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Container gardening answer to fresher food

Submitted by Lynda Krupp, Overlander Women's Institute Preservatives are commonly used to keep our food looking fresh because most of us are prepared to spend more money on something in the supermarket if it is labelled as 'fresh' or looks 'fresh.

Submitted by Lynda Krupp, Overlander Women's Institute

Preservatives are commonly used to keep our food looking fresh because most of us are prepared to spend more money on something in the supermarket if it is labelled as 'fresh' or looks 'fresh.'

However, did you know the word 'fresh' can be used to describe food that has been heat-treated, part frozen, industrially or chemically altered, and then stored for weeks on end?

A recent study suggests that while the soft, shiny exterior of tomatoes or the lush, green texture of peas and leafy veggies might tempt our taste buds and their apparent ‘freshness’ might appeal visually, the truth is that something sinister may lie beneath; and might be a toxic concoction of hazardous chemicals. The consumption of raw fruits and vegetables thus becomes a paradox. Chemicals such as copper sulfate, rhodamine-oxide, malachite green, and deadly carbide are the ones most commonly used to accentuate coloration and freshness. These are deemed neuro-toxic (meaning affecting the brain) and are carcinogenic.

A potential solution to the availability of truly fresh food is to grow it ourselves; and container gardening may be the answer.

The work of a typical garden plot becomes less practical as we age. Digging, mulching, planting, weeding and harvesting becomes hard work accompanied by aches and pains. Growing vegetables in raised platforms, or even vertically, changes the old way of growing plants in rows and beds yet keeps the satisfaction of personal achievement. Growing plants using a smaller footprint means less soil preparation and digging. It also means more plant variety in much less space. This type of gardening provides opportunities to create bottom-up and top-down plantings along with less weeding, improved air circulation and less risk of plant diseases and pests. Top-performing vertical vegetables or fruits provide larger yields in compact spaces with far fewer maintenance chores using no chemicals to enhance growth. Use latticework to support vining vegetables; and open ladders as stairs to hold full flats of plants or lean ladders against fences or walls. A stepladder on small patios or decks can create an attractive layered effect.

Pallet gardening can be ideal for small balcony living. Wooden pallets are easy to come by and are not made of pressure-treated lumber. Although one could plant a pallet with it resting on the deck, placing it on a tabletop or a pair of sawhorses makes it much easier to work with from a standing position. Place the pallet so that the side with the widest openings is facing up. Slats can be removed from the top of the pallet to provide a wider planting space.

Pallet gardening guarantees a better result from the day the trowel hits the soil–by shrinking the size of garden space needed and reducing the work needed to prepare new beds. Chores like weeding, watering, fertilizing, and controlling pests and diseases are reduced considerably, while fresh yields are increased, all without the use of chemicals.

This pallet shown contained the following plants: six swiss chard in one spot, six multi-coloured swiss chard in a second spot, six kale (using two spots). Yellow beans, green beans and broccoli were plentiful too. A vining vegetable is capable of continuous yields; the more one picks, the more the plant forms new flowers and fruit to prolong the harvest. For example, cucumbers can grow over the edge and twine around latticework to support the cucumbers.

Should one choose to try a pallet garden to grow fresh food, remember that when preparing the garden, turn the pallet over so that the pallet is lying face down, then, using a staple gun, add a thick layer of heavy plastic or other type of waterproof barrier. Next, add a sheet of thin plywood over the cloth and/or plastic and secure. Turn the pallet back over to face up and then line the inside with landscape fabric making sure the fabric covers the bottom as well as the sides to catch any soil that may otherwise fall out. This is also an important part of protecting the exterior of the house from the moisture and grime should one choose to use the vertical style pallet garden.

Fill the spaces with good quality potting soil or container mix. Don’t use ordinary garden soil or soil that is designed for planting beds, as it’s too heavy and won’t drain as well. Next add the plants. Don’t be afraid to pack them in. The pallet can be securely mounted up against the house or railing using corner brackets; however, not everyone wants to put screw holes in the outer walls of their home, so best to choose the table-top set up. Thoroughly water the plants and soil. There will be more settling and some soil loss so keep some extra soil on hand and add as necessary.

Monitor the garden for a few days adding soil and water as needed as the plants establish and soil continues to settle. Once the roots fill out in a couple weeks, just make sure to keep it watered. Because this garden is above ground, it will dry out more quickly. If done correctly the garden should grow quickly, profusely, be totally weed free and perhaps most importantly, totally free of chemicals. Production of these veggies will last until shortly after a heavy frost.