Time to gear up your container vegetable production
By Dr. Mohyuddin Mirza
Food gardening is expected to rise in popularity this year. Consider including container vegetables in your production.
By Dr. Mohyuddin Mirza
Did you know, that as a bedding plant, ornamental or flower grower, you can produce a significant amount of vegetables in containers? Well, it is time to increase production this year.
I spoke with several growers who are receiving requests and messages from customers on when to pick up their favorite baskets, both flowers and vegetables. Most of the growers have planned to handle their customers differently due to COVID-19. They can browse through plants and baskets on the website, then choose curbside pick-up (customer stays in car and staff places order in it) or delivery. Growers are determined to follow all the precautions, legislated or otherwise, to make sure that the needs for gardening are met. I talked to many customers as well. Being at home for some time, they are hungry to get their hands on a few baskets, both of flowers and their favorite vegetables.
Talking to a few growers and supported by Alberta’s 2014 Greenhouse Industry Profile Report, more tomatoes and peppers are being grown in 2-gallon containers. Of course, Tumbler tomatoes for hanging baskets and containers have been around for several years, but their numbers are increasing this year due to demand. One of the customers told me that it is very satisfying to be able to pick ready-to-eat tomatoes off of the plant on the same day that they purchase the basket.
Load your tumbler tomatoes like the picture above and customers will love them. Customers go for tomato fruits. They don’t like to buy just leaves and flowers. If they are loaded with tomatoes, they see an immediate benefit and can enjoy a fresh pick daily after that. The picture on the right is of the harvest from these tumbler tomatoes. In case you are wondering about those egg-shaped purple things, they are mini-eggplants from my deck last year.
So here are a few pointers to get ready. There is still time. Many growers tell me that transplants are ready to go into large baskets and/or containers.
- Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable/fruit for production in pots. It will take 80 days from seed to harvest, so if you have 30-day-old seedlings, then plant them right now and they will be ready in another 40 days, right on time. They are generally sold very quickly, so plan a second crop as well.
- Peppers take a little longer; 120-130 days from seed to harvest. From the growers I have seen, the peppers are already flowering, so they should be ready by late April or early May. You could always stagger them so that plants with fruit are available over a longer period of time.
- Hot peppers are becoming more popular and they set fruit faster than other peppers. Make sure to label them properly because some may be too spicy for some individuals.
- Mini cucumbers and pickles are popular in hanging baskets. They are fast-growing will set first fruit within 30 days.
- Lettuce and salads like kale and other leafy vegetables can be grown in 6-inch pots or rectangular containers. Very fast growing and several plantings can be done.
- Herbs are very popular now. Most of the bedding plant growers grow a large number of potted basil, mints, cilantro and others. Very popular in cooking and they are ready to use from the moment they are bought.
- Berries are easy to grow and require cooler temperatures to set fruit. A few ripened berries are very attractive in hanging baskets. Choose everbearing varieties.
So the message is, there is still time to grow more “ready made” vegetables so that customers can quickly harvest and enjoy them. People are staying indoors for too long. Stay connected with them through your emails, newsletters and websites. They want to know what you are doing to maintain sanitary conditions in your operations, as well as any suggestions, products and activities that you have for them. As a final thought, try some of other plants of medicinal importance. Below is a picture of purslane which I love to get from growers and use in salads and omelettes. It is rich in Omega fatty acids. Try some Echinacea angustifolia roots and plant a few seedlings of Rhodiola, which is said to help combat stress. I think together we will conquer the virus. Happy planting.
Mohyuddin Mirza, PhD, is an industry consultant in Alberta. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org