From Earth911's Mary Mazzoni:

Taking part in the grow-your-own-food movement is not only a satisfying way to commune with Mother Nature but can also save you money and reduce your carbon footprint. Fresh-from-the-vine produce also tends to be tastier and better for your bod, especially when compared to supermarket picks that travel an average of 1,500 miles before arriving on your dinner table.

But if you live in an apartment, don’t have a yard or are otherwise limited by space constraints, growing your own food can seem next to impossible. Have no fear, aspiring locavore! Container gardening opens up a whole new world for the yardless gardener, where fruits and veggies flourish in everything from recycled coffee cans and milk containers to hanging baskets and window boxes. Check out Earth911′s quick and easy guide to container gardening, and enjoy a bountiful harvest no matter how little space you have.

List and captions courtesy of Earth911

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  • 1. Pick Your Produce

    Virtually anything that can be grown in a garden can also be grown in a container. But most beginners underestimate the space needed to support fully-grown plants. So, be conscious of the space you have available when selecting your crops, and make sure to select a crop variety that is suited for containers. <br> <br> If you live in a home or apartment with a small yard or patio, you can grow just about anything your heart desires, including large plants like tomatoes, eggplant, broccoli and squash. But be careful how many plants and seeds you buy. Each large plant will require its own container, at least <a href="http://www.gardening.cornell.edu/factsheets/misc/containers.pdf" target="_hplink">12-inches in diameter</a>, to grow properly. Our advice: Purchase the containers first, and organize them on your yard or patio to give yourself an idea of how your "garden" will look. Ditch any extra containers that make the space too crowded. <br> <br> Apartment-dwellers with a small balcony or fire escape can grow a veritable cornucopia of crops in <a href="http://www.gardening.cornell.edu/factsheets/misc/containers.pdf" target="_hplink">medium-sized containers,</a> including beets, carrots, onions and Swiss chard. <br> <br> <a href="http://earth911.com/news/2011/08/19/grow-your-own-mushrooms-with-coffee-grounds/" target="_hplink">Get Creative: Grow Your Own Mushrooms with Coffee Grounds</a> <br> <br> If you don't have any outdoor areas at all, stick to plants that can be <a href="http://www.gardening.cornell.edu/factsheets/misc/containers.pdf" target="_hplink">grown in hanging baskets</a>, such as cucumbers, peas and cherry tomatoes, and set up a few small containers along interior window sills and table tops. Spinach and lettuce both thrive in small pots, along with herbs like basil, chives, dill and thyme. <br> <br> No matter how much space you have available, window boxes can provide a perfect supplement for your container garden. Both attractive and functional, window boxes make perfect homes for plants that require little to moderate root space. Units that hold 1 gallon of soil work best for cucumber (one plant), carrots (up to three plants) and green onion (up to five plants), while 2-gallon window planters can yield green beans, broccoli and turnips, according to the <a href="http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/publications/guides/e-545_vegetable_gardening_containers.pdf" target="_hplink">Texas AgriLife Extension Service.</a> <br> <br> For more tips on choosing the right crops for your container garden, check out these container gardening guides from the gardening gurus at the <a href="http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/publications/guides/e-545_vegetable_gardening_containers.pdf" target="_hplink">Texas AgriLife Extension Service</a> and <a href="http://www.gardening.cornell.edu/factsheets/misc/containers.pdf" target="_hplink">Cornell Cooperative Extension</a>. <br> <br> <em><a href="http://www.flickr.com/" target="flickr">Flickr:</a> <a href="http://www.flickr.com/people/jayneandd/" target="flickr"> Image courtesy of jayneandd</a></em>

