What to do with a lone strawberry plant leftover from another soon-to-be-revealed project, a small flat of red violas ($3.50 for 16 plants!), and an old coffee canister that was thrifted as part of a 70s era fake woodgrain 4 part kitchen canister set?
Put them together!
I figure the red viola flowers will look great alongside the red strawberries and everything is edible. I poked holes in the bottom of the canister using a large, and very dangerous nail left behind by the dudes who installed new gutters on our building, filled the new “pot” with container soil, and mulched the top using shards from a terracotta pot that broke in transit — nothing is wasted! And to think I used to smirk at my grandmother’s tendancy to hourd Swiss Chalet containers and plastic bread ties — there was a lot of useful crap in those drawers!
It’s been about a week since I planted this up and I’ve already got little strawberries forming and new flowers in bloom.
Total cost about $2.
I’ve long held the belief that there are no green thumbs or black thumbs and that gardening is a process of learning and discovery with no peak or end goal. You can garden like a maniac your entire life and never know everything there is to be known. In fact I would say that the more I learn the less I realize I know. That sounds intimidating but it’s one aspect of this hobby/lifestyle that is most rewarding and optimistic. And knowing that you can’t possibly know everything there is to know should help to take some of the pressure off.
That said, I can say with absolute certainty that all gardeners have their weaknesses — there is always that one plant, that dirty little secret whose riddle just can’t be cracked. Mine used to be radishes. I know exactly how to grow them and if you had asked me I would have been able to explain exactly what they need without flinching. But when it came down to it I grew a pretty awful radish. I wrote about my radish problem in the You Grow Girl book because I wanted people to know that they should not give up on those embarassing failures and that it is sometimes one thing to understand what a plant needs on an intellectual level and another thing to apply that knowledge to a real plant.
And then low and behold, just last year I managed to grow my first crop of good container-grown radishes! And today, for a second year running, I have harvested my first tasty, crisp, not-at-all-woody container-grown radishes of the season. Woot! I’ve come to think that my radish mistake probably came down to my own insanely stubborn insistance on growing a variety that just couldn’t take the extra heat and drought on the deck. Again this was one of those instances where I KNEW what I should have been growing and had even appropriately advised many aspiring radish growers while stubbornly soldiering on in the wrong direction in my own garden.
I have a great deal to tell you about the gardening I have been doing over the past weeks. But before I can do that the marginally anal retentive side of me demands that I address my appearance on The National last night. The segment was arranged at the last minute and we had not yet done our seasonal clean-up so there was winter junk strewn about. I had hoped the camera guy could do some “creative” in-camera editing but knew that probably wasn’t the case since he was using a very wide lens. When he walked over to the far end of the deck to take shots of the whole thing I knew my dirty secret was blown and that viewers across Canada would see that sometimes my little rooftop oasis looks like crap! And I imagined that they watched the segment and thought to themselves why go to the trouble when it looks so awful.
In an effort to ever-so-slightly redeem myself in the eyes of the world I present to you photographic evidence that a rooftop container garden IS a beautiful thing.
You can see lots more pictures taken of the rooftop garden over the years on my Flickr account.
Since I have begun talking about seeds and showing photos of my little seedlings, people have been writing in to ask me what I’m growing. I have been purposefully avoiding saying too much about my choices this year because a large number of the varieties I am growing are new-to-me. I have a tendency to avoid promoting anything until I am certain I like it.
Because so many of you are looking for some direction in making your seed choices, I thought I’d put together a list of varieties I do love. I set out to give a general overview of vegetables and discovered that a post about tomatoes alone was much too long. So I’m beginning with the plant we are all most eager to get growing and will follow up in the future with other edibles. Note that all varieties are open-pollinated heirloom varieties unless indicated.
Tomatoes for Containers
Most of these tomatoes are determinates (aka the bushing tomatoes). Keep in mind that some determinates can grow to be a few feet tall, requiring containers that are at least a foot and a half deep.
Sunrise III growing in a broken watering can.
- Black Seaman – A fantastic, early, black heirloom that does well in mid-sized containers, producing good-sized tomatoes. Read my full review here.
- ‘Silver Fir Tree’ – Another mid-sized determinate with fist-sized, red fruit. Most tomato plants themselves are a bit boring but this variety is particularly stunning with ferny, delicate foliage that sometimes takes on a slight silver tone. This was my first favourite determinate until ‘Black Seaman’ came along and knocked it back to second. Keep in mind that I am a huge fan of black tomatoes — no red variety can ever compare!
