What project will give lots of summer fun while adding fresh salads to family suppers? Tub farming! Even if you don't have a garden, you can still grow crunchy radishes, crisp lettuce, juicy tomatoes. All you need is an old tub or pot plus seeds, soil, and a sunny place to put them.
What salad vegetables does your family love most? One tomato plant probably produces the most food in the smallest space of any vegetable. Others that grow quickly are radishes, lettuce, beets.
Light. Choose a sunny porch, patio, balcony, or back step for your tub farm. It should be sheltered from high winds. Your crops will need at leastm six hours of direct sunlight. A white wall will add light and heat, if needed.
Leafy vegetables (lettuce) can stand more shade than root vegetables (beets, carrots, radishes). Vegetable fruit plants (tomatoes) need the most sun of all. So if a tree shades your balcony every morning, lettuce and radishes will grow better than a tomato plant.
Containers. You can grow vegetables in pots or pails, tubs or boxes. A barrel cut in half is also good. They must be at least 8 or 9 inches deep. Find out from the list how much space each vegetable needs.
Good drainage is important in tub farming. Often plants die when roots are kept too wet. So ask an adult to drill several evenly-spaced holes near the bottom of solid containers. Then line the bottom with clean gravel. This lets extra water escape, or at least settle below plant roots.
A good soil mixture is one-third top soil, one-third sand, and one-third peat moss. Or you can buy potting soil from a garden center. You want a light, loose soil that lets seeds sprout and little roots search for food and water.
Fill your tub to within an inch or two of the top.
Shop for seeds and plants at a garden center. Ask the salesperson for small varieties. Seed packets and tomato plants should cost less than $1 apiece. Buy fresh seeds packaged for the current year. Always read growing instructions with care. When buying tomato plants, look for short, bushy ones withoutm lots of stem.
Water well. Then let it drain before sowing the seed. Seeds need a warm, moist place to sprout. Tip the seeds into your palm and sow them with your other hand. Spread seeds thinly and evenly. Save out about 1 cup of soil to sprinkle over seed and follow directions on the packet. Keep the container warm and shaded, if possible, until seeds sprout. Plastic wrap placed snugly over the top holds in moisture and warmth.
Can you be patient for a few days? As soon as seeds start to sprout, take off plastic wrap. Give tiny seedlings shade and moisture until they're growing strongly. Thin out smaller plants if your tub is crowded. You can use the wrong end of an old kitchen fork to gently ease out extra plants.
Watering, feeding, and weeding. Water when soil feels dry. Gently pour or sprinkle with a watering can until water runs out drainage holes. Morning is the best time to water. During hot, dry, summer days, you may have to water every day. If you're going on vacation, have a friend continue the same watering schedule.
Young plants should be fed when the second leaves appear. Ask an adult to help you buy a good plant food, then follow instructions.
Weeds take up water, light, space, and plant food needed by your vegetables. Be careful to ease them out without disturbing your food crops.
Soon you'll be ready to harvest your salad vegetables. Pick only what you need just before supper. You'll be proud to take your fresh, crisp crop to the table!