Growing Orach In Pots: Care Of Orach Mountain Spinach In Containers
By: Liz Baessler
Orach is a little known but highly useful leafy green. It’s similar to spinach and can usually replace it in recipes. It’s so similar, in fact, that it’s often referred to as orach mountain spinach. Unlike spinach, however, it doesn’t bolt easily in the summer. This means that it can be planted early in the spring just like spinach, but will keep growing and producing well into the hot months. It’s also different in that it can come in deep shades of red and purple, providing striking color in salads and sautés. But can you grow it in a container? Keep reading to learn more about how to grow orach in containers and orach container care.
Growing Leafy Greens in Containers
Growing orach in pots is not too different from the usual methods of growing leafy greens in containers. There is one thing to keep in mind, though – orach mountain spinach gets big. It can reach 4 to 6 feet (1.2-18 m) in height, so keep this in mind when you’re choosing a container.
Pick something large and heavy that won’t tip over easily. The plants can also spread to 1.5 feet (0.4 m) wide, so be careful not to overcrowd them.
The good news is that baby orach is very tender and good in salads, so you can sow your seeds much more thickly and harvest most of the plants when they’re only a few inches tall, leaving only one or two to grow to full height. The cut ones should grow back as well, meaning you can harvest the tender leaves again and again.
Orach Container Care
You should start growing orach in pots early in the spring, two or three weeks before the last frost. They are somewhat frost hardy and can be kept outside while they germinate.
Orach container care is easy. Place them in full to partial sun and water regularly. Orach can tolerate drought but tastes best when kept watered.
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- Just about any vegetable or herb! Some of the more popular container crops are salad greens, peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, beans, chard, beets, radish, squash, and cucumbers.
- More challenging crops include melons, corn, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. The key is to experiment.
- Look for “bush” or “dwarf” varieties of the crops you want to grow. There are quite a few tomato and cucumber varieties bred for small-space gardening.
- Containers can be placed on any level surface — decks, balconies, and along driveways and sidewalks. You can also set them on bare ground and allow the plant roots to grow down into the soil or place them on top of a mulched area.
- Edibles can also be grown in hanging baskets and window boxes.
- Southern and western exposures will be the sunniest and warmest, while northern and eastern exposures will be shadier and cooler.
- You’ll need 6-8 hours of direct sun for warm-season crops (tomato, pepper, eggplant, squash) and 3-5 hours of direct sun for cool-season crops (lettuce, spinach, Asian greens).
- Easy access to water is crucial. Some containers will need watering every day when the weather is hot and dry.
- Consider the microclimate in the container garden area. Watch out for heat sinks created by brick, concrete, and reflective surfaces.
Herb containers on deck.
Introduction to Controlled Environment Agriculture
What is Controlled Environment Agriculture?
The purpose of CEA is to provide the optimal conditions necessary for crops to thrive throughout their development.
Think about the things that keep farmers up at night: the weather, disease, bugs, animals, etc. Now, think about the things consumers care about when purchasing produce: flavor, freshness, etc.
CEA allows farmers to have much tighter control over a lot of these factors instead of hoping for the best. It’s about removing risk and chance from the growing process.
Out with the bad, in with the good!
Now there are a lot of people who think that practically speaking, CEA just means trying to grow as much stuff as possible in a small space. And while that’s not completely untrue, that’s more of a result than the main goal.
Instead, CEA is really about higher quality food that’s grown closer to where it will be consumed and in a sustainable way that uses the least amount of resources. Those resources include water, energy, space, labor, and capital (money).
Controlled Environment Agriculture Inputs
The first word of the CEA acronym is ‘controlled’, and it is what separates CEA from traditional agriculture. But you might be curious as to what exactly is being controlled. The main input variables that CEA systems attempt to control are sometimes collectively referred to by researchers are ‘climate recipes’:
- Temperature: As any gardener knows, extremely hot or cold temperatures can be detrimental to plants. But less than ideal temperatures can stifle their growth without actually killing them. Therefore, tightly controlling the air, water, and even plant temperatures can affect the health and productivity of the crop.
