All the travel of the past few weeks, while great fun, has put me way behind on one of my favorite seasons- Salad Season! Living in a Hoboken brownstone does not stop us from having a vegetable garden – I use every available outdoor space I can find. The unpredictable warms and cools of Spring weather are perfect for lettuce, which loves the cool and damp nights. Aside from traditional red and green leaf, bibb and romaine lettuce, try things like mâche (lamb’s lettuce) which is a soft, mild green or rocket (what is called arugula here) for a spicy leaf. Don’t forget spinach which also grows well at this time of year.
In this part of New Jersey April and early May you will also have great success starting herbs from plants.. Some herbs will spread and take over an open garden and so are best planted in containers. Mint, chives, thyme, lemon balm and oregano can take over a garden. Many herbs will also return year after year- sage, oregano, mint, chives and thyme to name a few. These plants do not require a huge amount of space and 3-4 plants fit in a 14″ pot so you can put several herbs in once container. I’ve had the best luck keeping Italian basil in its own pot in the sunniest spot I can find. Some years it thrives, other times it doesn’t. Try the Vietnamese or Thai versions of basil which have a smaller leaf, extremely similar taste and are more consistently successful.
For purchasing plants I was introduced to The Farm at Green Village, which is close to Chatham which has a great variety of organic vegetables and herbs. In years past the girls and I have picked up lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, arugula and strawberries along with some herbs there. The plants are a good quality and give us great results.
Tips for planting in containers
As a general rule of thumb, select the largest container your stoop or yard space can hold. Small containers tend to dry out more quickly and require daily watering. Remember that the deeper the pot, the larger the reservoir of moist soil and the less often you’ll need to water. Another option is self-watering planters that extend the time between waterings.
Also, it is very important to think about weight (once the pot is filled with wet soil and plant material, it’s going to be very heavy). Keep in mind the appearance of the pot, keeping in mind what look “goes” with your home.
The most important consideration is the depth of the pot. Consider what you are growing, and choose a pot height that works for that vegetable or herb. A handy guide is as follows:
4-5 inches: chives, lettuce, radishes, other salad greens, basil, coriander
6-7 inches: bush beans, garlic, onions, asian greens, peas, mint, thyme
8-9 inches: pole beans, carrots, chard, cucumber, eggplant, fennel, leeks, peppers, spinach
10-12 inches: beets, broccoli, okra, potatoes, sweet corn, summer squash, dill, lemongrass
The Two “S’s”
Sun: Most vegetables require about six hours of sunlight per day. Salad greens and herbs can get by with less, while tomatoes, peppers, and beans will appreciate as much light they can get.
Soil: Do not fill containers with garden soil or a heavy, store-bought potting soil. Instead fill containers with a container mix. That will provide your plants with the nutrition they need.
Water, Water, Water!
Vegetables require a consistent supply of water in order to get the best crop. Without the right amount of water, your plants could be subject to insect problems, and rot. By using a self-watering planter you only need to fill a reservoir every few days.
Find a sunny spot and get your hands dirty- your table will benefit!