Become a Container Gardener  –  Impressed by the work of some local farmers that I’d met earlier this year, I decided to debut my green thumb. After just a few short weeks of nurturing the tomatoes and peppers that I’d carefully selected, my veggies started to slump and ultimately die. Cause of death: over-watering that caused the roots to decay—a mistake commonly made by overzealous new gardeners. I learned my green thumb wasn’t as green as I'd assumed.

My pride was hurt, and I also became intimidated by the task. However, in March after hearing United States First Lady Michelle Obama’s reason for digging up the White House’s majestic south lawn, I regained some confidence to try again. The First Lady shared how easy it is for children to appreciate the good nutrition of vegetables if they are a part of the growing process.

More importantly, homegrown vegetables allow health-conscious eaters to have control over the types of food they produce as well as avoid the use of pesticides and other chemicals used on large commercial farms. Ultimately, spending a weekend setting up a backyard garden or even a container garden can save you a few dollars at the supermarket by growing your own tomatoes, peppers, herbs or even fruits.

If you aren’t sure about starting a garden from scratch, you can visit the Department of Agriculture’s nursery. There, you can purchase a variety of plants and seedlings that grow well in our climate. These plants have already produced young shoots, and you would primarily be responsible for watering (gently) and repotting them as they grow bigger.  Garden stores in the Virgin Islands also sell sprouting kits for just under $20. So far, I’ve learned it is easy to produce broccoli, radishes, cress and other spouts. It only takes about a week after watering seeds to begin enjoying the taste of some planted foods. 

If you do not have any land to work with, don’t worry. You, too, can be a productive gardener. Container gardens allow you to grow food in garden pots that can be placed on windowsills, porches, balconies, walkways or even your roof. A container garden can be a small pot of herbs or a large 2’ diameter by 1.5’ high garden pot. Follow this step-by-step guide to container gardening and you too can begin to enjoy the vegetables of your labour.


Select your vegetables
Select vegetables that you know you will enjoy and help reduce your weekly expense at the supermarket. Consider what you buy each week. If you’re unsure and need suggestions, try tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and carrots. Mint is a good herb to grow for salads, teas and mojitos.

Select the right planter
All herbs and vegetables will grow well in five-gallon pots. Salad greens have shallow roots and can be grown in pots of just six to eight inches in depth. Make sure the pot has good drainage holes at the bottom.

Add soil to your container
It is best to use lightweight soil that holds moisture well. Garden stores sell good brands of potting mix that can be combined with most hillside soil. It is important to properly mix the soil before planting. Soils can be reused after vegetables have been harvested, but make sure you add a soil booster to replenish nutrients. 

Plant vegetables in your container garden
If you get seedlings from the Agriculture Department, the nursery worker will give you advice on when to re-pot them. It’s important not to plant seedlings in a too large pot.  If you are starting from scratch, carefully follow the directions of the seed package. After planting your seeds, lightly mist soil and cover the pot with plastic wrap to retain moisture and warmth. Keep the soil moist at all times. When the seeds sprout, remove the plastic cover but continue to water very gently.

Vegetables should be watered daily and fertilised on a regular basis. Fertiliser replenishes the nutrients that plants need and that are washed away every time you water your containers. Look for good organic fertilisers that are recommended especially for container gardening and fertilise according to the package directions.

Ensure your drainage holes are free flowing at the bottom of the pot. Elevate planters to allow drainage and to protect surfaces.

Give your vegetables lots of sunshine and love.
Vegetables need about six hours of sunlight daily. This is a good reason why small container gardens should be placed on windowsills. Windowsills usually have lots of sunlight and are often near a watering source, such as a kitchen sink, which makes it easy to remember to hydrate plants.

If you decide on a large potted garden and place it outdoors, be mindful of roaming animals that might enjoy your vegetables just as much as you. You can use chicken wire to fence around your garden to protect it.

Container gardens are fairly low maintenance. If you have children, container gardens are a great and simple way to teach them about nutrition as well as develop a hobby. Having the responsibility of a garden can instil a sense of responsibility and pride once they begin to see their work bloom.

Once you’ve followed these instructions, have a little bit of patience and pay close attention to watering your garden. Soon you will begin to reap the benefits of your work.