Once the stuff I ordered comes in the mail I will add pictures. There are no affiliate links in this post.
As promised, here is how to get started patio gardening. Ingredients: several 1-gallon and 2-gallon pots, drip trays, river rocks or bricks to prop up the pots on for better air circulation (optional), Promix organic potting soil, seeds, Espoma organic fertilizer. A kitchen spoon and several one-gallon water jugs should also be helpful. If you want to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, peas or anything else that requires a trellis, you’ll need a tomato cage or two. As you gain experience, you might want to get bigger plant pots. The 5-gallon ones are pretty great.
Note: A lot of you readers will have a balcony to garden on. If this is on the second floor or higher, you will need some serious wind protection since most plants don’t appreciate being that high up. A small tarp, or several of these, and several rubber tarp tie-downs or other stuff like rope or bungee cord might be a good bet. You’re going to want to double the chances that the tarp won’t get undone by also fixing it in place with zip-ties. I found a place to get them:
Zip ties https://www.harborfreight.com/search?q=zip-ties
Pictured above is my order from http://www.seedman.com. I purchased those specific seeds because I knew that they grow well in containers, they don’t require massive amounts of feeding, and they don’t really require trellises. Trellises and tomato cages are expensive!!! This is my first time buying from www.seedman.com so I don’t know how vigorous the seeds will be. Companies I have had good experience with seedwise include https://www.reneesgarden.com/ and https://www.nativeseeds.org/. Places I’ve had good experience with buying live plants from include https://www.jungseed.com/ and https://shop.arborday.org/. Of the two I actually prefer buying from the Arbor Day Foundation because despite the fact they are a nonprofit organization, their plants grow and thrive better than Jung’s. And Jung Seed has been pretty consistent with their live plant quality so that should tell you something.
I also purchased Promix Organic Potting Soil from DoYourOwn.com. In theory you could use some good soil dug up from the garden or farm of a friend or family member to fill the pots instead. I’ve never done this but it’s way cheaper and probably better. https://www.domyown.com/pro-mix-premium-potting-mix-p-22172.html?msclkid=cb287f1b1f151e657fa22199956a3eee&utm_source=bing&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=(ROI)%20Shopping%20-%20Professional%20Turf%20%26%20Ornamental&utm_term=4580221850955031&utm_content=Professional%20T%26O%20(Non%20Best%20Sellers)
I didn’t buy plant pots and drip trays because I already have a ton of them. I also have fertilizer, because gardening is my hobby. But if you need some of all that, here are some eBay links.
5-gallon pots https://www.ebay.com/itm/Garden-Nursery-5-Gallon-Pot-Outdoor-Planter-Flower-Vegetable-Plant-Pots-10-Pack/322187488360?epid=2254355466&hash=item4b03deec68:g:5i8AAOSwImRYITVI
1- and 2-gallon pots https://www.ebay.com/itm/1-2-3-5-7-10-Gallon-Black-Plastic-Plant-Flower-Pot-Nursery-Containers/171819108778?hash=item28013789aa:m:mF-XkUM70aJahK6T0EJe7RA
Drip trays https://www.ebay.com/itm/Oakbay-10Pack-of-4-8-10-12inch-Clear-Plastic-Plant-Saucers-Flower-Pot-Drip-Trays/143542346075?hash=item216bca615b:m:m0HMiYndBjTPN5w_XaHHH8Q
Espoma granulated organic fertilizer https://www.ebay.com/itm/Espoma-Organic-Garden-Tone-Garden-Food-3-4-4-4-Lb/164091904584?epid=1600322644&hash=item2634a3c248:g:CakAAOSwV7ZeaTeY
Espoma bio-tone organic granulated fertilizer plus mycorrhizae (fancier) https://www.ebay.com/itm/ESPOMA-ORGANIC-BIO-TONE-STARTER-PLUS-PLANT-FOOD-FOR-ORGANIC-GARDENING-4-LB-BAG/123772463783?epid=1900082853&hash=item1cd169eaa7:g:f8QAAOSw2Ldc4FwT
Tomato cages https://www.ebay.com/itm/Glamos-748096-14-Inch-x-42-Inch-Heavy-Duty-Metal-Tomato-Cage-5-Pack-Light-Gree/401746353467?epid=1400434784&hash=item5d89f2dd3b:g:kawAAOSwls5Y8AKC
You can make your own tomato cages and plant trellises using wire coat hangers, leather gloves, eye protection, and pliers but that would take some doing. I might just make a tutorial for that if I’m feeling crazy enough.
Another good place to find some of this stuff is http://www.homedepot.com
Now here is how ya do things.
Pick the correct seeds for your situation. Seriously, the reason why container gardening fails so often is because people want to grow something that gets too big or some finicky herb seeds that never sprout. Some good ones include green onions, kale, lettuce, cherry tomatoes, mint, and basil. Don’t go for lettuce or other tasty salad greens if you’re on the ground floor because rabbits and deer will eat it all. Be warned that it’s way easier to grow transplanted things in a container than to start things from seed, but it can be done.
