Susie Nedley, owner of Bee Well MV, is a seasoned gardener, beekeeper, herbalist, and a woman of many talents. I first got acquainted with Susie when I was looking for a source of edible flowers for a pop-up dinner series I hosted last summer.
I sat down with Susie to put together some guidelines for successful low-maintenance container gardens. Before I could get to the container, or the soil, Susie jumped right into how to make it “edible and pretty.” According to Susie, you can achieve this by planting in a triangle, placing tall plants in the center, lower plants around them, and “always have something hanging off the side.” Let’s start from the beginning of the process.
One-pot edible gardens give you the opportunity to grow your own food on a small scale with very little fuss. You can plant one at any time in the summer, so you don’t have to worry about being behind on getting started. If something dies, or is overpicked in your planter, it can be replaced.
First, pick a container or pot large enough to hold a large plant, one that has a hole in the bottom. Keep in mind that it is always a good idea to plant things together, because they act in symbiosis in the container, and it’s also aesthetically pleasing. She suggests putting a large rock over the hole in the bottom; “you can use gravel, but … a rock,” she said with a nod.
Next, pick a potting soil that drains well. “I highly recommend organic for growing food,” said Susie. It is important not to have artificial, chemical plant foods and weed inhibitors in your edible garden. Fill your container with soil, then gently press it down until it’s firm, but not compact. Make sure the pot is filled, but leave about one to one and a half inches of space below the rim of your container. She then suggests you “Insert your fingers into the dirt and wiggle them around” to create a hole for your plant.
Start planting from the inside out, planting your tall plants like tomatoes in the center. “Tomatoes and basil love each other. If you’re going to plant tomatoes, I suggest ‘Sungolds,’” said Susie. Tomatoes and many other tall plants need to be staked to ensure they don’t break in the wind and weather. Plant your smaller plants like basil around the taller plants. If you want to plant a variety of different things, Susie suggests, “You can tuck cilantro or even greens into the shaded spots.” Lastly, plant something like thyme around the edges of the pot so it can hang off the side. Once the plants begin to fill in, the lower plants help keep water from evaporating from the mass of soil in the pot.
When planting, always hold the base of the plant when removing it from its original container, then gently spread the roots with your fingers. Place the plants into the hole you created, “then move the soil to it,” she said. Be careful not to overfill the pot while you are planting, or it will overflow when watered.
Watering can seem like a daunting task when maintaining a garden, but Susie gave me some guidelines to simplify the process. Check your planter once a day; the best time to water is in the morning; and you should not water at night. Allow the soil to dry to the touch before watering again, but don’t leave it dry for long periods of time. “Don’t water things like tomatoes overhead,” she said. “Think of watering the soil, not watering the plant.”
Make sure your plants have access to rich nutrients throughout the season. Susie suggests Neptune’s Harvest Fish and Seaweed blend, an all-organic product from Gloucester, as a plant food. She suggests mixing it with water and spraying it directly onto the plants’ base with a plant sprayer, or spray bottle, being careful not to overwater.
Things can be replaced if they die off in your one-pot edible garden, but if your plants are picked well and watered regularly, it should sustain itself for quite a while with very little maintenance. Happy growing.