Eco-Friendly Container Gardening

        

 

 Container Gardening allows most anyone a way to grow in small spaces where conventional gardening is not possible. It also gives people with large spaces to get away from many of the problems associated with in-ground growing.

You do have a different set of problems apposed to in-ground growing. Containers react much faster to environmental changes and require a different type of growing media than soil. Following are some ways to add to your container gardening pleasure.

 

Containers:

They can be anything from raised brick planters, to pots of all types and styles to coir lined hanging baskets. No matter which style of container you use make sure it is able to drain properly for the type of plant you are growing. Wet roots are fine for some plants but will kill others very rapidly.

Whenever possible, be consistent with regard to the type of containers you are using, especially with the same type of plants.  For example, if you plant some of your favorite plants in clay pots, and some in plastic, you may run into water retention problems because they will dry out at different rates.  You can use many different types of pots and baskets but if you do group them into watering categories so all of the plants get the right amount of water for their needs.

Different plants require different amounts of water. Match the plant to the container for size and depth. Quality garden centers and nurseries can assist you in selecting which plants to grow and the correct type and size of container to grow it in.

Understand the plants you are going to grow and make sure the pot or basket you use is large enough and deep enough for the plant you are growing. There is great information on line for most all plants. One thing to make sue is that you read about methods that work for your particular climate conditions.

Pre-designed growing container systems can are a very good choice in that many of them are designed to make growing easier for those with limited time and knowledge.

For patios and small spaces hanging baskets are a great choice. With open type hanging baskets using liners you can grow plants out of the bottom and sides of the basket as well as out the top. This means extending your growing area. Things like strawberries, small tomatoes, peppers and others do well upside down.  You can grow companion plants in the top of the basket for plant health and looks.

 

Growing Media for Containers:

The heavy soils that are ideal for in-ground gardening are very problematic for the container gardener. They compact too quickly, and add too much weight if you are hanging plants; they will not deliver water and nutrients evenly.

When growing in the ground it is easy to add compost and fresh organic matter each year to keep a good organic soil content with good soil biology. In container growing you must devise other methods to adequately supply the necessary amounts of organic matter, which contains soil biology and trace elements for healthy and effective plant growth.

Many things can be used in coming up with a proper mix for the plant you are growing and the container used. Some of the things used are vermiculite, perlite, tree bark, wood chips, coir (coconut fiber), compose, pine needles, dry humates, sphagnum and peat moss. These vary greatly in what they do for a mix so you have to spend some time learning about the different components. Weight, pH, water holding capabilities and other needs of the plant you plan to grow all need to be considered in your mix.

You can buy ready-made potting mixes at many garden centers. Be sure you differentiate between ‘Potting Soils’ for in ground use and ‘potting mix’ used in pots.

 

Fertilizer and other additives:

Fertilizer - “How much fertilizer should I use?”  This is a very complex question to which there is no simple answer.  In order to provide what your plant needs you need to know what the plant itself requires for proper growth. Things like cabbage need a lot of nitrogen, here the same amount on a root plant like carrots would give you nothing but green tops.  

Read the ingredients listed on the fertilizer you are using, and start there.  Remember that the recommended application rates on most fertilizers tend to be near or at the high end of what is necessary, (fertilizer companies are in business to sell fertilizer) especially if you have balanced soil with proper microbiology. High numbers for N-P-K does not mean better plants and in many cases it means most of it washes through the container and ends up in the groundwater as pollutants.

Eco friendly gardening is best done using organic products. Organic growing produce higher quality and better tasting results a minimum negative effect on the environment. Synthetic fertilizer can cause major nutrient runoff along with reductions in soil organic matter and beneficial soil biology. Organic fertilizers come in both liquid and dry form and from bat guano, to blood meal to alfalfa meal to liquid fish hydrolysates and many others. They all have different levels of N-P-K so you need to research to find which one fits your needs.  Remember that all 100% of an organic fertilizer has to be organic.