Set up the pots so that they are situated on three to five river rocks or bricks, if possible, to get airflow beneath them and so that excess water can drain into the drip trays. Don’t do this if you’re on a balcony because if they tip over in high wind, all kinds of stuff could fall on passerby and THAT’S NOT GOOD OH NO.
Fill up the pots with potting soil.
Plant the seeds and care for them according to the directions on the packets. The first two weeks are the most crucial when it comes to getting seeds to sprout. Keep the pots out of high wind during this period but IN FULL SUN. If you have to, start the seeds under a sunny window so that they don’t get blown out of the soil by wind. Water the seeds only once every three to four days, maximum, with around 1/2 a cup of water per gallon-sized pot. Forget the advice about keeping soil “as moist as a wrung-out sponge”; that’s a recipe for disaster because the seeds will rot. Check to see if the soil is moist one inch down. If it is, don’t water. If it isn’t, water.
Put the pots where they’ll get as much sun as possible. If the plants start to blanch and look bleached, then put them in an area that gets less sun during the day. If they’re still looking unhappy, grow them indoors next to a window.
Collect rainwater to water these plants as much as you can. Buckets are helpful if you don’t want to do the umbrella collector thing I posted; just run outside when it’s raining and plant the buckets under the open sky. When you take in the buckets, pour their contents into gallon-sized plastic jugs and label them with duct tape and a sharpie as “rainwater.” Also simply put the plants in their pots under the open sky whenever the heavens open up, if you can.
Water the plants with 1 to 1.5 cups of water per gallon-size pot about once every three to five days, but only if they are too dry. Lift the side of the pot gently to see if it’s heavy and stick your finger one inch into the side of the soil to see if the soil is moist that far down. If it is, there’s no need to water, but if it’s getting kind of dried out, water. One of my tricks is actually when it rains, I like to take my plants out and put them outside under the open sky until they’re well watered. If you can do this with your indoor plants too, so much the better!
Prune these when they need pruning. If a part of a plant starts to get dried out or sickly, cut out that bit with some scissors or pruning shears. When a plant starts to get “too big for its boots,” re-pot it into a container that’s 1 inch wider on each side than the pot it’s in. Youtube has tutorials for transplanting things; watch a few to get the idea.
Every month during the major growing season, which is March-September in the Northern Hemisphere, feed the plants. Sprinkle half a teaspoon of dry organic fertilizer evenly on the top of each, letting it gradually soak in whenever you water. If the plants are looking kind of washed out anyway, dilute some liquid fertilizer into the watering liquid as needed, but don’t overdo it.
Twice or three times a year, top up the plants with more potting soil. Good times for this include March, May, and September.
If you’ve pampered your plants and some or all of them insist on dying anyway, then likely one of three things has gone wrong:
1. You overwatered. Remember, it’s better to under-water than over-water, but don’t ever go more than 10 days without watering your plants unless they got some rain.
2. The plants don’t like your location for some reason. In this case, look at what’s thriving in your region and plant some of that instead.
3. The seed quality is bad. This can only be compensated for by either regrowing scraps from the grocery store, buying from a better company, or wild-harvesting some seeds from plants you positively identified. The latter can be done with lamb’s quarters.
4. Your potting soil sucks. Unfortunately the only solution to this is to get better dirt.
5. You thought that watering alone would be enough to nourish the plants. It’s not. Potted plants need to be fed fertilizer regularly.
Less common reasons for plants to kick the bucket include bugs, viruses (plants get them) and assorted diseases, in which case you might want to use a search engine to figure out how to deal with it.
EDIT 5/3/2020 Simple way to start composting on a porch: Get a spare plant pot with a drip tray. Use the biggest one you can find. Put potting soil or good dirt in the bottom, and then layer food additions with more dirt. Good things to add include: coffee grounds, banana peels, spent teabags, wood charcoal, wood shavings, eggshells, grass clippings, straw, sawdust from non-chemically-treated wood, non-chemically-treated hair, vegetable peels, veggies and fruits past their prime. If you add anything that is going to rot, rip it up into tiny pieces first unless you really love to attract vermin. Don’t add cooked food, animal products, or greasy things. To get a substantial amount of compost going, consider having two or three such compost pots.
Simple ways to add nutrition to your plants: Make a plant “tea” out of comfrey leaves or nettles by steeping about half a 5-gallon bucketful of the plant matter in a full bucket’s worth of water or rainwater. You can add some compost to this if you like. Cover it with a non-airtight lid and wait two weeks. It will stink to high heavens. Pour the liquid into a watering can or – as I do things – a one-gallon plastic jug, and use it to water with. I am currently looking for other ways to nourish my plants, such as fish meal, because that stuff works very well, or soil lavishly dosed with well rotted manure. Will keep you posted.