Growing in just a few big pots set in a sunny corner of a deck or patio, a compact container garden can reward you with a steady stream of vegetables from spring through fall.
From carrots to zucchini, a surprisingly wide variety can be grown successfully in containers. (Large, space-consuming plants like corn, melons, and pumpkins are still best grown in the ground.)
Large containers (18 inches or more in diameter) made of thick-walled terra-cotta or plastic work best for vegetables because they allow ample room for root growth, retain moisture well, and provide insulation against day and night temperature extremes.
Fill containers with good potting soil amended with a complete organic or controlled-release fertilizer. Apply fish emulsion or liquid fertilizer (such as 20-20-20 formula) every two weeks for the entire season.
Install supports like stakes, trellises, and tomato cages at planting time. Place pots in a spot where they'll get at least six hours of sun per day. Water whenever the top inch of soil dries out.
For more tips, see The Bountiful Container, by Rose Marie Nichols McGee and Maggie Stuckey (Workman Publishing, New York, 2002; $17; www.workman.com or 800/722-7202).
Beans. Bush-type 'Blue Lake' green bean is a popular choice. Try scarlet runner bean on a trellis or tripod.
Cucumbers. Let lemon cukes trail over the rim or grow up a trellis.
Eggplants. Japanese types work well; we've had excellent success with 'Asian Bride', 'Farmers' Long', and 'Little Fingers'.
Herbs. Plant seedlings of basil, chives, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, and thyme. Keep spreaders like lemon balm and mint in their own containers.
Leaf crops. Choose looseleaf lettuce varieties like 'Oak Leaf' or 'Red Sails', or any mesclun. It's hard to beat 'Bright Lights' Swiss chard.
Peas. Bush-type 'Oregon Sugar Pod II', which reaches only 2 1/2 to 3 feet, bears sweet, crisp pods.
Peppers. For large, sweet peppers, try 'Giant Marconi'; for hot peppers, grow 'Habanero', 'Super Cayenne', and 'Thai Dragon'.
Root crops. Plant 'Chantenay #1' or 'Sweetness II' carrots, any kind of radish, and almost any potato (red ones like 'Buffalo' and 'Red La Soda' are especially good).
Tomatoes. Among slicing types, choose determinate varieties like 'Bush Celebrity', 'Pik Red', and 'Solar Set'; for cherry tomatoes, go with 'Sun Gold', 'Sweet Million', and 'Yellow Pear'.
Zucchini. Try one of the bush types such as 'Eight Ball', 'Raven', 'Ronde de Nice', or 'Spacemiser'.