Five Easy Vegetables and Herbs to Grow in a Container
By Mary Hartley, RD, MPH
Produce is never more nutritious or tasty than when it is eaten fresh from the vine. Even in you live in the city without a yard or you have never gardened, you can you can successfully grow these vegetables and herbs in a pot or deep window box. To reap the benefits of fresh-picked veggies, all you need is plenty of sun and lots and lots water, plus a few decent-sized pots, great soil, fertilizer, and ties and stakes. Here are a few vegetables and herbs - and why they're healthy - to get growing now.
Lettuce is the first crop. It is a cool season crop, planted in inland and up North during April and harvested in one month. Although certain varieties tolerate heat better than others, all lettuce will be out of the garden by the time the warm weather crops go in. Plant looseleaf, Buttercrunch and romaine lettuce and Mesclun mixes for great results. Because lettuce doesn't have long roots, you can start seedlings or seeds in almost any container, as long as it has good drainage. Lettuce needs lots of water.
Lettuce is extremely low in calories while being particularly high in vitamins A, C, K, folic acid, and a host of minerals and phytonutrients. The darker green varieties have a few more nutrients. You’ll eat more salad and add lettuce to sandwiches when you have a lettuce crop.
Try: Butter Lettuce and Strawberry Salad Recipe
Peas are another cool weather plant. You can plant seeds early in the season – as early as St. Patrick's Day in New York City - in a large container. When it gets too warm, they stop producing and so pull them up and the use the container to start another vegetable. Peas grow quickly and don’t need much attention, but they do need full sunlight and the soil must be kept moist. Sugar snap peas and snow peas are good choices to grow.
Peas are wildly nutritious, full of phytonutrients that fight all kinds of disease, as well as protein because peas are a "nitrogen-fixing plant". They are loaded with fiber, omega-3 fats, and vitamin E. They are a versatile addition to soups, salads, casseroles, and fillings. Sugar snap peas are a sweet and crunchy low calorie snack.
Try: Roasted Sugar Snap Peas Recipe
When the weather consistently reaches 70 degrees, you can start cucumbers, beans, and tomatoes. For cucumbers, sow five seeds directly into the center of a large pot. They grow very quickly and so they need a good fertilizer. Make sure their soil never, ever dries out because that makes cucumbers bitter and hollow. Grow small salad bush cucumbers or, my favorite, the easy long Japanese variety that grows up a trellis for support.
Cucumbers are practically calorie-free because they are mostly water in a fiber package. They are great for salads, sandwiches and snacks, and sliced cucumbers and mint in water make a refreshing drink.
Try: Chilled Cucumber and Mint Soup
Tomatoes need bright sun for at least a six hour day and hot daytime temperatures averaging at least 70 degrees. Select cherry or grape tomatoes for compact spaces and purchase already started tomato plants. Give them large containers with lots of soil because they become huge. Small tomatoes can also grow in ‘upside-down containers’ that you can buy or make yourself.
Tomatoes are full of vitamin C, vitamin A and a phytonutrient called lycopene, which is protective against some cancers and eye disease. When they're ready, you will want to eat fresh tomatoes everyday, at every meal.
Try: Roma Tomato Salad
Basil and Other Herbs
Since you have tomatoes, you have to grow basil. And then you’ll need parsley and mint for tabbouleh, not to mention mint for your mojitos. Many different herbs grow well in containers. Just remember that basil, chives, parsley, marjoram, and mint need a lot of water, while oregano, thyme and rosemary need less.
Besides their fragrance, herbs are known for their anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. They also provide Vitamins A, C and K and a wide variety of other nutrients. Use herbs in cooking to cut back on salt. Add them to everything – salad dressings, marinades, grain and meat dishes, eggs, baked goods – every food is enhanced by some herb.
How does your garden grow?