Today, with both garden space and time constrained in many households, it only makes sense that vegetable varieties offered to home gardeners provide the biggest bang in terms of a simplistic learning curve, low maintenance and the ability to fill the harvest basket easily from a minimal number of plants.
At Syngenta Flowers over the last few years, we have started releasing the very same varieties the local fresh market farmer produces into the home garden segment. These are garden workhorses with proven track records. They definitely fit the criteria needed for today’s smaller gardens in terms of productivity, flavor and ease of growing, but the question remained — how do these same varieties adapt to a patio situation?
Keeping in mind the vegetable gardener with limited space, time or hands-on experience, I set up a patio trial to answer a few basic questions:
1. How small of a container can I get away with?
2. What is the impact of the container on plant size?
3. What is the impact of the container on fruit set and overall productivity?
4. Considering that the basic potting mix is soilless, what is the impact on flavor?
4 Crops Versus Extreme Heat And Water Stress
Four crops were selected for screening based on their popularity with gardeners: determinate tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and bush beans. Pot sizes ranged from wine barrels down to a standard 10-inch pot. The patio trial was planted the same day as the in-ground trial for comparison purposes. With the exception of beans, both trials were transplanted using established plants in 4-inch pots.
Because the typical gardener hand-waters their patio or balcony garden, our trial was hand-watered and at the mercy of the water staff’s workload. This trial experienced a typical Gilroy, Calif., summer including very dry heat waves, frequent afternoon winds at 10 to 15 mph and water stress. As a trial observer, it was a challenge not to pick up the hose when the plants were flagging and water; I comforted myself by noting that this situation was similar to when consumers simply forget to water their plants. I let it go to test how much abuse these varieties could handle.
Trial Observations Show Varieties Acclimate Well To Containers
Tomato. Based on my previous experience with robust, in-ground plant performance, I was delighted to find Syngenta’s home garden determinate tomato plants readily adapted to containers as small as a 12-inch pot; the smaller the container — the smaller the plant. Interestingly, I did not observe a change in fruit size, set or quality — just a smaller plant. Strong cages with thick wire diameters are highly recommended and necessary to support the weight of the fruit in the patio container. We did not observe any outstanding differences in yields, fruit size or quality compared to our field planting.
The biggest question to answer was in regard to flavor. Blind taste tests between fruit harvested from the field and the patio trial revealed no one could distinguish a difference in flavor when comparing the same variety.
Tomato Tip: Depending on the variety and heft of the fruit, a typical 11-gauge or smaller diameter wire cage may collapse under the weight of the fruit. Do not underestimate the value of a quality cage.
Pepper. All peppers performed well down to a 10-inch pot. Standard cages are recommended to help support limbs laden with heavy fruit set. Taller varieties can become top heavy due to high productivity and abundant fruit set. When combining multiple plants in the larger containers, the large, 3 1/2- to 6-inch blocky bell peppers may not have enough room to fully develop if plants are too crowded. Multiple plants in 10- and 12-inch containers are not recommended. ‘Tomcat’ with its shorter stature, was the easiest to maintain and pumped out full-size 3 1/2-inch by 3 1/2-inch bell peppers all season long.
Pepper Tip: Specialty peppers such as ‘Pageant Sweet Banana’ or ‘Aruba Cubanelle’ are equally as beautiful to look at while developing as they are plentiful and tasty. Select containers that do not taper down to the base to prevent tipping when fruit nears maturity.
Zucchini. Squash was a little bit of a surprise. Considering how large a zucchini plant can become in the garden, zucchini fit in various container sizes. I observed no noticeable difference in yields. Similar to an in-ground plant, if not harvested in a timely manner, you can still end up with a monstrous zucchini. Personally, I will never plant zucchini in-ground again. The fruit were much easier to see and harvest from the containers.
Zucchini Tip: Select varieties with beautiful shaped or mottled foliage and make sure they have powdery mildew resistance. ‘Brice’ with its attractive foliage, broad disease resistance package and eye-catching round fruit is particularly well suited for containers.
Bush Beans. Direct sow beans 2 to 3 inches apart in concentric circles within the pot. It is amazing how well bean plants will adapt. Provide a peony cage or cut back a tomato cage to support the bonanza of beans that will be produced. Stress-tolerant varieties such as ‘Prevail’ or ‘Momentum’ adapt quite well to containers. Similar to the other crops, the beans adapted readily down to a
Bean Tip: Bean foliage is quite attractive and lush on its own. The ability to pick a meal-a-week from the pot makes them irresistible. Create a three-bean salad container by combining ‘Prevail’ green bean, ‘Carson’ yellow wax bean and ‘Furano’ Italian flat bean into the same container.
Patio-Bred Varieties May Not Be As Important As Careful Variety Selection
It’s not critical that a vegetable variety be bred specifically for the patio; it is important to select varieties that can adapt to the smaller containers. For gardeners with limited space and time, it is very possible to have a productive “container farm” producing grocery-aisle-sized fruit on the patio or balcony with Syngenta’s commercial varieties. GG
©2015 Syngenta. All photos are the property of Syngenta unless otherwise noted. Some or all of the varieties listed herein may be protected under one or more of the following: Plant Variety Protection, United States Plant Patents, Utility Patents, and/or Plant Breeders’ Rights and may not be propagated or reproduced without authorization.