- ‘Golden Delight’ – Another mid-sized determinate with good-sized fruit. I was not in love with this variety and wouldn’t grow it again but I am also biased since I am not a fan of low-acid, yellow tomatoes. I grew mine in a large metal bucket surrounded by ‘Purple Ruffles’ basil.
- ‘Sunrise III’ – Probably the only hybrid I will ever promote, we fell in love with this variety’s cute egg shape and delicious, juicy flavor. This is a true determinate that is prolific, with a low bush habit that cascades a little over the edges of a 12″ pot. I have taken to growing mine in a broken watering can.
- ‘Black Plum’ – With rich plum-shaped fruit that carry an almost roasted flavour straight off the vine, this is my absolute favourite plum variety hands-down. No contest. Regardless of space, I ALWAYS make room for at least one ‘Black Plum’ plant. While this is an indeterminate (vining tomato), I have included it here because I have always had such great success with it in very large garbage bins. Some indeterminate varieties put out a much smaller batch of fruit when grown in even the largest bins, but ‘Black Plum’ has always stepped up to the plate with a good harvest.
- ‘Green Sausage’ – If you love ‘Green Zebra’, you’ll love ‘Green Sausage.’ This variety produces a ton of really pretty, stripey, elongated fruits that are good for sauces and chutneys. I have grown them as an experiment but will never grow them again since I am one of the few who do not like green tomatoes, period.
- ‘Principe Borghese’ – I would consider this a large determinate variety. I grew this in the same garbage bins I use for indeterminate plants and would not suggest something smaller. It was very prolific producing lots of small, red fruit that are supposed to be good for sun drying. We opted for oven drying and were not disappointed.
These are the vining type. They can be grown in containers just be sure to use the biggest container you can find — I use garbage bins — growing one tomato plant per container only! Growing a few basil plants around the edges will use up that extra surface space.
- Black Pear – Last year’s new favourite. Mine were not terribly prolific in containers. I would suggest growing in-ground if you can. See what it looks like inside.
- ‘Black Krim’ or ‘Cherokee Purple’ – I can’t tell the difference between these two black varieties and have taken to thinking of them as interchangeable. I am still sitting on the fence as to whether I prefer them to new-comer ‘Black Pear.’
- ‘Purple Prince’ – I don’t want this to become the black tomato show, but I wanted to throw in one more variety that could not be left off the list. Also known as ‘Black Prince’, this variety has been successful in large bins and produces very round, dense fruit that are delicious on sandwiches. The squirrels love it so it must be good!
- ‘Broad Ripple Yellow Currant’ – Proof positive that large tomatoes don’t always grow on large plants and vice-versa. This large, trailing plant produces the cutest, tiniest, translucent tomatoes that are low-acid yet deliciously sweet and juicy — perfect for popping in your mouth while walking around the garden. And because I love a good story, it is very hard to resist a variety that was discovered growing in a sidewalk crack. A true urban heirloom. If it can grow there, it can grow anywhere!
- ‘Black Cherry’ – I really liked this cherry variety but found it did not produce well in even the largest containers. I will likely grow this in-ground at my community plot in the future. The future being this year of course. I was interested to note that what were tiny, round, cherry-sized fruit were much larger on Amy’s plants. She either has super soil, or got the wrong variety. They looked a lot alike with the same translucent skin, it’s just that hers were much larger!
More Tomato Reviews:
I could go on and on for days since there are so many amazing heirlooms around, with access to a growing number of varieties getting easier every year. Deciding on what to start from seed was particularly difficult for me this year.
Okay so the succulents are half-dead and it’s actually a corny window display for a glasses store but this shallow Plexiglas planter box found while walking through Portland, Oregon is at heart a good idea. Shallow-rooted succulents like hens and chicks would do well in a container like this — the store owner just didn’t realize that easy-care doesn’t mean, “Ignore it and it will take care of itself.”
I’m not 100% positive as to how this was made but my guess would be that the maker very simply glued together some cut pieces of Plexiglas with water-proof silicone. You would need to apply the silicone both inside and outside of the seams to seal it tight.
The biggest issue with a project like this is the lack of drainage which can be easily fixed by drilling a few holes in the bottom. Or if you’re growing indoors where water dripping all over the place is a teeny, tiny problem then you can put some aquarium gravel in the bottom as a reservoir and take care not to overdo it when watering.