil Called "First Step," developed by U Cal Cornell Mix No trade names (mix your own), although Redi-earth is based on it Wetting Agents Hydro-Wet, Aqua-Gro, Terra-Sorb, Surf-Side, Triton B 1956 1 cu yd = 27 cu ft 1 pt = 2 cups 1 cu yd = 25 bu 1 cup = 8 oz 1 bu = 8 gal 1 oz = 2 tblsp 1 gal = 4 qt 1 tblsp = 3 tsp 1 qt = 2 pt