By David A. Silver
Some gardening is for the birds. I mean this in a good way. Your pet birds will enjoy the many vegetables and herbs that you can grown on a the windowsill or in pots outdoors. There are many advantages to growing vegetables in containers. You can plant more vegetables into a given growing area than you can in a garden. It saves a lot of space, and it saves your back as well because there is virtually no weeding. With limited sunshine in my yard, I can even move pots as needed to catch more sun. I even saved some of my outdoor vegetables from an impending hail storm by moving the pots to a sheltered area!
Rules To Grow Vegetables & Herbs
There are a few general rules for vegetable container gardening. The most important is to have a minimum of four hours of sunlight available for your vegetables. This is especially true for growing lettuce and other salad greens on windowsills. Low light levels cause poor growth and can lead to an accumulation of nitrogen in these greens. Eating greens grown under low-light conditions in quantity can be unhealthy for people and pet birds. A minimum of four hours of sunlight keeps this from happening. Supplemental full-spectrum lighting can add to deficient light levels.
Another rule is to pay attention to watering needs. The soil in containers can dry out very quickly, especially in sunny and windy conditions. Clay pots dry out more quickly than plastic pots. Finally, vegetables grown in containers have a higher need for fertilizer than their garden counterparts. A soil mix that already contains a source of fertilizer for continuous feeding is desirable.
Container-grown vegetables indoors successfully is more likely to succeed if you choose vegetables that mature in less than 60 days from seed, such as lettuce, arugula, dill and dandelions. Your outdoor container vegetables are only limited by your growing season.
Prepare Your Materials For Planting Herbs
Container size is not critical. Smaller containers, such as 4-inch to 8-inch pots, work well on windowsills, but you can use whatever size your space permits. Outdoors, larger containers do not dry out as quickly as smaller ones.
Use sterile pots. If you are recycling older pots, clean them thoroughly and then sterilize with a 10-percent bleach solution. Afterward, rinse the pots well in plain running water. Once you have a clean container, add small stones to the bottom to cover the drainage holes. This prevents soil from washing out from the bottom, and increases the drainage for the pots. As an alternative to stones, recycle an old or cracked clay pot. Put on safety glasses, and break up the pot into smaller pieces with a hammer and use the pieces at the bottom of your pots. Fill the rest of the container with a commercial-grade potting mix. If the potting mix does not already have fertilizer mixed into it, add a continuous release fertilizer specially formulated for vegetables, such as Osmocote.
Now you are ready to plant. Purchase a variety of seeds, and follow the suggested planting guide on the back of the seed packet. You can plant the seeds closer together in a pot than you would in the ground. That’s all there is to it. Adding some greens to your home year-round is good for the mind and spirit, as well as health. So get a garden going for yourself and for your birds!
Try these cool-weather vegetables for yourself and for your pet birds. They are well-adapted to container gardening and will work both indoors and out.
Arugula: Harvest the individual leaves of this member of the mustard family as it grows. Replant every few weeks.
Beets: Soaking the seeds in a bath tub of hot water for an hour before planting will increase germination rates. Harvest the baby greens from the beet tops. They are excellent in salads.
Broccoli raab: (also known as Cimi di Rappa) This is not really broccoli, but it’s a member of the turnip family. Harvest before the tops flower, and sow every few weeks for best results.
Catalogna dandelions: These may be a little bitter for some people, but they are a favorite with my Gouldian finches. Harvest the greens when very young, and don’t let them flower.
Coriander (cilantro): Harvest the leaves frequently, or let it go to seed (which is when cilantro becomes coriander).
Dill: Trim the tops of the greens as it grows. Harvest often and replant every few weeks during the season.
Mesclun mix: These mixes have a blend of different salad greens. This "cut and come again” variety offers several harvests before starting a new batch.