Following on from my last post I thought I’d talk a little more about growing vegetables in containers. For those with small courtyard gardens, balconies or just a doorstep this may be the only way of growing your own produce. However, even those with access to a garden are choosing to grow herbs, salad leaves, tomatoes and other vegetables in containers for a number of reasons.
Firstly nearly all vegetables need sunshine, so by growing in containers you can site your veggies in the best possible position. Secondly they are easy to protect from hungry birds and slugs and you can keep an eye on them. Thirdly it’s always easier to water a few containers close to the house, rather than a vegetable patch right down the garden. Most importantly you have complete control over what they are growing in, which enables you to get the best possible results.
So what’s the ideal compost?
Never be tempted to use garden soil in a container. Earthworms, micro organisms, weed seeds and fungal spores that are beneficial or harmless in the open ground can result in toxins building up in soil in the confines of a pot. You need a sterile growing medium; one that will provide the water and nutrients you growing crops require.
Specifically formulated growing compost will have just the right balance of nutrients, the right structure, and the correct p.H to get the best results. Multi-purpose compost with added loam- based compost is ideal. The latter has fine particles that hang on to water and nutrients more successfully than a soil-less compost. You will still need to feed after the first few weeks.
Compost technology is constantly progressing, with the introduction of numerous alternatives to peat. When using a new type of compost take more care to check on water requirements. Feel deep into the container to see if the soil is still moist beneath the surface before you water. When choosing compost, remember that it is never worth compromising your crop by using inferior growing media: they may seem cheaper, but if the plants respond with poor yields your efforts are wasted.
Now what about containers?
With increased interest in patio gardening and growing your own vegetables Gardman have come up with an innovative range of containers for you to choose from, whatever size your growing space.
If this is your first attempt at growing vegetables in containers I do recommend the potato tub. I’ve got plenty of room to grow potatoes in the open ground, however I’ve had such good results growing in containers that I’m growing all my potatoes in this way this year. I’ve only grown them in basic potato bags before but this one makes the potatoes easy to harvest and you can keep the plants growing. They are clean and free from holes; that’s the biggest bonus. Also you can grow several varieties, just a container of each and enjoy the variety!
The basic vegetable planter pack is a simple solution to create a mini-veg. garden right outside your back door. By grouping the planters together you make watering easier, improve the appearance and give each crop its demarked space. If you are growing quick to mature salad leaves then these planters are a good way of achieving continuity. Sow one planter, wait a couple of weeks, sow the next, wait a couple of weeks and sow the next. When the first planter has been picked its time to start the cycle again.
Secret of success: Don’t oversow! If you covered the end of a wine bottle cork with lettuce seeds so that they were only one seed deep that would be around 100 seeds. That’s a lot of lettuces to have ready all at the same time; and they certainly would not fit in a vegetable planter.
If you want a bit more growing space a reusable growbag is a great idea. It’s basically a trough made of polypropylene which gives you a big growing surface and plenty of compost to grow in. It also means you choose the compost and can add your own controlled release fertiliser instead of relying purely upon liquid feeding.
A raised growing trough makes access to your vegetables and herbs so easy. You don’t even have to bend down to tend them or pick them. These troughs can be amazingly productive if you plan carefully and don’t overplant. I think they are great for herbs, French beans, salad leaves, a few sugar snaps and maybe a few strawberry plants and trailing tomatoes along the edges to allow the fruit to hang over the sides. You will find that the timber sides of these planters hold the heat effectively so crop growth is rapid.
The Gardman strawberry planter is another great way to get a crop of strawberries from your patio. They may not look as beautiful as a terracotta strawberry pot, but they are easier to maintain and your strawberries will like them better. They do not dry out as easily and they hold a lot of compost: that’s really important to support your growing plants. At the outset you will certainly find them easier to plant too.
The herb planter is similar. Small terracotta herb pots with just a few holes in the sides are a waste of time if you are trying to produce a credible quantity of fresh herbs. These polypropylene planters hold lots more compost and they are more stable too. They do not dry out as easily and you will find them a lot easier to water. Most useful herbs to grow: parsley (flat-leaved), chives, chervil; plant sage and thyme in the top where it’s drier.
There is no reason why your patio allotment cannot look pretty. True, some vegetable plants are more attractive than others, but by grouping containers together, perhaps with other subjects the overall effect can be appealing.
Some flowers that fit in well with vegetables in the garden also work well in pots. Calendulas, pot marigolds, are pretty cottage garden flowers with bright orange or yellow, single or double blooms that look great in terracotta pots. They could not be easier to grow from seed sown direct into pots of multi-purpose compost.
Nasturtiums, with their round leaves and red, gold, orange or salmon flowers are obvious companions as both flowers and leaves are edible. Sow seed directly into multi-purpose compost, but do not add any extra fertiliser or feed later: they like poor soil.