You don’t need a big patch of land to start your own backyard garden—one where you can plant and harvest edible greens to make your favorite dishes. Start small with herbs and vegetables that are easy to grow in containers.“Pick ones that are low-maintenance and grow all year round,” says Gerald Sioco, marketing and communications director of Cedarhills Garden Center in Quezon City. “Most herbs actually do well in containers,” adds small-scale organic farmer Divine Enya Mesina.
These herbs, vegetables, and fruits are not only easy to care for, they also make for delicious ingredients!
This aromatic herb grows up to four feet tall, so it’s best cultivated in a medium-sized pot. While it’s a hardy plant, it still needs watering every two to three days. “Water often, especially when it’s hot outside,” advises Gerald. It’s best kept outdoors and exposed to direct sunlight for a few hours. To keep it from growing spindly, snip a few sprigs occasionally (and use them to whip up rosemary roasted chicken).
Varieties of mint, like spearmint and peppermint, are pretty easy to care for. Water daily (or even twice a day during the dry season) and every other day in the cooler months. To keep the plant from growing long stems and leaves that are far apart, do some occasional pruning. Place your pot in partially shaded areas where it can soak in the morning sun. A word of caution: Mint grows aggressively, so pot it separately as it can choke other plants.
“Basil is my favorite herb because it’s delicious and aromatic,” says Divine. As with most herbs, trim basil regularly to encourage leaf growth and avoid tough, woody stems. Place it in a spot where it can get six to eight hours of sunlight. Keep the soil moist by watering three to four times a week. Your reward: more than enough supply for pesto!
Tarragon is a perennial herb with a flavor and aroma similar to anise. The plant appreciates partially shaded areas. As with mint, water it every other day and daily in the summer months. Keep it lush with regular trimming. Use this herb to make a calming cup of tea.
Grow the papaya plant, which can grow up to 15 feet tall, in a 30-gallon barrel or drum. Create drainage holes in the container so the plant doesn’t sit in water for too long. Since it’s a tropical fruit, it loves direct sunlight. Water it three to four times a week.
CALAMANSI AND LEMONS
Randy Samperoy, store supervisor at Cedarhills Garden Center, says that they can be grown in large pots, which will encourage them to bear more fruit. They need direct sunlight and daily watering.
When potted, a guava tree grows only up to 10 feet. Pick a pot that’s at least 10 inches wide; place it in an area that receives six hours of sunlight a day and is shaded in the afternoon. The guava plant thrives in slightly moist soil, and requires regular pruning to develop a strong structure and encourage fruiting.
FRUIT-BEARING PLANTS LIKE TOMATOES AND EGGPLANTS
Tomatoes and eggplants thrive in areas where they can get six hours of full or direct sunlight. “The plants can be placed in your backyard or even in your terrace,” says Divine. Opt for bigger containers, and water daily or when the soil is no longer moist. Eggplants should be watered four times a week, but don’t overdo it to avoid root rot.
Siling labuyo or bird’s eye chili, sweet bell pepper, and Thai chili can be grown in pots. Peppers love the sun, so keep them where they can bask under six to eight hours of sunlight. Don’t forget to water them three to four times a week.
VINE VEGETABLES LIKE AMPALAYA, GREEN PEAS, AND BEANS
Care for them in the way you would peppers. “Just make sure that you provide a trellis where they can climb,” says Divine.
LEAFY GREENS SUCH AS LETTUCE AND PECHAY
Since these plants have a short root system, you can grow them in small- or medium-sized containers. Try plant boxes if you want to grow a row, but remember to space the plants out. Place them in partially shaded areas, as direct sunlight might scorch the leaves. Water regularly to keep the soil moist; just like eggplants, lettuce should be watered four times a week.
“I grow my okra from seeds,” Divine shares. “It sprouts in eight to 10 days; starts to flower after 25 to 30 days, then these flowers will turn to fruits in a few days. The fruits will be ready for picking after six to seven days.” Place your okra where it can get six to eight hours of direct sunlight, and water it four to five times a week. Since okra grows up to four feet tall, it’s best to house them in a large container.