- Humidity: If you’ve read our article on shipping container condensation, you already understand the relationship between temperature and humidity. In addition to corrosion of metal, humidity can also affect the health of plants, which is why controlling it is so important.
- Carbon dioxide (CO2): Carbon dioxide is an input (along with light) to the photosynthesis process in plants. Controlling the amount of carbon dioxide in the CEA air helps make plant growth more successful.
- Light: Light is the other photosynthesis input, and most CEA applications involve artificial light, typically from LEDs. Light can have varied intensity (brightness), spectrum (color), and duration (timing). Some CEA systems with computer-controlled lights actually convert to, for example, 16-hour days to increase crop productivity!
- Nutrients: Nutrients are delivered via water for hydroponic systems, but can also be delivered via soil as well. Either way, farmers are able to control the composition (which nutrients are used), concentration (how strong the nutrients are) and pH (acidity or alkalinity) of the nutrients delivered to crops
Specific Types of Controlled Environment Agriculture
A controlled-environment agricultural system can be simple or sophisticated. Just putting plastic film on the ground over crops is technically a form of CEA. On the other end of the spectrum, you have computer-controlled, sealed facilities that precisely meter every part of the environment.
The world-famous Cloud Forest at Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay is an impressive example of CEA on a large scale (Source)
Likely the most common type of CEA is the common greenhouse. In all of these cases, the important distinction is that several of the above environmental variables are being intentionally manipulated for a desired outcome.
When we talk about CEA, there are several types of alternative agricultural methods that are also part of the conversation. These include:
- Hydroponics: Growing plants without soil, either by having the roots directly suspended in nutrient-filled water or having the roots support in an inert medium like gravel
- Aeroponics: Similar to hydroponics, but the plant’s roots are suspended in air and regularly sprayed with a fine mist of nutrient-filled water
- Aquaculture: The farming of aquatic plants and animals like algae and fish under controlled conditions, as opposed to something like commercial fishing which takes place in open-water
- Aquaponics: A combination of hydroponics and aquaculture that involves aquatic animals, bacteria, and plants in a symbiotic mini-ecosystem. A common application is fish that are fed outside food, and whose excretions (with the help of bacteria) are converted into plant nutrients that are given via hydroponic methods
Additionally, there are also some adjacent ideas that aren’t exclusively part of CEA, but are often used in conjunction with it:
- Vertical Farming: Simply put, it is growing plants in vertically stacked layers. While in most cases this implies growing crops indoors as a CEA application, it could be used outdoors as well.
- Urban Farming: The process of growing and distributing crops in an urban environment, placing people closer to the source of their food and working to eliminate food deserts. Given the high land costs in urban areas, CEA is often used in conjunction with urban farming as a way to increase the crop yield.
- Sustainable Agriculture: Farming with an eye toward resource conversation, ensuring that farming activities today don’t adversely impact the ability of future farmers to grow healthy produce of their own.
- Cyber Agriculture: The application of cutting edge technology like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to create computerize agriculture, allowing software to determine the conditions that will result in a specific outcome in a plant (like a specific flavor, or enhanced medicinal qualities).
- Robotic Farming: The use of electromechanical robots to handle the maintenance and care of plants, whether indoors or outdoors.
Clearly, the umbrella of what constitutes CEA is pretty large. That breadth of possibilities is also what is helping drive CEA innovation in many different ways.
Controlled Environment Agriculture Research and Development Activities
If you’re just now learning about CEA, you might be surprised to find out just how much attention is being given to it these days.
