“I am starting a container garden for onions, potatoes, and carrots. I will be using the Black Gold potting mix plus fertilizer. Will I have to add any other product to the potting mix? Thank you.” Dennis of Thaxton, Virginia
Potted vegetables grow best in large containers filled with excellent potting soil, like our Black Gold mixes, and quality fertilizer formulated for vegetables. Be sure that the containers drain well, and keep them evenly moist. Full sun exposure is a requirement. This is about all that you need. Thin your carrot as they grow, and space your onions and potatoes well. I also recommend that you read these articles about growing edibles in containers. We have many, many more on the site.
Variety selection is also an important consideration. Some vegetable and fruit varieties are plumper and juicier than others, so make sure that you choose those that are described as being large, juicy, and flavorful. For example, go for big beefsteak tomatoes rather than standard tomatoes, and choose extra blocky pepper varieties rather than thinner-walled types. (Click here to learn more about growing prize beefsteak tomatoes.)
One more tip: Refrain from overwatering when fruits are nearly ripe. Excess water late in the fruiting stage can cause fruit splitting and water down the flavor. This is especially the case with tomatoes and melons.
My first spring salad pots were grown in large, inexpensive plastic containers that I bought from the garden center. I filled them with some Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix and added a little fertilizer. They performed so well that I couldn’t believe it. Just a few pots provided delicious salads through spring, so this year I decided to redo this year’s salad containers with a little more flair.
I took it up a notch by creating suites of well-paired greens and herbs for custom-made salad containers–one with an Asian theme, another French, and the last for the Italian palate. Large (18″ or 24″) pots are ideal for these plantings. This will ensure that you can plant enough vegetables in each pot to make several spring salad bowls. As I said, I planted mine in Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix, but this year I plan to try Black Gold Raised Bed & Planting Mix. Both mixes are OMRI Listed for organic gardening. My plant food of choice is a slow-release fertilizer for vegetable growing, though I often hit my plants with some water-soluble fertilizer a week after planting to help them take off.
About the blend – This is a two-pot salad mix because Chinese cabbages are bulky. I am confident that the outcome will be worthy of a very tasty sesame salad dressing. The crisp, flavorful Chinese cabbage will combine nicely with the mustardy kick of the mizuna, the mild green-onion flavor of the bunching scallions along with the crunchy, sweet taste and bright color of the red romaine.
Planting tips– I recommend filling one pot with three Chinese cabbage heads with a sprinkling of mizuna around the exterior. Another pot can contain the romaine with scallions planted along the side. Be sure to space the scallions 2-3 inches apart. I always start cabbage, scallions, and lettuce plants indoors several weeks before planting outdoors. I start the seeds in 4-inch pots under grow lights. (Click here for growing tips.) Then I acclimate my seedlings to cool spring temperatures in my enclosed back porch. Scallions are often tender and slender at planting time, so be gentle with them and don’t plant their bulbs too deeply. One-half inch is perfect. The mizuna is a mustard green that can directly be sown in the pots at the time when you plant your seedlings–generally in late March or early April in my USDA Hardiness Zone 7 garden.
About the blend -The sweetness of the snap peas and butter lettuce blend well with the slight heat of the fresh French breakfast radishes. Chervil is added to provide a fresh, slightly anise flavor–much like the flavor of fennel. Together they taste very excellent with a classic French dijon vinegarette. If you are not partial to uncooked snap peas, try blanching them for a minute and then immersing them in an ice-water bath.
Planting tips– I recommend three large pots for this salad blend–one for the peas (a tomato cage makes an easy pea trellis), one for the radishes, and one for the butter lettuce with two chervil plants on the side. It is best to start the chervil and lettuce indoors under grow lights, as recommended for the greens above. The radishes and peas can be directly sown in the pots. Surface-sow the radish seeds and cover them with 1/8 inch of potting mix. Plant them in circular rows 6 inches apart and then thin them to 3 inches apart after they have sprouted. The peas should be planted in a circle at a distance of 3 inches apart and 1 inch below the soil surface. Time everything well, keeping in mind that the peas and greens need more time than the fast-growing radishes.
About the blend – The bitter bite of the chicory tastes nice with the sweet crunch of the romaine lettuce and sweetness of the baby beets. Chioggia beets are candy-striped with red and white bands inside, so they are as beautiful as they are delicious. The three taste very good with honey balsamic vinegarette and shaving of Parmesan cheese.
Planting tips– Two large pots are sufficient for this salad blend–one for the chicory and romaine lettuce, and one for the beets. The lettuce and chicory can be started as seedlings indoors, using the same recommendations for the two previous gardens. The beets should be directly sown in the pots. Keep in mind that the beets may germinate more slowly in cool weather, so you may want to plant them a week earlier than recommended on the packet.
To learn more about great lettuce varieties, please watch this helpful video!
“Are hybrids better than the real thing?” Question from Dave of Springfield, Massachusetts
Answer: There is a simple and more complex answer to this question. The simple answer is that they often are better. Hybrids exist in the wild, as well as in the nurseries of plant breeders, and they often exhibit something called ‘hybrid vigor, outbreeding enhancement, or heterosis. Plants with hybrid vigor have an edge because they have inherited positive traits from both parents. It is equally important to understand that plant genetics are complex, and you do not automatically get hybrid vigor by crossing two species that are able to interbreed. Different plants genetically express themselves in distinct ways, and some show heterosis more than others. Those plants and crops that commonly show hybrid vigor, express increases in productivity, plant uniformity, and overall vigor. Hybrid breeding methods are particularly useful in these crops: beets, broccoli, corn, peppers, rice, spinach, sunflowers, tomatoes, and watermelon as well as many common flowers.
