From Container to Kitchen:
Growing Fruits and Vegetables in a Pot
by D. J. Herda
The first book I ever published
on the subject of growing plants in containers was one of the first books
I ever published period. It was called Growing Trees Indoors,
and it was a runaway hit, coming within a few hundred thousand copies of
making the New York Times Bestsellers’ List.
The book earned me, back in
1979, nearly universal praise (someone from Wisconsin’s Mt. Horeb Mail
said it was a damned fine book, with pictures and everything) and garnered
me a fortune in royalties, totaling nearly $800, if memory serves me
correctly. It also taught me a valuable lesson about the concept of
growing plants in containers:
People weren’t ready for it.
Today, more than 30 years
later, all that has changed. For one thing, I’m just about exactly 30
years older. For another, I’m a whole lot smarter. And, finally, people
are ready for it.
Why the change in attitude?
Why is the time right today for a book on growing plants in containers—and
not only plants, but edible plants, fruits of the womb,
sustainable-growth harvestable manna—as opposed to a book on container
gardening more than three decades ago?
Filling a Void
Well, for starters, more people than ever before are living in urban
environments. Apartments, condominiums, spider holes stacked nearly one
on top of another—just about any habitable space is being inhabited. That
means that more people than ever before are no longer able to enjoy the
benefits of traditional gardening. It’s difficult to walk out the back
door, grab a shovel, and begin rooting around in the yard when the “yard”
consists of three cubic feet of poured concrete separating the high rise
apartment building next door from the one in which you live.
The fact that most people don’t
have access to large yards or corner lots or sprawling acres in the
countryside anymore doesn’t negate their innate desire to garden, of
course. It only makes their desire to garden that much stronger. The
gardening urge is genetically implanted in our souls. Gardening is as old
an activity as modern mankind. Before ancient hunters came gardeners.
Before ancient real-estate brokers came gardeners. Before even Rupert
Murdoch came gardeners. In fact, the only human activity to precede
gardening was gathering. Gatherers wandered from area to area, scrounging
up enough fruits and berries, seeds and nuts to sustain them throughout
their lifetime, which must have averaged fifteen or twenty years. And
many of them were gatherers only because they hadn’t yet discovered
Burpee’s on-line catalog!
Today, people feel a need to
get back to their prehistoric origins, to return to their genetically
programmed basics—something that is difficult to do when you live in New
York or Chicago or Los Angeles, damned near impossible to do when you live
in a three-story brownstone or a high rise megalith spiraling hundreds of
feet above Lake Michigan.
A Healthier Alternative
People also feel a need to garden because they’re more health-conscious
than their ancestors were. They’re better informed about the world around
us. With all of the periodic stories about tainted fruits and
vegetables—including salmonella, which, contrary to popular belief, does
not come exclusively from salmon—who wouldn’t worry? With all the tales
about produce laced with toxins and heavy metals, about irradiated and
otherwise diminished foodstuffs of questionable nutritional value and
similar concerns, it’s suddenly not only socially expedient but also
physiologically critical to find a source of clean, fresh, vitamin-rich
produce. At least it is for anyone who doesn’t consider Fruit Loops and
Bloomin’ Onions to be among the U.S. Department of Health’s top two food
Yet, today, when you visit the
produce section of your local supermarket, you find apples that were
picked in Madagascar three weeks ago; tomatoes that were plucked green,
gassed, and trucked up from Mexico four weeks ago; bananas that were
picked unripened from a plantation in Costa Rico five weeks ago; and bell
peppers whose origins and date of harvest are still a mystery.
Stand back and watch as little
kids fondle the produce—right after holding their pet frogs and iguanas.
You see adults coughing and sneezing into their hands before hefting a
dozen tomatoes and returning them to the stand as not quite suitable. You
observe employees hoisting cardboard boxes from stacks of other cardboard
boxes sitting on the floor and emptying their contents into bins marked
“Special - $2.79 a Pound.”
Fresh, healthful fruit and
produce? You tell me.
People, too, are turning increasingly to gardening because they worry
about the high cost of shopping. I remember a time not long ago when meat
was the most expensive thing you could buy at your local supermarket and
vegetarians were considered frugal, if not outright weird. Today, fresh
fruits and vegetables rival and in many cases surpass the cost of
meat—thanks in great part to spiraling harvest and delivery costs—and
vegetarians present a glowing portrait of people who know something the
rest of us don’t. Of course, they’re still considered weird, but that’s
With the rising cost of produce
such as we are experiencing, how can we cope? Who wants to take out a
second mortgage on the condo merely to buy fresh fruits and vegetables?
Who wants to give up financial liquidity for a few more years of physical
and emotional well being? Or could there be another way?
The Time Is Now
Finally, I felt the time was right for a book on growing plants in
containers because I need the money. Had that original tomb about growing
trees indoors that I wrote lo these many years ago sold better, I probably
wouldn’t have had to write another book on container gardening ever.
But that was not the case. I
abhor refined sugars and starches; I hate paying through the nose for
those things that I could be supplying for myself and my family for next
to no cost; and I want to put all of the knowledge I have gained about
container gardening to good use. What choice did I have but to tackle the
ultimate book on fruit and vegetable gardening?
There are other reasons for the
timeliness of this book, of course. For one, technology has advanced to
the point where, today, no-yard gardening is easier than ever. Modern
inventions (mere pipedreams back during the early days of garden writing)
and new discoveries about effective horticultural techniques make growing
fruit and vegetables in pots more practical than ever before. For
another, new varieties of plants—both fruits and vegetables—called
cultivars (short for “cultivated varieties”) make container gardening much
easier and more successful than in the good old days B.C. (Before
Thus was born the concept for
But those are not the only
reasons for growing fruit and vegetables in pots—not by a long shot.
There are others, and we’ll be presenting them to you within the next few
pages of this guide. We’ll tell you some of the things you can do and
grow with a minimum of knowledge, a minimum of space, and a maximum of
enjoyment. We’re even going to tell you how container gardening can not
only change your life, but also very possibly save it.
Here you’re going to learn
which fruit and vegetables grow best in pots, which varieties outperform
their less robust cousins, how to plant and nurture your crops from
planting to harvest, how to build your own best recipe for gardening
success, and how get the message out to others: the time is right for
And you’re going to read about it all right here.