While CEA is practiced by many backyard hobbyists, it’s also the focus of serious university research. Examples include:
Additionally, several startups with substantial Venture Capital funding are hard at work in this market, such as:
- Plenty with $486M raised
- AeroFarms with $238M raised
- Bowery Farming with $167M raised
- BrightFarms with $113M raised
There is serious money and time being spent to understand and improve CEA. This will help us have better agricultural systems that produce the food and other products we consume.
Controlled Environment Agriculture Benefits
With us so far? In CEA, farmers are intentionally manipulating the environmental variables we previously discussed. Why would they do that? After all, it’s not simple or cheap to do so necessarily.
If it wasn’t already obvious, farmers go to the trouble of thoughtfully rationing out the amounts of the above inputs because there are tangible benefits to be gained. Below are a few examples of how CEA can improve on existing agricultural methods:
- Productivity: CEA increases the productivity of a farm, usually expressed as pounds of produce per square foot. It does so in three ways: increasing the density of plants that coexist in a given space (usually with things like vertical farming), by shortening the growing season (thanks to better nutrients and lighting), and also by increasing the crop yield (ideal growing conditions lead to healthier plants with more growth).
- Flavor: By adjusting some of the input variables, farmers and scientists have come up with ways to develop distinct flavors out of the same crop. It’s the same phenomenon as wines that have a specific taste in certain years because of the weather experienced by the grapevines. It enables consumers to consistently have access to better or different tasting produce than they would normally find.
- Freshness: Locating farms closer to the consumers that will eat what is grown inside ensures that transportation time (and the cost of both miles covered and refrigeration required) is minimized. This also means that produce can be grown and picked for optimal freshness instead of the hardiness required to survive long-distance journeys (which in turn means the produce retains more of its color and nutrients).
- Availability: CEA removes the effects of climate, location, and seasonality meaning, you could theoretically have whatever produce you wanted at any time of year, in any location. Arugula in Antarctica or strawberries in space are both feasible. Extreme weather areas, non-arable land, and dense urban environments are all possible applications.
- Traceability: Consumers increasingly desire traceability in their food, meaning knowing where it came from, who grew it, how long ago it was picked, etc. These location-conscious buyers are sometimes called locavores and are having an important impact on food sourcing, including the popularity of farmers markets. When the farm is just down the street rather than hundreds or thousands of miles away, making food ‘local’ and from a company you believe in and trust is much easier.
- Purity: Closely controlling what goes into the crops means farmers also have control over what does NOT go in as well. Things like pesticides and herbicides are no longer required to prevent bugs and weeds from attacking the crops.
- Security: In one sense, CEA provides physical security by preventing losses from animal vermin or human theft. In another sense, it promotes food security by stabilizing future harvest quantities through the elimination of risks like droughts or freezes.
- Water Conservation: Since most CEA systems are closed or semi-closed systems, farmers can precisely control the water entering and leaving the overall system while preventing excess watering on adjacent areas. More importantly, they can recycle the water that IS needed over and over again, greatly reducing overall water use.
Growing Container Safe Salad Greens
by M. Bunning, F. Stonaker and A. Card 1 (3/2010)
- Growing your own salad greens can provide a source of fresh, flavorful leafy vegetables with the added benefit of being able to try interesting varieties.
- Salad greens are nutrient rich, generally easy to grow, and may be used in a variety of ways.
- Following these practical tips can help you enjoy a supply of fresh home-grown salad greens.
Benefits of Salad Bowl Gardening
Growing your own salad greens gives you the chance to have fresh, flavorful leafy vegetables and an opportunity to try some of the interesting varieties that are available. Often, the most colorful greens are higher in nutrients.
You will be able to harvest your first crop in just a few short weeks, using the small tender leaves that are often not available to buy. These micro-greens are the mix of choice for gourmet salads. Leafy greens also make a flavorful addition to sandwiches or wraps.
One of the joys of salad gardening is being able to plant once but harvest multiple times. Leafy vegetables can often be cut down almost to ground level and will re-grow additional leaves for your next harvest. You should be able to enjoy three or more harvests from each planting.