Modern Crops and Human Intervention
It is also important to understand that when it comes to common, coveted garden vegetables, crop plants, and flowers valued by humans, there is no “real thing” in the garden–meaning these plants have been changed by humans to the point where garden varieties do not exist in the wild. Here are four good examples.
Corn has been selected over thousands of years by man and has never existed in the wild as corn (click here to learn more).
Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, and kale are all the same species, Brassica oleracea, an edible leafy plant from Eurasia. The widely different garden forms are all a product of selection and hybridization by humans.
Wild apples, and those selected over thousands of years by humans, bear little resemblance to one another.
The same trends can be applied to popular garden flowers, ancient or new, such as roses (Rosa hybrids, selected for thousands of years), dahlias (Dahlia hybrids, selected since Aztec times), and the more recent coneflower (Echinacea hybrids).
Old and New Hybrids
Some garden varieties are old heirlooms selected over generations, while others are products of new hybridization and selection efforts. But consistently, where people have had a hand, you will find plants with bigger, tastier, more colorful fruits produced in higher quantities on plants that make harvesting easier, or you will find bigger, prettier flowers produced in greater quantities on well-branched plants.
The greatest hybridization efforts of this and the last century have worked to battle common diseases and pest susceptibilities in plants. These hybrid traits are especially important because they help to feed the world more efficiently without the need for harmful pesticides, fungicides, etc.
“Why should I continue to use Black Gold products for my indoor gardening projects, rather than switching entirely to hydroponics?” Question from Vicki of Brownsburg, Indiana
Answer: It depends on your home, budget, and goals, but I favor soil growing for lots of reasons. Either way, both methods have value. To help you make up your own mind, here are the plusses and minuses of growing in pots versus home hydroponic growing.
“Is it possible to grow any vegetables indoors in a sunny room with a grow light? I live in NE PA and we have long cold winters. I would love to grow veggies over the winter. I have a room that I think would work.” Question from Melanie or Susquehanna, Pennsylvania
Answer: What a nice space! You can certainly grow container vegetables in your bright, sunny room. It offers so much natural sunlight that only some supplemental grow lights will be needed, if any. Vegetables will grow best in the sunniest window. A south-facing exposure is optimal.
“Why does the soil in my container garden compact super tight? I use garden soil mixed with potting mix and perlite.” Question from Nell of Salem, Indiana
Answer: It sounds like your soil ratios are off, and your in-ground soil is high in clay. If you have not added the right amount of Black Gold amendment or potting soil to clay-rich ground soil, then compaction can be a problem. This is because clay-rich soil has very small particles and becomes compacted very easily. When you add organic matter, such as the peat moss and aged bark found in our potting soil, it lifts the soil, making it more porous and aerated, while allowing it to hold water better. Mineral ingredients, like perlite, also increase aeration and drainage.
“My raised bed gardens were a disaster this year! Mildew, cabbage worms, rodents – even though I thought I had great organic soil mix and high enough barriers. What can I do this fall to get a great start next spring?” Question from Glenda of Sewell, New Jersey
Answer: I am sorry to hear that your vegetable garden was a downer this year. Different pests and diseases need to be dealt with in different ways. Here are some recommendations and resources.
Ways to Ward Off Vegetable Garden Pests and Disease
Clean up. The best way to ward off pests and diseases is to remove all plant material from your vegetable garden in fall and do the same in early spring when winter weeds abound. It removes the overwintering eggs of some pests as well as plant-borne diseases.
Plan for pests: If your cabbages have had cabbage worms in the past, expect the worms to return. Apply pre-emptive applications of safe, OMRI Listed BT spray to stop them in their tracks. By learning the life cycles of different pests that have plagued your garden in the past, you can plan precise strikes with the correct pesticides.
Give your plants a good head start. Choose (or raise) the healthiest plants you can. Large, robust seedlings have a greater chance of resisting pests and diseases and producing high yields. If growing plants from seed, be sure to give your seedlings plenty of light and room to develop stout, dense growth, and ample root systems. (Click here for seed-starting tips.)
I hope these tips help. You may also want to watch the video about overcoming powdery mildew below.
“Which vegetables will tolerate some shade?” Question from Trish of Newton, New Jersey
Answer: There are some vegetables and herbs that will tolerate some shade in the day, but most will not. Those tolerant of the partial sun are greens, such as lettuce, arugula, kale, and some herbs, such as lemon balm and sweet woodruff.
Berries, such as lowbush and tallbush blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) and woodland strawberries (Fragaria vesca) will also tolerate shade. In fact, both naturally grow in forest openings and are an excellent crop for spots with a little shade. Currants and gooseberries (Ribes spp.), raspberries (Rubus spp.), and elderberries (Sambucus spp.) will also tolerate partial shade conditions. With that said, maybe what you need is a berry patch!
Most other vegetables need a minimum of 6 hours of strong direct sunlight when growing most other vegetables, especially tomatoes, peppers, squash, corn, and others that need lots of sun to produce. More sun is always better. Clearing away some of your larger tree branches might help offer more light for a sunnier vegetable patch.
“What are the best fruits and vegetables to grow in Central Florida?” Question from Sherry of Silver Springs, Florida
Answer: Other than northern fruit trees and berries and a few other crops that require cold winters and droop in hot weather, you can grow most fruits and vegetables in Central Florida. We have many articles that cover some of the best fruits and vegetables for your area. Here are some of our favorites.