Best Food Plants for Containers – Backyard Food Growing


When you’re dealing with a small space in which to build your garden, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when you go to the nursery. There are hundreds and hundreds of different kinds of seeds and plants to choose from!

So where do you start?? The staff at the nurseries should be able to guide you towards smaller varieties of plants and veggies that are more suited to growing in containers than others.

Smaller plants are great not just for their size but they usually have a shorter time to harvest because of their size. This characteristic can sometimes allow you to have two plantings per season and therefore a higher yield throughout the growing season.

The best way to estimate this is to look at the “days to harvest” number on the tags of the plants you’re looking at. The shorter the better. If it’s a long number of days to harvest then just decide if the vegetable can be picked young or if it’ll ripen properly before frost.

Many veggies can be harvested early, in a young state when they’d be sweeter such as carrots. There are a few exceptions like squash or full size tomatoes that only taste good when they are fully ripened.

Although, fruit and veggie plants can be large and consume a lot of growing space, the growers and nurseries have created many lines and varieties of veggies and fruit that are dwarf in size. These ones are suited to containers and smaller spaces. Some simply don’t use a big footprint in the garden, such as beans and peas and therefore will allow more things to be planted in a small area. Others have a small mature size produce fruit of a miniature nature.

When you’re shopping, look on the tags for key words, like “baby”, “dwarf”, “mini” and other words that suggest something smaller.This is a short list of veggies that can be grown in small spaces or your technique can be altered to produce veggies in a shorter time span.

Beans – Pole beans take up very little soil space and need to have the support of a trellis to grow vertically. Sometimes you can find the seeds of “bush” beans. They grow shorter and more quickly. Try to find the “Garden of Eden” heirloom variety of pole beans. They can be eaten at any stage.

Beets – These usually also have a small footprint and short time to harvest. Two of the smaller varieties are called “Little ball”, and “Pronto”. This could allow two plantings per season and a higher yield.

Broccoli – This one is typically not small space friendly but some varieties such as ‘ “Rabb” or “Di Rapa” grow on small plants and take up less space that the true heading types of broccoli.

The one called “Cima di Rapa” is very compact and small. The “De Cicco” is closest to a regular broccoli head but grows small heads and continuous side shoots until the growing season ends.

Cabbage – I would never guess that a cabbage would be happy growing in a container but if you choose the smaller varieties like “Dynamo”, “Gonzales”, “Savoy Express” or “Red Express” then you will likely have good success. The “Mei Quig Choi” and the other “choi” cabbages are more compact as well.

Carrots – It seems like there are hundreds of different types of carrot seeds, and I’m pretty sure there are! If you seek out the ones that have short days to harvest, then you’ll be able to have delicious carrots all summer long. They will just be smaller than what you typically see at the store.

“Thumbelina” is a good variety for containers as it grows golf ball size carrots. I also grow “Purple Haze” carrots that are beautiful as well as delicious. Carrots of all sorts are good to pick before the days to harvest has elapsed.

Cauliflower – Cauliflower is also a good choice if you pick a small growing variety such as “Snowball”

Corn – Who would think that corn could grow in a container. Well, most of it wouldn’t but again if you find miniature varieties such as “Tom Thumb” then you can make it work.

Cucumber – These are usually grown vertically and therefore don’t take up a large footprint in the garden. There are “bush” varieties of this plant as well. Look for “Miniature white”, “Bush Pickle” and “Bush Baby” which are all recommended for containers.

Eggplant – This one in the dwarf varieties is good for containers as well. Try to find the variety called “Bambino” which will grow clusters of tiny round fruit.

Herbs – Herbs of all sorts are good for containers. Basil, rosemary, thyme, sage…all of them are good for containers. There are so many herbs that will easily handle life in a container.

Lettuce – All of the compact leafy type of vegetables will grow in a container. Look for “Little Gem”, “Tom Thumb”. Try butter lettuce called “Tennis Ball”.

Onions – Onions, green onions, scallions, and garlic are all good in containers too.

Parsnip – These require a small footprint but a deep growing space.

Peas – Peas are such fun to grow! They can be eaten at just about any time though the growth cycle. There are many short varieties of “bush peas” but also with a trellis peas can be grown tall without using a lot of footprint.

Peppers – These are easy to grow. Native to Mexico, so they like hot dry conditions. I’ve grown all types of peppers in containers from sweet bells to the spicy habanero. Once grown they are easy to dry and save for use all winter long.

Pumpkin – Pumpkins are not usually good for small space garden simply because their vines grow very, very long. There are, however some dwarf varieties called “Cheyenne” and “Trickster” that make smaller fruit and shorter vines.

Radish – Radishes are probably the poster child for small space gardening. They take up a small footprint and grow quite quickly. This allows for more than one crop to be grown each season.

Tomato – Tomatoes are so fun and there are so many varieties and colours to choose from. For containers you’ll want to chose the shortest days to harvest and the smallest mature fruit size that you can find. Try to find “Tumbler” for hanging baskets and “Tiny Tim” for containers. Tomatoes are also suitable to hang in upside down growing systems.

Leave a comment below and let me know your experiences in growing your own veggies in containers.

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