We hear a lot about how people just don’t have the time, or don’t have the space to grow food. Food growing comes in all shapes, sizes and amounts of effort required so everyone has the time and space to grow a little bit.
You can grow lots of great vegetables on decks, patios, terraces, flat roofs, balconies, conservatories, or even on a kitchen shelf or windowsill.
Pros of container growing;
There are far fewer issues with weeds, slugs, soil quality or required digging effort than a traditional veg bed.
It’s very convenient and takes very little time to get set up or to maintain your vegetable patch. Plus, the veg are usually within easy reach for minding and harvesting.
If you have mobility issues, use a wheelchair, or otherwise can’t maintain a veg bed, container-growing is ideal.
Basics of Container Growing
Feed and Water Well
Most vegetables will grow well in containers and pots, but they do need plenty of water and may require additional feeding. Bark or straw on top if the soil will help with evaporation.
Types of Container
Vegetables will grow in pretty much anything. Pots, troughs, hanging baskets, window boxes, grow bags, wheelbarrows, old watering cans, tyres etc. A minimum of 6 inches deep, but 8 inches or more would be better, particularly for root vegetables like carrots. A very deep container of 12-15 inches would be best for deep-rooted plants like tomatoes.
There must be some form of drainage holes in the base of the container. In a larger container put in a layer of 1cm of small stones at the bottom to aid drainage.
Use a good shop-bought compost, we recommend Klasmann Organic Compost, or make up a mixture of potting compost, top soil and well-rotted garden compost or manure.
What To Grow
All of the following will grow very well in containers
- baby carrots,
- short-rooted carrots,
- spring onions,
- swiss chard,
You can grow lettuces, radishes, endives, rocket, oriental salads, pea shoots and microgreens/sprouts in window boxes. These are all quick growing and undemanding vegetables. The trick is to sow little but often. If you have three window boxes sow 10-15 seeds in the first box, then three weeks later sow another batch in the second box, and so on. This should guarantee a regular supply of whatever veg you’re growing.
Cut-and-Come-Again (CCA) varieties of salads (like lollo rosso) are ideal for growing in small spaces. Rather than waiting for a full head of lettuce to mature, with CCA varieties you can snip off leaves as needed and they grow back three or four times from one sowing.
Potatoes grow well in pots, bags or boxes, the container needs to be deep but not too wide. Try a very large pot, grow-bag or a metal bin. Pop it on your front step, your patio or decking or beside the back door. Put soil into the bottom third of your pot or bag and plant your seed potatoes. Top them up with more soil to cover the stems as they grow. This is called "earthing up" and it encourages the plant to create longer stems, which ultimately means more spuds. Keep the compost moist, do not allow it to dry out. New potatoes will be ready to eat in about 13 weeks.
Hanging baskets are ideal for growing herbs, salad leaves, strawberries and tomatoes. Bush varieties of tomatoes, like tumbling toms, are ideal for growing in containers but they are thirsty and hungry when grown this way and will need regular watering/feeding.
A window-sill indoors is a great substitute for a greenhouse or a polytunnel and is an ideal location for raising seedlings. It also has the added benefit that you can't ignore the plants as easily and can look after them while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil.
Most herbs will do very well indoors in small containers and it's ideal to have them close to the kitchen. Raise from seed and pot up (transplant into bigger pots as they grow) or buy small plants.
Peppers (both chilli and sweet) are compact little plants and like heat and light and so will do very well indoors. They look great in a kitchen too.
Dwarf varieties of vegetables are ideal for growing indoors or in any small space. For example, dwarf French beans instead of regular French beans. Tiny Tim is a miniature variety of cherry tomato that will do well in a 6-inch pot. There are excellent dwarf varieties of peas, beans, aubergines and cabbages.
Balcony Food Growing
With a bit of ingenuity an apartment balcony can be turned in to a productive growing space. The key to maximising growing space on a balcony is to go vertical! A four or five-shelf plastic "greenhouse" for example would be a great investment. Each shelf will support five or six pots and it has a zippable plastic cover to keep your vegetables toasty warm on cold nights. Stash some gardening tools, compost etc on the ground beneath the shelves.
You can also place attractive patio containers on a balcony and use the railing for your climbing plants like peas and beans. You can also hang up some railing planters for rows of lettuce and other plants that have shallow root systems from the rails on your balcony.
Bear in mind your veggies may be exposed to the elements if you are growing high up on a balcony, so use netting or bamboo screens to act as a windbreak. On the other hand, slugs are generally not a problem!