Growing vegetables in containers is rapidly becoming the method of choice for many gardeners.

Taos Master Gardener Heidi Smith is taking it to the nth degree. Smith credits her education in the Master Gardener Program at the Taos County Extension Service with her success with expanding her container vegetable gardening.

Last summer’s growing season found her harvesting arugula, carrots, bush beans, pole beans, nasturtiums, egg plants, tomatoes, potatoes, bell peppers, radishes, and parsley from her 15 containers scattered around her backyard. She often plants two different vegetables with similar soil needs in one container.

For example, arugula and radishes. After she harvested the radishes, she put in a second planting of arugula. She plans to add strawberries and cucumbers to her line-up this coming summer.

“Container gardening is perfect for Taos,” Smith said.

She pointed out that a person can have multiple microclimates by moving the pots around.

Her experience growing bell peppers is an example. They were first sited in a sunny spot next to an adobe wall. Too hot and they wilted, so she moved them to a cooler position where they got protection from surrounding foliage and they took off.

“I even got a red pepper,” she said.

Some people complain that container gardening is too expensive because of the cost of the pots. That does not have to be the case.

Smith’s preferred containers are plain black plastic pots. She does let them weather in the sun before she uses them.

Smith emphasizes that a big advantage to using individual containers is that the soil mixture can be individualized to suit each crop. For example, carrots need a loose light soil mixture while bush beans will grow in most any soil condition.

Good drainage is also necessary. She puts a layer of gravel or small pebbles in the bottom of each pot. Consistent watering is essential.

Smith hand waters her containers, usually once a day. The soil should be kept moist and not allowed to dry out. She uses the “finger test” to keep track of the moisture level. She also uses a liquid organic fertilizer as watering  leaches out nutrients.

Smith made the point that container gardens are easier on the back to maintain than traditional ground level gardens or even raised beds which often require stretching to reach the middle of the beds.

Plus containers are mostly low maintenance — less or no weeding. And if a container shows signs of pest infestation, it can quickly be isolated from the other pots and crops.

Before each planting season, Smith renews the soil in the containers. She empties the pots, then makes the new mixture by using half old material and half new.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac agrees with Smith about the five essential steps for successful container vegetable gardening: good containers of the proper size, right soil mixture, appropriate seeds or transplant varieties, five or more hours of full sun, and diligent watering. The almanac also has a list, online, of which vegetable varieties are container friendly.

Smith is a big proponent of the Master Gardener Program given by the Taos County Extension Service. Interested people may call (575) 758-3982 or visit taosextension.nmsu.edu.

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