Salad mixes can be planted much closer together than other vegetables since they will not be maturing into full-sized plants. To have a season-long supply of greens, you may want to stagger your plantings to maintain a continuous supply of harvestable leafy greens – providing a salad source from early spring until fall.
Salad bowl gardening doesn’t require much effort or space – a deep tray, a few clay pots, or a 3-by-3 foot plot of ground in a sunny location can supply a bunch of salad greens. Growing in containers can help reduce problems with insects, soilborne diseases and poor soil conditions. Plus, your portable garden can be moved in order to catch more sun or shade as needed or to avoid extreme weather conditions.
Leafy greens are ideal for the cool temperatures and short seasons of Colorado because they can be eaten at any stage of maturity and grown in portable containers.
How to Grow a Salad Bowl Garden
Container. A tray, pot, or window box that is at least 18 inches across and 6 to 12 inches deep is a good choice. Deeper pots allow more room for roots and keep the soil from drying out as quickly.
The container can be made of clay, plastic or wood, but needs to have drainage holes in the bottom – you may want to use a self-watering container or position one tray inside another to prevent leaks. Fill the container with a good quality potting mixture some mixes are formulated to retain moisture that can be beneficial in Colorado’s dry climate. If containers are placed outside, plants and soil will be subject to more water loss and will need a larger reservoir of soil moisture. Over time, mineral deposits and other debris can accumulate on the container and may harbor disease organisms and cause problems for plants.
To disinfect plant containers, use a stiff brush to remove soil and mineral deposits, soak in a solution of one part household bleach to nine parts water for at least 10 minutes, and rinse well with water.
Seeds. Greens grow quickly so they can start from seeds rather than transplants. In addition to being more economical, growing from seeds offers the opportunity to choose from the wide variety of different types of leafy greens. Some of the choices available for salad mixes are lettuce, mustard greens, arugula, cress, mizuna, chervil, endive, mache, Chinese cabbage, tatsoi, escarole, garden cress, kale, and Swiss chard.
Often several brightly colored varieties come as a mix in one packet. “Mesclun” means mix and usually includes arugula, lettuce, endive and chervil. Many salad mixes include greens, like arugula, that have a tangy taste and add unique flavor. Red and dark green types generally are higher in nutrients and antioxidants. Some varieties are identified as heat tolerant and these may be good choices for container gardening.
Care. Before planting, thoroughly moisten the potting mix but not to the point of soaking wet. It’s a good idea to do this a few hours before planting. Water gently after planting, keeping the soil surface moist until plants emerge. Five or six hours of sun a day is recommended but many types of salad greens can get by with less and can even be grown in partial sunlight or shade. During the hottest part of the day, lettuce will need to have some shade. Remember leafy greens are cool season crops and prefer temperatures below 85F in fact many leafy greens are cold hardy and can survive light frosts.
Planting. The seeds can be sown densely with about ½ inch between seeds. Scatter them onto your freshly prepared soil and sprinkle with a ¼ inch of potting soil. Keep the soil uniformly moist but not soggy. After germination assess soil moisture by looking at the color and contraction of the potting mix from the sides of the container. As it dries it will look lighter and pull away from the sides of the container. Another method for assessing moisture is to feel the weight of the container when it is wet. As it dries, it will feel lighter. If you are going to be away for a few days, ask a friend to water daily because drying out can cause major setbacks to young plants.
Feeding. Apply small amounts of fertilizer (half-strength) when the plants are 4 to 6 inches tall and every two weeks after that. Start a regular fertilization program, follow the directions on the package. For the best results, maintain a regular watering and fertilizing schedule.