  • 2. Choose The Right Container

    Choosing the right containers for your "garden" largely depends on the amount of space you have available. In general, any sort of container is suitable for growing plants, including 5-gallon buckets, recycled food and beverage packaging, handmade wooden crates and hanging baskets. Make sure that all containers have at least four 1/4-inch holes at the bottom for draining excess water. <br> <br> If you have access to a small yard, patio or rooftop, start with several containers of various sizes - which will allow you to grow many types of plants for a diverse harvest. Or try out some <a href="http://www.ehow.com/way_6179222_homemade-garden-boxes.html" target="_hplink">homemade garden boxes</a>, which can be constructed to fit whatever space you have available. If you're limited to a small balcony or fire escape, try using a few larger containers for plants that require more root space, such as tomatoes and eggplant, and supplement with smaller containers for less demanding plants like lettuce, onions and spinach. <br> <br> Don't have any outdoor areas at all? No problem! Troves of edibles can be grown indoors in pots and hanging planters. Set up a few plants like radishes, peas and herbs in small pots along your interior window sills and on tables with access to unobstructed sunlight. Planting in window boxes is another great option for apartment-dwellers. If your unit didn't come with cutesy outdoor window boxes, just pick one up at your local home and garden center, or if you're feeling ambitious, you can <a href="http://www.hgtv.com/video/wood-window-boxes-video/index.html" target="_hplink">make your own</a>. <br> <br> Keep in mind that the crate you choose should be large enough for each crop to grow to its full potential. After choosing the produce you want to grow, do a little research to find out how much space each crop's roots will need. Also, since you want to grow healthy food, avoid choosing containers that were used to hold toxic substances - even after they have been washed. <br> <br> <em><strong>Reused containers to try:</strong></em> <br> <strong>3-pound coffee cans</strong>: Best suited for growing crops that require little to moderate root space, such as radishes, chives and spinach. <br> <strong>1-gallon plastic milk containers</strong>: After cutting off the top portion, your old milk containers are perfect for growing carrots, lettuce and chard. <br> <strong>5-gallon plastic buckets</strong>: These babies are large enough to be perfect homes for most container plants, including peppers, eggplant, tomatoes and squash. <br> <strong>2-liter soda bottles</strong>: Suitable for growing seedlings and herbs like parsley and basil, but be sure to stick with only one or two plants. Three or more herb plants <a href="ftp://ftp-fc.sc.egov.usda.gov/AK/News/BucketBrigade.pdf" target="_hplink">require about a gallon</a> of space for adequate growing room. <br> <br> Check out more reuse ideas for container gardening from the <a href="ftp://ftp-fc.sc.egov.usda.gov/AK/News/BucketBrigade.pdf" target="_hplink">U.S. Department of Agriculture</a>. <br> <br> <a href="http://earth911.com/news/2011/12/14/naturwall-vertical-garden-made-from-old-coffee-cups/" target="_hplink">More Indoor Container Solutions: How to Build a Vertical Garden With Old Coffee Cups</a> <br> <br> <em><a href="http://www.flickr.com/" target="_blank">Flickr:</a> <a href="http://www.flickr.com/people/ginevra/" target="_blank"> Image courtesy of miz_ginevra</a></em>

  • 3. To Seed, Or Not To Seed?

    You can start your plants from seeds or buy plants started early by someone else, called "starts" or "seedlings." Seedlings help you get an early start on the growing season, while seeds tend to be less expensive. Whether you opt for starts or seeds, head to a nursery or greenhouse instead of the discount garden retailer so you can chat with a knowledgeable salesperson about which plants and varieties are best suited for your local climate. <br> <br> Starting seeds yourself may sound like a challenge, but it's actually much easier than you'd think. Just start with the basic materials - light soil, small containers (egg cartons work great) and a sunny window sill - and get to planting! Broccoli, cauliflower, kale and lettuce all flourish when started indoors, according to the <a href="ftp://ftp-fc.sc.egov.usda.gov/AK/News/BucketBrigade.pdf" target="_hplink">USDA's container gardening guide</a>. <br> <br> The back of the seed packets will provide detailed planting instructions, including light and water requirements and when to move your plants outside. Note that some seeds do not need to be started indoors and can be planted directly into prepared containers, such as radishes, carrots, cabbage, onions, beets and peas, <a href="ftp://ftp-fc.sc.egov.usda.gov/AK/News/BucketBrigade.pdf" target="_hplink">according to the USDA</a>. For more information on growing plants from seeds, check out the <a href="http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/publications/guides/e-545_vegetable_gardening_containers.pdf" target="_hplink">Texas AgriLife Extension Services's container gardening guide</a>. <br> <br> If you're using starts, be sure to purchase only healthy plants to keep diseases out of your container garden. If a plant is limp, has drooping or discolored leaves, has holes in the leaves, or is generally not healthy looking, pick a different plant or head to another retailer, <a href="ftp://ftp-fc.sc.egov.usda.gov/AK/News/BucketBrigade.pdf" target="_hplink">the USDA suggests</a>. <br> <br> <a href="http://earth911.com/news/2011/03/28/7-reused-items-to-boost-your-garden/" target="_hplink">Garden More, Waste Less: 7 Reused Items to Boost Your Garden</a> <br> <br> <em><a href="http://www.flickr.com/" target="_blank">Flickr:</a> <a href="http://www.flickr.com/people/reblf/" target="_blank"> Image courtesy of rfarmer</a></em>

  • 4. Start Planting!

