Herbs, fruit & veg in baskets

Posted on: 25 April 2018 by 50connect editorial

Get creative with hanging baskets this summer and swap out lobelia and clematis for lettuce and cherry tomatoes, writes Norman Winter.

lettuce and flowers container

Despite recent weather ups and downs, now is the perfect time for summer planting. Consider planting in containers this season for a fun, new gardening experience.

Growing fresh produce can be as simple and fun as growing a basket of cabbage, cherry tomatoes or this lettuce hanging basket.

In my younger days I was an if-you-can't-eat-it-don't-grow-it kind of guy. I also had the opportunity to work for a few years with the best container gardener in the world, Dr. Sam Cotner, who later became department head at Texas A & M (Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College).

He taught me that growing fresh produce for the picking doesn't always mean having an intensive garden, a square-foot garden, or an acre or more. It can be as simple and fun as growing a basket of cabbage or cherry tomatoes.

We have used 'bushel baskets', made of woven wicker or splitwood, at my house for just about everything. They give a country-style feeling. They are available in all sizes and colours. I have a couple of baskets in my office that resemble tall bongo drums.

Bushel baskets are among the best disposable containers for growing all kinds of plants. They come with handles, naturally drain well, and look good on the porch, patio or deck.

Try growing two or three cabbages in a basket, and maybe even place a small annual like alyssum in the pockets between the plants. Peppers also work well in a basket and can be inter-planted with leaf lettuce.

For extra fun, try growing cherry tomatoes in a basket, and let the vines cascade out over the edge like you would a lantana or purple wave petunia.

My son James still talks about the time we planted potatoes in a large basket. This might be just the way to get your grandchildren started on their first gardening project.

For a really awesome basket that will be the envy of fellow gardeners, try lettuce in a wire hanging basket. Line the basket with moist sphagnum moss or a sustainable alternative such as a coconut product.

Fill the basket with a light potting soil. Place leaf lettuce transplants about 4 inches apart in holes throughout the basket. Push the root ball through the moss into the moist potting soil. Be sure to place several transplants in the top of the basket, too!

herbs, vegetables baskets

Place the basket where it will get almost full sun. As the lettuce starts to grow, you will have an almost-perfectly round basket that is as pretty as an ivy or fern and a whole lot tastier.

You can choose to alternate a green-leaf lettuce, like Black Seeded Simpson, with a red-leaf lettuce, like Red Sails or Lollo Rossa, in your basket, or make a basket of each.

If you have thought about growing herbs, but for some reason they still seem slightly mystical or just unknown, then try some in containers first.

You could try some in a bushel basket where they would certainly do well. On the other hand, they look picture perfect in one of the European-style containers.

Which herbs should be your first? You should certainly consider which might be most useful in your kitchen, such as basil, rosemary, oregano or thyme. These four really look good in a container and will give season-long enjoyment. The fragrance of these herbs is an added bonus for the patio.

This is only the surface of the fun that can be found growing veggies and herbs in containers. The options are almost endless. Just remember to provide a large enough container for the roots, a good light potting soil, and enough sun, water and fertiliser during the summer months.

Warm weather is on the way.

By Norman Winter
MSU Horticulturist
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center

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