A Southern Girl Needs Her Greens

Strangely, though Austria offers perfect green-growing weather, they are just not that into greens here. I see fresh spinach sometimes, and less frequently, small bunches of kale or chard, but no great big bunches of collards, mustard or turnip greens like I could buy even in Giant Food back home.

So, I’m growing greens on the terrace. Along with a few other goodies. Everything is doing pretty well, except for the catnip, which the cat killed by eating it!

My terrace faces southwest, and provides a nice sheltered, sunny spot for growing things. I’d like to grow more, actually, but I’m short on big containers. I’m considering the plastic bag method to add some more growing space.

How easy was this project? Super easy!

Buy or scrounge some large plant containers, or create containers by drilling holes in the bottom of anything plant-pot-shaped. The decorative canisters shown in the photos were re-purposed for plant pots, along with the square bin that I picked up at the thrift store.  In DC I just used clearance storage bins from Home Depot.

Recruit a big, strong person to help you bring home a bunch of garden soil. You don’t need anything fancy. My plants are doing fine in the cheapest garden soil they had at the hardware store.

Put a couple of inches of cheap gravel or Styrofoam packing peanuts in the bottom of each container to keep the drainage holes from getting blocked and the plant roots from rotting in wet soil.

Fill the planters with dirt and either sow seeds or transplant vegetables and herbs. Most of my stuff is grown from seed just because it’s cheaper and I don’t mind waiting a little longer for my tomatoes.

Do pay some attention to the climate when choosing what to grow. In DC, I grew okra, for example. I don’t think it would be hot enough for that here. But it’s great for growing the green leafy vegetables that had a hard time in the DC heat. There, I grew greens in partial shade for protection. Here, they are fine out in the full sun.

Water the plants whenever the soil feels dry. In very hot weather, this will probably be once a day. Otherwise, probably every 2-3 days. Water deeply and thoroughly, preferably in the morning so the plant leaves can dry off quickly, discouraging mildew.

Thin out the plants when they develop their second set of leaves–you can use the baby greens in salad when you thin them out. You don’t need to thin them to the distance it says on the seed packages though. In the controlled environment of a plant container, you can grow vegetables much closer together than in a garden. I have five bush bean plants in an 18″ square container, for example. I’ve done this before, and I know they will be fine.

Stake or cage climbing plants when they are about a foot tall. If you can’t find cages locally, make teepees using sticks. Loosely tie the plants to the stakes with old pantyhose or anything else that will dry out quickly and not cause the stem to rot.

When the plants start to fruit, feed them with a weak solution of all-purpose plant food, or top-dress with compost. I don’t have a compost bin here (alas!) but I do intend to collect a bucket of coffee grounds in the kitchen to give my veggies a snack later in the season.

Remember that you can grow more than one crop of many plants in a year. It’s a good idea to alternate containers if you do. When my beans are done, for example, I’ll plant lettuce or chard in that container for the fall crop. When my current batch of chard is ready, I’ll plant beans in that container.

That’s about it, really. Easy plants to grow in containers include any kind of greens, bush beans, cherry tomatoes, and squash (yellow crookneck or zucchini). Look for “dwarf” or “compact” varieties. Basil and parsley are easy to grow from seed.

Once you have made your own pesto with your own basil, fresh from the garden, or put cherry tomatoes on a salad right off the vine, you will be hooked for life. Garden on!

Probably the only mess of mustard greens in Austria.
Probably the only mess of mustard greens in Austria.
Bush beans.
Bush beans.
Tomatoes (yes, very late) and purple basil.
Tomatoes (yes, very late) and purple basil.
Chili peppers.
Chili peppers.
Eggplant, more purple basil, and rainbow chard.
Eggplant, more purple basil, and rainbow chard.
The big picture--lucky for me, this terrace faces southwest.
The big picture–lucky for me, this terrace faces southwest.
Strawberries.  OK, we are probably going to get about a dozen strawberries (if the birds don't get to them first) but I wanted to try out my strawberry pot.
Strawberries. OK, we are probably going to get about a dozen strawberries (if the birds don’t get to them first) but I wanted to try out my strawberry pot.
Flowers, gnomes and a birdbath.  I have a couple of feeders hanging above the flowers that the little birds have discovered.  Great fun for the cat!
Flowers, gnomes and a birdbath. I have a couple of feeders hanging above the flowers that the little birds have discovered. Great fun for the cat!
"Curry" which has nothing to do with curry, and thyme.  I also have parsley and a big pot of Italian basil growing for pesto.
“Curry” which has nothing to do with curry, and thyme. I also have parsley and a big pot of Italian basil growing for pesto.
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3 comments

  1. I am so proud of you for growing all those plants in a limited amount of soil! Just shows what you can do when you are willing to try–and use what you have at hand! Reminds me of my little plantings when I was in the 4-H club so long ago. Though I did not use pots, I used a little corner of the big veggie garden for my own–and even grew asparagus.–Nanny

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