By Rob Danforth

Let’s consider the “labour to yield ratio” or “labour to personal enrichment ratio”: when the labour side becomes much greater than the reward side of the ratio, urban organic vegetable & herb gardening quickly loses its appeal.

Containers reduce your labour:

  • Significantly fewer battles with weeds, insects, diseases, and some critters, but not squirrels!
  • More controlled growing conditions are possible (sun, wind, water).
  • Winter covers over large, outdoor containers reduce nutrient leaching, squirrel gardening, winter impurities, and weed growth, thereby reducing your spring labour.
  • Containers reduce the garden area and walkways that must be tended.
  • Containers nearby on a patio, porch, deck, front/back yard, balcony rail or fence will reduce waste since you pick only what you can use immediately avoiding letting bunches – e.g. cilantro and spinach – die in your fridge. This also saves fridge space, and reduces your carbon footprint.
  • Containers are easy to cover with row covers, frost blankets, bug nets, etc. This saves time and effort in the long run and saves your plants.
  • Containers, either portable or large permanent structures, let you get up close and personal with your plants so you can spot trouble before it gets out of hand.
  • Isolating invasive plants in pots will stop the plants from taking over the garden or the container and increasing your labour to control them. Do plant mint and chamomile in their own pots or sink a “closed” pot – no drain holes – in the ground or in a container. Once mint gets into your garden you will have a difficult time removing it.

And finally square-foot gardening in box beds can save you work figuring out spacing once the grid is set up. Pre-planning is necessary and the plan will help save time with future plant rotations. Grids can be string, rope, bungy cords, or a removeable wooden frame – all will have to be removed to let you aerate the soil and add compost, composted manure, or organic fertilizer. Tip: there is a colour coded plastic square foot gardening template that can be purchased to position your seeds with the proper spacing.

All in all, except for increased watering and perhaps fertilizing, containers save a lot of labour.