My patio farm diary, the back forty square feet
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on November 8, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
Tomatoes, grape tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers and Roma beans--these are the vegetables I chose for my patio farm this year. It was quite a bit more ambitious than last year when I had the ubiquitous tomatoes and cukes, and tried mini cantaloupe as an experiment. Click on any of the highlighted words for links to more information.
The self-watering planter (26-by19-inches) from Gardener's Supply wa my container of choice. There are other, similar planters, such as Earthbox® and homemade clones which would probably work just as well. Rolling carts are available as an accessory to my planters, so I have several of them raised up to table height to make watering and picking easier for me. This is an excellent option for handicapped individuals to explore.
Tomatoes. I have been a fan of 'Park's Whopper®' tomatoes for years; they are large and meaty. These surpassed my expectations. I tried a tip I read and added a calcium-based antacid tablet (such as Tums®) and a tablespoon of epsom salts to a gallon of water before watering several times during the season. The calcium helps prevent blossom-end rot (I had very little) and also sweetens the fruit. The tomatoes were sweet, very solid and heavy, with a beautiful shape. With just two plants together in one planter I had a real bounty. I wish I had weighed them as they came in.
|at planting - 6/3/08||1 month - 7/3/08||2 months - 7/31/08|
Grape Tomatoes: In a swap last winter I was sent grape tomato seeds of a variety called 'Sugary'. How could you not want to grow these. I had a Down Under Pot® that I wanted to use for something and I read everywhere about growing tomatoes upside down. Seemed like a match made in heaven. Not so. The plant was growing well but I hadn't turned it upside down because I was agonizing over where to hang it (lots of sun, not too much wind). While it was sitting on the patio the wind broke off two branches full of green fruit. It was difficult to water because I was watering from the 'wrong end.' I stuck one of the broken branches in the pepper container to see if it would root and it did. So where you would ordinarily have a bucketful of bright red 'grapes,' there have been only a few here and there for a salad. On the plus side, I had a volunteer of last years's grape tomato, 'Cupid', pop up in the stones by my pool (no soil, just river rock with a weed barrier underneath). Although it has not been a prolific bearer like it was last year when it was planted in one of the grow boxes, it did pretty well considering the circumstances. All in all, not much of a yield, but not a total bust either.
|Comparison||'Sugary' in the pot||'Sugary' fruit on the vine|
|'Cupid' volunteer||'Cupid' closeup||'Cupid' fruit|
Cucumbers: I have grown Park's Whopper® cucumbers before, mostly because of the success of the tomatoes. So I decided to try the bush type in my container. Any bush-type cuke should do well in a container because the vines are much shorter than a standard cucumber. I would NOT recommend trying to grow regular cucumbers in a container. My biggest problem with cucumbers has always been disease. I'm no expert on vegetable plant diseases, but the vines get some kind of mildew, turn crispy, and stop producing. My preference is very much for the organic, so I chose VeggiePharm and began a spraying program early. I was not diligent about it and still had some disease, but I did get a much extended season from what I usually get. All vegetables were sprayed. There were two vines in the container and they were such great producers I thought I would make refrigerator pickles. By the time I borrowed a mandoline to do the slicing the huge pile had all been eaten.
|at planting - 6/6/08||1 month - 7/8/08||2 months - 8/5/08|
|first one curled||beautiful and straight||ready to eat|
Peppers: Park's also has a Whopper bell pepper and you might as well stick with what works. Actually, I wasn't planning on growing peppers this year, but I got some 'Whopper' pepper seeds in a seed swap here at Dave's Garden so I decided to go ahead with a few. This is probably a good time to mention that I grow most of my own plants from seed. I did winter sow some tomatoes successfully last season, but this year I started all of my seedlings in the house under lights. Peppers, any kind, do nicely with four plants in one container. I've always had good luck growing peppers... no problems with disease or insects. It was much the same this year. There was a bit of mildew but that cleared up with the spraying. I was interested to see how the fruit would turn out from seed collected from a hybrid pepper. Very often, seed from a hybrid plant does not come true to the parent. Well, the fruit was similar to a 'Whopper', but smaller and with thinner walls. Considering the plants were pretty much free, except for a bit of soil and fertilizer, I can't complain. The yield was good. As an experiment, I removed the flowers and tiny peppers from two of the plants when I set them out. Theoretically, the plant can concentrate on developing a good root system and a larger, stronger plant. There was no noticeable difference between the plants that were 'snipped' and the other two. Leftover peppers were halved, seeded and frozen in a freezer-type zipper bag.
|at planting - 6/6/08||2 months - 8/5/08||1st red pepper|
|first pepper picked - 7/28/08||getting crowded||ready for freezing|
Roma beans: 'Marconi' is a variety of wide, flat Italian green beans, purchased from Italian Seed and Tool. Cultivation is the same as for any green bean. Beans are direct sown and I did two rows spacing the beans about 2 inches apart. The original tower I made out of bamboo poles for the beans to climb was quickly blown over because the soil was not deep enough to give something this heavy a good anchor. I switched to a tomato cage. The cage was definitely not tall enough and the vines spilled all over the place, but it was all I had available when the bamboo washed out. For several weeks I was able to pick enough to serve two people every other day. It slowed down after that and the vines began to show signs of disease in spite of the spraying. New branching continued to produce some beans. We had eaten our fill by that time, but it left none for the freezer.
|On planting - 6/6/08||1 month - 7/8/08||2 months - 8/5/08|
|Bean blossom||1st beans on the vine||1st harvest|
Experiment? Corn: There was one container left, so on a whim I picked up a pack of 'Early Choice' hybrid sweet corn seeds. I know it's possible to grow corn in containers because I've seen pictures and read about it. I grew corn in the ground years ago with mixed results. The biggest problem was always lack of pollination. If you have a block of corn 4 feet by 4 feet, the ears on the outside of the block are almost always inferior. So in a small area like this container I wasn't sure how to solve the problem. The method I used was to brush pollen from the tassel of each plant over the silks on the other plants. Maybe it would have worked if I had done more of it. Maybe the pollen needs to be shaken onto the silks. Corn is not pollinated by bees or other insects, but by the wind. More reading for me this winter. This corn was a total flop. It's sad, too, because each stalk had two or three ears with beautiful red silk... such great potential.
|Seedlings - 6/10/08||1 month - 7/8/08||2 months - 8/5/08|
|Red silk||Basket of ears||Ear with 3 pollinated kernals|
|Down on the farm|
 See my previous article 'Grow Mini Cantalope On Your Patio? Sure You Can!'
 For more information on gardening in this type of box, try the Self-Contained Box Gardens Forum here at Dave's Garden
 Super Solutions, Jerry Baker, special free issue, page 3
 See my previous article 'A Tale of Some Travelling Seeds'