The only portion of a synthetic fertilizer that the manufacturer is required to list is the   N (nitrogen)-P (phosphate)-K (Potassium). If you are using a 10-10-10 synthetic fertilizer you only know what 30% of what is in the bag. In many cases the things used for fillers can be very harmful to humans, pets and wild life.

If you are planning on using a synthetic fertilizer, a slow release type is the best. Most of these do not have all the trace elements needed for quality produce so you will need to add them in some other form.

You can reduce you fertilizer amount by at least 25% and still get great results by using a quality ‘Natural Humate’. You also have the added benefit of lowering the salt buildup in your pots and preventing fertilizer runoff that is polluting our waterways and aquifers. Be careful when buying Humate products in that many of them are imported and can be very suspect in quality.  

 

Humates can be used to increase the mixes ability to hold water and fertilizer. Using a “Natural Humate” that has live biology, trace elements and a minimum processing for a green footprint can make a difference. I have found that a ‘Natural Humate’ can provide what is needed to protect plants for many pathogens and harmful insects.

Seaweed is a good way to get trace elements and other substances such as cytokinins (plant hormone that promotes cell division). Seaweed products vary in quality and content depending on where they were harvested and what type of seaweed it is. I prefer North Atlantic Kelp.

Compost tea has become a big player in growing and can be of great benefit. If you are planning on using a compost tea, I would recommend using commercial compost tea or worm tea. Home made teas are fine for yards and non-edibles but unless very carefully monitored it is possible to get harmful pathogens growing in them that are dangerous to health. This file talks about compost teas (http://www.puyallup.wsu.edu/~Linda%20Chalker-cott/Horticultural%20Myths_files/Myths/magazine%20pdfs/CompostTea.pdf ).

Worm tea is a good source for many nutrients and soil biology. When buying a product like this check the packaging to make sure it states that it is R. Coli free.

 

Watering:

Water and water quality is always a big issue when growing. Water pH, mineral contamination and chlorine are all factors to be considered.

Using a pH meter to check your water regularly is a good habit to get into. They can be purchased at a very reasonable price. Keeping the pH between 6.2 and 6.8 can make a difference in your growing success.

Well water can have a high mineral content so it needs to be checked to if you need to install equipment to remove mineral concentrations. Many softeners use a salt based filtering material that is not good for plants or soil.

City water with chlorine can kill soil biology rapidly if applied from a hose in a stream. Using a mister head that breaks the water into fine drops will dissipate much of the chlorine before it hits the plant. If you have just a few plants put the water in an open container overnight and the chlorine will evaporate by morning.

Rainwater is the best if it is taken from a surface that does not add contaminates to it. If you collect rain water and its sits for a while you might want to consider adding a few drops of Hydrogen peroxide to kill any harmful Pathogens.

 

Pest Control:

I find that growing organically actually results in fewer disease and insect problems. Healthy plants and soil means less disease and fewer insect problems.

There are many articles on-line about companion planting which can protect your crops from certain pests. Companion planting has many advantages and can add a lot to the appearance of your garden.

There are many organic pest control products on the market. Be careful in that being organic does not necessarily make to non-toxic to humans and pets. If you are going to use synthetic products make sure they are safe for food crops. Whatever you use do not use near harvest time.

 

Light and Air Circulation:

Every grower understands that light is important for their plants and the concept of photosynthesis.  This means the proper amount of light for the plants you are planning on rowing. Air movement in also very vital so make sure your planting get plenty of fresh, moving air.  Air movement can significantly reduce insect infestations and provide the cooling that plants need in warm conditions.

 

 

 

Foliar feeding:

Foliar feeding can be a great addition to container growing. It can help plants through fast growth periods and enable you to provide nutrients to them that are hard to get from roots. There are many good articles on the web about foliar spraying that can help.

