Inside View: December 2012

November 21, 2012
Written by Gary Jones
Container production, in particular of nursery stock, has a number of characteristics that have made this system a favoured option with both producers and customers. The main factors include:
  • Plants can be grown in containers ranging in size from “liners” (e.g., multi-cell plug tray, and seven- to
  • 15-centimetre pot), to larger pots (one- to five-gallon) and tubs (seven- to 20-gallon).
  • More intensive production per acre is possible with
  • greater returns per area than field production.
  • Mechanization is possible for large operations.
  • It is preferred by customers, easily harvested and marketed year round.1
When developing the market for non-nursery areas of container production, a number of options have been explored in recent years, including:
  • Container colour – blue, green or red, for example. (Be aware that some of the red pigments might lose their colour fairly rapidly in bright sunlight.)
  • Shape and design – basic pots, urns, those on stands, hanging pots, hanging bags are but a few.
  • What the containers are made of: old-fashioned terracotta, other ceramics, woven plastics, jute, rice husks, coco-fibre, recycled paper, and others.
  • Plant growing information being printed on the pot.
  • Ingenious methods of attaching tags to the container.
  • Where the containers are made and cost: India, China, Vietnam, etc.
  • Plant nutrition – organic versus conventional, slow-release or not.
  • The planting arrangements.

FOOD PLANTS AND PHARMACEUTICALS ATTRACTING A LOT OF ATTENTION
■  But it seems the area that most often sparks discussion is that of the actual plants that are being grown. Two areas generating significant interest for a long time, but more so recently, are pharmaceuticals and food plants. Pharmaceuticals might be a niche market, and perhaps not for domestic use, but food production in containers has really taken off.

Do a quick “Google”™ of “food production in container gardens” and you’ll be faced with over three million web references.

Sift through them all and you won’t have time to actually implement any of your newfound knowledge. But take a few and life can become interesting. There is much being said about food security, poverty, hunger, effects of climate change, and most of these websites suggest that backyard container gardening for food production is a great way to go.

In fact, back in my early days working in England, my then-boss (who was the national tomato consultant) reckoned that during the summer, the back gardens of England produced twice as many tomatoes as all the commercial growers put together. Growers could argue that this was a market share they wanted, but the average Joe Bloggs was not going to give up his sweet and juicy homegrown tomatoes to anyone.

Containers for this use can come in many guises: buckets, bathtubs, old plastic containers (check what they were used for first!), tires, old baskets … even old toilet bowls.

Here in Uganda, during my sabbatical, the side of our milk cartons says: “Plant a tree! Cartons make good seedling planters; they disintegrate as the tree grows. Brookside [the dairy] is committed to protecting the environment.”

My small deck here is now brightly adorned with numerous milk cartons full of various vegetables being propagated for the large school garden up the hill.
Combine containers with other techniques for growing vegetables, and suddenly you’re spoiled for choice and lost for open space. Square foot gardens, raised beds, hanging bags, vertical gardens, trellises, hydroponics … the list goes on.

But what this does for the greenhouse industry is open up a whole new demographic of people who just love growing plants. Sure, we might lose out on the sales of a few packets of seeds or professionally produced “grow-bags” to the real keeners, but we gain in the sales of other items (watering cans? garden forks?) to new customers. And when they visit your garden centre, they might well take home other items they didn’t come intending to buy.

Finally. If you do “Google” this topic, be careful what you click on. There are lots of interesting links … and I am already working on my new solar cooker.

1 B.C. Ministry of Agriculture, http://www.agf.gov.bc.ca/ornamentals/overview_nursery.htm , accessed Oct. 15, 2012.


Gary Jones is a faculty member in the School of Horticulture at Kwantlen University, Langley, British Columbia. He serves on several industry committees and would welcome comments at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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