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Produce Climbs the Food Chain to a New Level of Importance : How to Grow Edibles in Hanging Baskets

March 22, 1997

* Select a place that gets full sun. Baskets can be suspended from patio structures, rafters or balconies. If full sun is not available, select a spot that gets afternoon sun.

* Grace Mayeda of M&M Nursery in Orange uses 14- or 15-inch round wire baskets lined with E-Z Liner, a polyester pouch with a plastic inner layer that eliminates the need for sphagnum moss and is more effective at retaining water. Use commercial potting mix and add plants from color packs or 4-inch containers. You can group several in one basket.

* At planting, add no more than half a teaspoon of dry granules of soil polymer to conserve water.

Mayeda cautions against using more, because they are very effective at holding water. The polymers release water to the plant roots as the soil dries out. As the plants mature, they will still require watering every few days, more when temperatures soar or windy conditions arise. Mature plants may need daily watering, especially if the baskets are heavily planted.

* Fertilizing is necessary, because frequent watering leaches out nutrients. Mayeda recommends adding two tablespoons of a timed-release fertilizer like Osmocote at initial planting. In addition, she uses a water-soluble fertilizer every three to four weeks.

* Pest control is simplified when baskets are suspended from the ground, but caterpillars can still attack the maturing crop. Use BT (Bacillus thuringensis), a nontoxic control. Sprays of water will dispel aphids.

* Mayeda recommends rotating the baskets every two or three days to promote uniform growth. Swivel hooks simplify the process.

Recommended Varieties

* Bambino eggplant: Compact and prolific, producing 1-inch round eggplant. Strong flavor, best when picked young. Remove skins before eating. Use four starter plants per basket.

* Bush cherry tomato: Large 1-inch fruit on a compact plant. Use three or four plants per basket.

* Bush Roma tomato: 2-inch oblong fruit are used in sauces, salsa and salads. Plant three or four per basket. Add basil, oregano, parsley and garlic chives around tomatoes to create a spaghetti sauce basket.

* Black Beauty squash: Compact plant produces regular-size zucchini. Pick squash while small to ensure continued production. Hand-pollinate the female flowers by collecting orange pollen (use a cotton swab) from the longer male flowers to increase production.

* Bush beans (Derby, Burgundy and Blue Lake): Compact and prolific varieties. Pick beans while young for better production. Plant eight to 12 plants per baskets. For continued production, start a new basket every six weeks.

* Garden baby watermelon: Each plant produces two or three melons with 4-inch diameters and very sweet red flesh. Use four to eight plants in a 16-inch round basket.

* Yellow doll watermelon: Very good producer on compact vines. Each plant produces four melons with 4-inch diameters and sweet yellow flesh. Use four to eight plants in a 16-inch round basket.

* Yolo Wonder bell peppers: Very productive. Peppers turn red as they mature. Use three or four plants per basket.

* Habanero pepper: Hot and very prolific plants. Basket is very showy as peppers mature to an orange color. Use four to six plants per basket.

* Herb baskets: Select herbs with a maximum height of 18 inches, such as basil, chives, sage, savory, sweet marjoram, mints and parsley. Plant taller herbs in the center and surround with lower growers on sides or edges of basket. Choose several with colorful, lacy foliage for visual effects. Use six to 12 plants in a 14-inch shallow basket.

* Seascape and Chandler strawberries: Compact and productive plants. Both varieties bear large, sweet berries for eating or dipping in chocolate. Use six plants in a 14-inch shallow basket. Or use a 14-inch round basket and place six plants in the top and six to 18 plants around the sides.

* Salad bowls: In a 16-inch shallow basket, insert up to 12 plants. Select leaf lettuces, Swiss chard, butter crunch or Romaine. A 16-inch round basket can also be planted around the sides with compact varieties.

* Dwarf snow and sugar peas: Use 12 starter plants in the top of a 14-inch round basket. Vines will trail down to 3 feet. Pick edible pods while immature and steam or stir fry.

Theme Baskets

* Chili sauce basket: Plant a 14- or 16-inch round basket with Roma tomatoes, peppers and garlic chives.

* Salad bowl basket: In a 16-inch or 18-inch shallow basket, plant red lettuce, Swiss chard, butter crunch, romaine and spinach.

* Salsa basket: Plant Roma tomatoes, habanero or Shishito peppers, garlic chives and cilantro in a 14-inch or 16-inch round basket.

* Shish kebab basket: Plant a 16-inch round basket with cherry tomatoes, Bambino eggplant, bell pepper or habanero pepper.

* Spaghetti sauce basket: Plant a 16-inch round basket with Roma tomatoes, basil, garlic chives, oregano and parsley.

Source: Grace Mayeda

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