Harvesting. You can start harvesting after only a few weeks. Just cut what you need and leave the other plants to grow, prolonging your harvest. You can start thinning as soon as the plants are a few inches tall – the remaining plants will fill in the empty spaces. Use a pair of scissors or shears to cut the plants after they reach a height of four to six inches, leaving behind about an inch of stubble to resume growth. Lettuce can be picked leaf by leaf almost from the time the first one emerges. If the lettuce starts to “bolt” (sends up a stalk and goes to seed) the leaves tend to be bitter. Remove any plants that start to bolt to enjoy the best flavors that your garden can provide.
Storage and Preparation. Always refrigerate salad greens at 35F to 40F and wash thoroughly under running water right before using.
Resources & References
Cleaning and Disinfecting Plant Containers. Iowa State University Extension, Horticulture & Home Pest News.
1 M. Bunning, Colorado State University, food science and human nutrition, Extension food safety specialist F. Stonaker, assistant professor, horticulture and landscape architecture A. Card, Extension agent, Boulder County. 3/2010.
Growing Vegetables in Containers
If you don't have room for a garden, or only want to grow a few vegetables, planting in containers is the best way to go. Almost any vegetable can grow in a container and with a little care can produce abundantly. Here's how to get started.
- Containers of various sizes
- Sterilized potting soil
- Drip or hose irrigation
It's all in the pot. When selecting a container, remember that bigger is better as far as ease of maintenance and size of harvest. Half whiskey or wine barrels or similar-sized pseudo terra-cotta containers are large enough to accommodate vegetables such as large tomatoes, eggplant, and squash, with room to spare for companion plantings of smaller choices such as carrots and lettuce. Five-gallon containers can hold dwarf tomatoes, peppers, beans, and many small leafy greens. A window box is even large enough to grow radishes and arugula .
And in the soil. For proper drainage, containers need to have holes in the bottom. Also, use only sterilized potting soil. Garden soil may contain diseases and may not be well drained. Because you're planting in such a small space, you'll have to be very conscious of watering and fertilizing regularly. Water with drip irrigation or by hand whenever the soil is dry 4 to 6 inches deep.
Fertilize every two weeks with a water-soluble fertilizer for vegetables, or add controlled-release fertilizer at planting time, supplemented with a water-soluble fertilizer when needed. For large containers, mulching with straw or bark conservs moisture.
Best plant combinations. Containers allow you to plant combinations that are both edible and attractive. For example, try creating a salad container with different colors of leaf lettuce, a bush cucumber, a dwarf patio-type tomato, and even herbs such as parsley. How about a tomato sauce barrel with a tomato plant in the center, herbs such as oregano and basil on the sides, and onions interplanted between the herbs? Or a root crop roundup container with beets, carrots, radishes, onions, and parsnips in a foot-deep container?
Choose bush varieties of large vegetables such as squash.
Production may be less than with full-sized kinds, but plants will be much easier to care for.
To save space, consider growing some plants up. Choose pole beans over bush beans, and trellis them along the back of a container. This leaves space in front to plant other vegetables.
Photography from the National Gardening Association.
Dotty for Potted Plants!
There’s no reason why a lack of space means you have to miss out on the magic of growing your own food. Potted vegetables provide the perfect way for everyone to get a bit green fingered, even in the tiniest of spaces.
Have you had a go at growing vegetables in containers? Let me know how you got on in the comments section below! Any types of veggies or favorite varieties that we missed here? Let us know!
And for more vegetable growing ideas, take a look at some of our other guides such as:
© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via Burpee, True Leaf Market, and Eden Brothers Nursery. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock. With additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu.
About Natasha Foote
With a passion for soil health and growing trees, Natasha Foote is a biologist who was hit with a serious case of green fingers, and decided to swap sterile laboratories for getting her hands dirty in the soil. Formerly a farmer and researcher working with the agroforestry project Mazi Farm in Greece, when she wasn't working on the farm, she was busy studying soil biology under the microscope. Now, you can find her in the south of France where, in between enjoying all the fresh peaches, plums, apricots, and cherries that the area has to offer, she's working on various agricultural projects whilst writing about all things green.