Container gardening simply means growing things, in this case edibles, in pots or other containers instead of directly in the ground. You'll need a porch, deck or yard with a sunny exposure for a good part of the day, containers and a fortified soil mix to successfully grow herbs and vegetables from seed or from store-bought bedding plants.
There are many books on container gardening, but one of the best providers of easy-to-use information on container gardening can be found on the Internet at www.containerveggies.com. The author, Lionel Oliver II, is an enthusiast who's come up with a system that's both easy and logical. The secret is his soil mix: two parts plain potting soil (make sure it has no added chemical fertilizers) plus one part sphagnum peat moss plus organic fertilizer. (Note: Many ecologically minded gardeners are opposed to the use of sphagnum peat moss in home gardening because of the industry's overzealous harvesting of forest peat, but Oliver argues that the small amount you will use gardening in containers won't aggravate the problem.)
The organic fertilizer formula for containers is simply one part dehydrated, granulated garden manure plus one part bone meal. Dehydrated manure can be found in most garden centers and is odorless. This mixture is added to the soil and peat mix as follows: If you're making a lot, add 1 part fertilizer to 25 parts planting mix. If you're adding it on a per case basis, add one heaping tablespoon per 3 inches of potting mix, or 4 tablespoons per 12-inch pot. Always mix the fertilizer into the soil before planting. So for one 12-inch pot, ideal for a tomato plant, you'd need a mix of 2 parts plain potting soil, 1 part sphagnum peat moss and 4 tablespoons pre-mixed organic fertilizer, mixed thoroughly before planting.
Conventional gardening wisdom argues that growing herbs from seed is too difficult to be time or cost efficient. Not so, says Oliver. If planted correctly, dill, cilantro, fennel, basil, summer savory, tarragon and sweet basil are fast growers that sprout well. Use half the amount of fertilizer recommended for established plants (see above), plant small seeds close to the top, cover with fine dust and water with a fine mist from a spray water bottle until seedlings are established. When seedlings are fully established, transfer to a larger container for harvesting all summer long, then bring inside when the weather turns cold in the fall. A long window box is good for a mixed container of herb plants.
To successfully grow container tomatoes, follow these simple rules:
Start with a healthy, established seedling transplanted into a 12- to 14-inch black plastic pot (holds heat well).
Give your tomato containers plenty of sunshine (they're actually a tropical fruit -- they like it hot!), and water them thoroughly and often. In hot weather, set the pot in a pan filled with water for constant absorption. Make sure your pot has large, side drainage holes for sucking up water.
When transplanting the seedling to a larger pot, cover one-third of the stem in soil. Roots will grow out of the buried part of the stem.
Stake the central stem when it grows tall -- simply tie it to a stick mounted in the middle of the pot.
Harvest regularly to stimulate more production.
Feed with a manure tea (1/3 cup dehydrated manure in a sock, seeped in one gallon of water until the water turns the color of manure. Dilute one cup of the tea to one gallon of water, and water plants with it once every two to three weeks, especially when veggies are starting to form. You'll need to make the tea fresh each time or it'll begin to stink.)
Be sure to check out Oliver's method for growing radishes in a shoe box. It's the perfect crop for first-time vegetable gardeners.