    After you've selected plants and containers, you're ready to start setting up the garden. Begin the set-up process by choosing a growing medium (aka soil mixture) that provides nutrients to plants and drains well for easy care-taking. <br> <br> An all-purpose commercial potting mix composed of peat moss, vermiculite and perlite is generally recommended. But synthetic or soilless mixtures are also well suited for growing vegetables in containers, as these choices are free of disease and weed seeds, hold moisture and nutrients and drain well. <br> <br> Soilless mixtures may be composed of sawdust, wood chips, peat moss, perlite or vermiculite and can be purchased at most garden retailers. You can also make your own, but it can get a bit tricky. Use this formula from the <a href="http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/publications/guides/e-545_vegetable_gardening_containers.pdf" target="_hplink">Texas AgriLife Extension Service</a> to make sure you get it right. <br> <br> Before planting, thoroughly water the soil mix in your container. For better drainage, add a thin layer of rocks and pebbles to the bottom of your container before adding soil. If using seeds, plant at the depth specified on the back of the packet. If transplanting, make sure to keep the root ball intact and water again after planting, suggests the <a href="http://www.gardening.cornell.edu/factsheets/misc/containers.pdf" target="_hplink">Cornell Cooperative Extension</a>. <br> <br> When placing your containers, keep in mind that most fruits and vegetables require full sun for healthy and productive growth. So, choose a spot that receives at least six hours of sunlight each day, the gardening pros at the <a href="http://www.gardening.cornell.edu/factsheets/misc/containers.pdf" target="_hplink">Cornell Cooperative Extension</a> advise. <br> <br> <a href="http://earth911.com/news/2010/07/14/from-seedlings-to-servings-11-year-old-grows-tons-of-veggies-for-the-homeless/" target="_hplink">Get Inspired: From Seedlings to Servings: 11-Year-Old Grows Tons of Veggies for the Homeless</a> <br> <br> <em><a href="http://www.flickr.com/" target="flickr">Flickr:</a> <a href="http://www.flickr.com/people/nataliemaynor/" target="flickr"> Image courtesy of NatalieMaynor</a></em>

  • 5. Caring For Your Crops

    Most container crops don't need much, but caring for them properly helps ensure healthier plants and a more bountiful harvest. Watering needs will vary from plant to plant, but one watering each day is sufficient in most cases. For best results, increase watering to twice a day for plants with lots of foliage. <br> <br> If you use transplants, hydrate with a <a href="http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/publications/guides/e-545_vegetable_gardening_containers.pdf" target="_hplink">water-and-fertilizer mix</a> to keep soil moist and provide nutrients to growing crops. To make your solution, simply dissolve a water-soluble fertilizer in 1 gallon of warm tap water. This mixture will be very potent and must be diluted before adding to plants. Mix 2 tablespoons of concentrated solution with 1 gallon of tap water, and use this nutrient-rich solution to water your plants. <br> <br> For seeds, use tap water until plants emerge. Once crops start poking their heads out of the soil, start watering with a fertilizer solution for top-quality produce. Avoid watering the leaves and foliage of all plants, as <a href="http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/publications/guides/e-545_vegetable_gardening_containers.pdf" target="_hplink">wet leaves will encourage plant diseases</a>. Want to take the guesswork out of watering your plants? Use these instructions from the <a href="http://extension.umd.edu/" target="_hplink">Maryland Cooperative Extension</a> to make your own <a href="http://www.hgic.umd.edu/_media/documents/hg600.pdf" target="_hplink">self-watering container</a> from recycled materials. <br> <br> You should also "leach" your plants at least once each week to prevent buildup of excess fertilizers and harmful minerals in potting soil, suggests the <a href="http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/publications/guides/e-545_vegetable_gardening_containers.pdf" target="_hplink">Texas AgriLife Extension Service</a>. Simply add enough lukewarm tap water to the container to allow free drainage from the bottom, and watch unwanted additives wash away. <br> <br> Noticing some problems with your plants? Check out the <a href="http://agrilifeextension.tamu.edu/" target="_hplink">Texas AgirLife Extension Service</a>'s guide to <a href="http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/publications/guides/e-545_vegetable_gardening_containers.pdf" target="_hplink">troubleshooting your container garden</a>. <br> <br> <a href="http://earth911.com/news/2011/05/26/urban-homesteading/" target="_hplink">Gardening is Only the Beginning: Inside the Urban Homesteading Craze</a> <br> <br> <em><a href="http://www.flickr.com/" target="_blank">Flickr:</a> <a href="http://www.flickr.com/people/chichacha/" target="_blank"> Image courtesy of chichacha</a></em>

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