INSECTS BE GONE!
“The big challenge for first-time container gardeners is pest infestation—aphids in particular,” says Divine. “They look like small, white cottony patches on the leaves.” Here’s her DIY organic pesticide recipe.
Place 2 cloves garlic (crushed), 3 bird’s eye chilies (siling labuyo), and a few drops cooking oil in 1 liter water; mix well. Let it stand overnight. Strain and pour into a spray bottle. Spray directly on infected leaves once a week, or more often depending on the severity of the infestation.
The morning sun, together with the chili and garlic in the spray, may burn and hurt your plants, so it’s best to do the spraying late in the afternoon.
Welcome your seedlings to their new pots with this step-by-step guide.
1 Fill the new pot with potting soil. A good mix contains regular potting soil and organic fertilizer. Gerald recommends using a ready-mix, all-purpose potting medium like Puro, which is available at Cedarhills Garden Center.
2 Carefully remove the soil that comes with the seedling; make sure not to hurt the roots. You can opt to keep the original soil, but it’s better to start with a fresh potting mix. This helps your seedling get more nutrients because the plant may have already consumed the nutrients in the soil it was grown in.
3 Place the seedling in a new pot. Add more potting mix if necessary, but avoid filling the pot to the brim. Also, remember not to pack in the soil too tightly because the water won’t drain well. The soil shouldn’t be too loose either as it won’t be able to retain enough water.
4 To avoid transplanting shock, water your newly transferred plant. Pour water directly at the base of the herb, vegetable, or fruit plant.
Keep these tips in mind to ensure container-gardening success:
PICK THE RIGHT CONTAINER.
The proper container size is relative to the size of your seedling. The bigger the container, the more room there is for your plant to grow in.
KEEP THEM IN A BOX.
If you plan to plant vegetables like lettuce in rows, you may opt for plant boxes that are readily available at garden stores. Leafy greens and fruit-bearing vegetables can be planted together; just make sure to space them out evenly to give their roots enough room to grow.
GO FOR SEEDLINGS.
“First-time gardeners have better chances of success if they start with seedlings instead of seeds,” says Divine. While it’s exciting to see seeds sprout, planting from seeds requires better growing conditions and more care because the seeds are very fragile. The upside, however, is that you’re assured that your edible greens are grown organically right from the start.
GIVE THEM ENOUGH WATER.
“Herbs require proper watering—too much and they rot, too little and they wilt and dry up,” says Joanne. To make sure your plants get enough water, heed Divine’s practical advice: “A good rule of thumb is to take some soil from the container; it should be a bit damp—not too wet nor too dry.”
Regular pruning keeps herbs lush. Do this once or twice a month, trimming the top leaves.
LOCATION IS KEY.
Potted herbs and vegetables generally thrive in places where they can get direct sunlight daily. A small backyard is ideal, but if you don’t have the space, a corner in your condo’s balcony can house your potted greens. The steps by your front door, if facing the sun, is also a good location. You can also set your small- and medium-sized pots on a bench or table. Some herbs, like mint, can be placed indoors, but make sure to put them by a window so they still get a bit of sunlight. Take them out to get direct sun exposure once in a while.
HEAD TO THESE GARDENING HOTSPOTS:
For a list of all branches, see www.acehardware.ph.
Katipunan Avenue, White Plains, Quezon City
(tel. no.: 911-4318; www.bulacangarden.com)
Cedarhills Garden Center
57 Mother Ignacia Avenue, Quezon City
(tel. no.: 926-2707; mobile no.: 0907-ORGANIC; www.facebook.com/cedarhillsgardencenter)
For a list of all branches, see www.handyman.com.ph.
92 Katipunan Avenue, White Plains, Quezon City
(tel. no.: 911-5558; mobile no.: 0918-8076919; www.marleinasfarm.com)
Article was published in the June 2016 issue of Yummy magazine. Minor edits were made by Yummy.ph editors.