Living in Seattle is wonderful. There are mountains and water in every direction. Each neighborhood has its own charm and I am constantly surrounded by inspiring smart people. The only bad thing is my permaculture garden is 55 miles away! I am often caught at 8:00pm on a Sunday evening cramming my car with as much fresh produce, herbs and eggs that can fit. I love Olympia and am lucky to farm there. However, if I were to grow food in Seattle, then my approach would be different. I would still implement permaculture, but on a much smaller scale. Container gardening can be as fruitful as a garden plot; you just need to be creative. Here are my tips for maximizing your container garden in the city.
Plants need three things in order to grow: soil, water and sun. The first thing you need to consider when planting a container garden is soil. Soil commonly has four horizons (often times more but for the sake of a 101 blog post, lets use four). The four horizons from top to bottom are the O, A, B and C horizons. The C horizon is called parent material which is often solid bedrock. The O horizon is the organic humus layer that has decomposing leaves, sticks, and other organic material. The A & B horizons are in between bedrock and decomposing matter. It is also important to note that 47% of the Earth’s crust is oxygen so having bugs, rocks, and critters that allow soil to be porous and oxygenated is ideal. Obviously you won’t have moles in your container garden but we’ll cover that later ;)
When filling the container with soil, try to mimic Earths perfect plan. Rocks on the bottom, river rocks or gravel should work. Just be mindful of where you gather your materials - the street would not be a good option. After that add a bag or two of high quality regular potting soil, and then for the top layer add the best compost you can get. Minerals and nutrients are often flushed out of container gardens quickly so you want to make sure the soil is top-notch. I am consistently adding organic material to the top layer of my soil. Clean grass clippings (no dog poop), egg shells, oyster shells, and leaf litter are a great way to bring in organic slow release nutrients.
Because growing tomatoes is a great joy in my life, I am going to assume everyone will have two containers to garden and one of them exclusively for tomatoes :) This also leads into my next consideration which is plant allies. In nature, certain plants are always growing next to each other. This is because the plants are allies and grow better together. Whether they require different nutrients to grow, take up different space (long root, vs. large tree) or deter the pest that threatens the other, the plants have a symbiotic relationship. You can mimic these relationships in your container garden too! Tomatoes need space because they have a lot of growing potential. They grow up so adding a root among the tomatoes is a great way to maximize space. Carrots and garlic would be a good option. Basil would also be a good addition as it prevents mildew which tomatoes are often susceptible to.
The second container should have your trailing plants. You can try cucumbers, zucchini and nasturtiums. The idea would be for the plant to trail down the side of the container which you initially might need to encourage but the plant will happily abide. In the middle of the container is a good place for a trellis where you could plant beans and peas (both are nitrogen fixers)! Peas and cucumbers are allies and so are beats and beans. You could easily have a container garden that thrives with cucumbers, beats, beans, peas and even nasturtiums which will attract beneficial insects! This is maximizing space, nutrients, and harvest time.
Once your container garden is all set up it will be important to fertilize. I like to use Black Lake Organic Sea-Crop . You simply add it to your watering can (maybe once every two weeks) and water the plants. I also ALWAYS follow the biodynamic planting calendar. While biodynamic farming is much more than following the moon cycles, I’ve experienced bigger healthier harvests when I plant and harvest my root vegetables on a root day. It's super easy to follow and fun to observe how the moon is impacting the plants. You can get your own calendar here.
I hope these tips help you grow an abundance of healthy food all summer long!
Are you planting a garden this Spring? Are you using permaculture to make life easier?