 

Summery:

Container Gardening is very rewarding, with potential rewards in eating satisfaction.  It give those who live in an urban environment or others that are constrained by available space.  I hope this information is helpful, and wish you great success with your growing.

 

Recommendations:

General Potting Mix – A good general use potting mix is a loose and open mix comprised of ten (10) parts peat moss, ten (10) parts Ground pine or fir bark, and ten (5) parts perlite.  To this, I add one-half (1/2) part dry natural Humate.  This mix allows air to penetrate, holds water well, is light weight, and provides a good basic environment for your plant roots to grow and prosper.

 Peat Moss – I use Florida Peat Moss because it takes less biofuel to get it to my location. There are many other good Moss sources; use the one closest to you.

 Fine pine and/or Fir Bark – This is available in most garden centers.

 Perlite is an amorphous volcanic glass that when heated sufficiently it expands greatly making it light wieght and able to hold large quantities of water.

 Natural Humate - can supply many of the things needed for good soil health.  As an organic material it can furnish ‘Stabilized Organic Material’ that can help build soil structure by adding water retention to sand or by loosening clay up to where it will hold water. It can add ‘Beneficial Soil Biology’ and the food the biology needs to survive till it is established. In ‘Plant Nutrients’ by adding many trace elements in a plant friendly form. AgriPro  by TurfPro USA (www.turfprousa.com). is a 100% organic product that adds soil biology, food for the biology to live on and many trace elements.

 

Fertilizer and other amendments /additives:

 Fish hydrolysate fertilizer contains all the vitamins, proteins, amino acids, enzymes, growth hormones, and micro nutrients naturally found in whole fish. The nitrogen and other nutrients are chelated, so they are readily available for the plant's consumption. Hydrolysate Co of America, LLC (www.multibloom.com) produces a fresh water hydrolysate from farm raised catfish that meets most organic growing requirements.

 Natural Humates contain Humic and Fulvic acid, many trace elements and beneficial soil biology and food for the biology. They can lock up harmful chemical compounds in the soil and reduce them to less harmful substances. They can reduce your use of fertilizer by holding in till needed and reduce water usage because they can hold many times their weight water. Organic Products Company produces a dry product called AgriPro that I use in the potting mix. It is 67.7 % Humic acid and will act as a naturally agent to chelate (to make plant available) nitrogen.  They also make a liquid Humate products  that I use as a foliar spray and as a drench. Both are found on (www.turfprousa.com) .

 Kelp and other sea plants also contain relatively concentrated amounts of plant auxins, growth regulators and stimulants, such as indole-3-acetic acid (IAA), gibberellic acid and cytokinins. I use North Atlantic kelp by Maxicorp Seaweed ( www.maxicrop.co.uk/ ) that I get from a local hydroponics store.

 Other Organic Fertilizers besides fish hydrolysates come in a very wide range of products from blood meal to alfalfa meal. They very greatly in the amount of N-P-K they contain so you need to find which one fits your application and growing style.

 Compost Teas have can be very useful but, be careful of what is used in the tea brewing to avoid harmful pathogens plu they have a very limited shelf life.

 Worm Tea has many benefits and works well as a soil additive.

 Herb Teas are becoming very popular, especially for pest control with elements such as chamomile, yarrow tops, oak bard and stinging nettles, to name a few.

 Molasses can provide carbohydrates to feed soil biology, plus it is a good sticking agent.  It also is a good chelating agent and contains a number of essential elements.

 

When buying products for eco-friendly growing read labels carefully to make sure you are getting verified for organic growing products.

 

If you have any questions please contact jloepp@turfprousa.com  or call (407)340-7639

On-line sales contact www.ecofriendlyonline.com or call (407) 963-6001

                   

Intellectual property of J.R. Loepp - All rights Reserved   3/2009

 

Web Sites for Organic Growing:

 www.soilfoodweb.com

 www.attra.ncat.org/

 www.rodaleinstitute.org/

 www.verdant.net/food.htm

 

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