No garden? No allotment? No problem. You can grow plenty of vegetable varieties in containers. Follow our 4 steps to successful vegetable gardening in containers.
As our so-called spring gets under way, we’re noticing that one of this season’s hot trends is growing vegetables in containers. Like many other aspects of our lives, this is all about maximising time, space and effort. Well aware of the health benefits, many of us are keen to grow our own vegetables, but are time poor, so we’re looking at ways to make things easier. Lots of people don’t have a huge garden or allotment, so growing in containers, whether flowers or vegetables, seems to be the way forward.
Here’s some advice on how to get the most out of your container vegetable patch so that you can enjoy that ‘fresh-from-the-garden’ taste even if you only have a small patio, balcony or roof terrace. Use these tips as your next step to fresh and delicious – and convenient – vegetables
1. Soil – Starting your seeds and plants in good soil is really important. If you’re using containers and pots that you used last year, remember that it’s fine to reuse the soil as long as you give it a bit of a boost of nutrients with compost and fertiliser. You should try to avoid growing plants from the same family in the same soil as last year – it’s the same theory as the crop rotation principles that farmers work to. If you’re just starting your container veg growing experience this season, then you can’t go wrong with our incredicompost® which has been independently trialled and verified as the best overall compost for raising seeds and young plants. Using this, along with our incredicrop® fertiliser, will go a long way to giving your vegetable plants the growing environment they need to produce really good crops of tasty and nutritional vegetables.
2. Sun – It’s important to consider how much sun your patio/balcony/roof terrace gets when choosing which vegetables to grow in containers. Plants that you will pick fruit from, such as tomatoes, need a good dose of sunshine – 6 to 8 hours a day – whilst vegetables that you pull out of the ground need approx. 4-6 hours. Leafy greens can manage on just 3 to 4 hours. Don’t panic if your outdoor space isn’t graced with non-stop sunshine – plenty of edible crops will thrive in partial sun and you’ll still get a good crop. Just be mindful of keeping your plants watered and fed, especially if they ARE in full sun.
3. Size – It’s worth considering the size of your container when you come to sowing your vegetable seeds and planting your vegetable plants. Think about it – for some plants, you’ll need deeper pots, planters or tubs – it’s not rocket science. As a guide, for shallow-rooted vegetables, such as radishes, lettuce and other leafy vegetables, and herbs, you’ll need about 20-30cm (9-12in) of depth in your container. For medium-rooted plants, you’ll need 30-35cm (12-14in) depth and for larger plants, such as tomatoes and potatoes, you’ll need 40-45cm (16-18in) depth. Of course, there are many options when it comes to buying containers for growing vegetables – there’s a huge choice of patio planting bags which have the benefit of being easy to move and position, as well as being reusable, and they’re easy to fold down and store when you don’t need them. Have a look at our brilliant VegTrugs™ which are just perfect for growing vegetables in!
4. Selection – Most edible vegetable plants can be grown in containers, but these days there are many varieties which have been especially developed to grow in pots and containers. These varieties will be more compact – meaning that they won’t get too big – and easier to harvest. See below for some of our container variety suggestions.
Start your shopping list here:
TomTato® – amazing variety from Thompson & Morgan’s own breeding – tomatoes and potatoes on the same plant!
Egg & Chips® – aubergines and potatoes on the same plant! More brilliant breeding from T&M!
Courgette ‘Black Forest’ – this unique climbing courgette is a great space-saving container variety
Tomato ‘Bajaja’ (tomato seeds) – great tomato variety for growing in containers and it doesn’t require side-shooting. Try Tomato ‘Balconi Yellow’ if you prefer your tomatoes yellow – this variety makes a lovely colourful feature on the patio or balcony – and the tomatoes are very sweet and tasty too.
For another decorative and productive vegetable plant, go for the superb dwarf Runner Bean ‘Hestia’ or another dwarf bean, French Bean ‘Mascotte’.
Other varieties for container cultivation are radish, carrots, beetroot and salad leaves. And of course, many potato varieties can be very successfully grown in containers or potato growing bags
This season I have decided to start my own cutting garden, mainly because I find I am totally incapable of cutting flowers from the garden to bring into the house. I end up buying cut flowers from the supermarket because I can’t bear to denude my own garden plants. This can prove quite costly, and, by growing my own, I could save around five pounds a week, which amounts to an annual saving of around two hundred and fifty pounds. That is one very good reason to give it a go! I have also found that I have a very limited choice of variety and colour when buying flowers in a supermarket.
Cut flower varieties are chosen by professional growers, primarily for their length of vase life and their ability to withstand the rigours of long distance travel. This limits the number which would be suitable, and thus, the degree of choice in the shops. There will never be, for instance, sweet peas for sale in the local supermarket, as their vase life is only 3 – 5 days, and they are so delicate that they would be easily damaged in transit. As my cut flowers will only have to travel up the garden path, I can choose whichever varieties take my fancy. And if they die after a few days, there will be plenty more in the cutting patch to take their place.
I can also choose varieties for a specific reason, such as fragrance, which is very important to me, so I can choose flowers for their scent alone, if I want to. I love rich, jewel – like colours, so I can select a personal colour palette of purples, reds and strong blues, as well as oranges and hot pinks, which will complement each other well in a vase. I can also select for flower type, shape, size and textures to help me to achieve my ideal arrangements. There is a great creative freedom in growing your own cut flowers, which is lost in the selection of a bunch of supermarket roses.
I have already chosen and bought my seeds – many are Thompson & Morgan annuals, but I have had to go further afield for some more unusual varieties, like Bupleurum rotundifolium ‘Griffithii’, Nicotiana ‘Lime Green’, Anchusa Capensis ‘Blue Angel’ and Melianthus Major.
Choosing was an absolute labour of love and one of my favourite jobs of the whole year! Once they arrived I drew up a sowing plan, based on the sowing information given on the packet, and my own experience from previous years. I tend to wait, for instance, to sow cosmos until light levels are good, as my early sown seedlings have often been leggy and weak. Later sowings have been much more robust.
So, the propagator is on, and … there are babies! The first seeds have germinated, so they will be moved out of the propagator onto a warm, light windowsill to grow on, leaving space for the germination of the next batch of seeds. And repeat!
It must mean that spring is just around the corner …
Hoe hoe grow
It’s been a rather busy six months for me. I can’t quite see where my time has gone. Well, I say that, I spent a lot of it working in my client gardens. Unfortunately, this meant that I wasn’t able to look after my own pots as much as I’d have liked to. It certainly put the Fuchsia Berry to the Test! It really grew lots over the summer and it bloomed lovely to my surprise.
I had my first Berries from the plant in July. Albeit only a few. Never the less, I had berries and my first victims, umm I mean candidates, to try the berries and the flowers (along with myself) were my parents and my guinea pig. I wish I had been able to record my parent’s reactions, they were priceless! I did get a snap of Oscar trying his. He wasn’t too sure.
(I will apologise if you have been following me on twitter as I am using the same pictures in this blog as I have published on there!)
We all tried the flowers first. I ate each piece individually, which is probably best when you first try them as each bit tastes different. Mum on the other hand put the whole thing in in one go and then proceeded to proclaim, while screwing her face up ‘how could you give me something so foul! You evil child!’ All in jest of course. My dad had played the tactical game waiting for our responses before he would dare to try it. Now he was a little put off by mum’s reaction but I managed to get him to try a bit and after a few small bites he said he didn’t mind it but wouldn’t rush to have another one.
The berries were a different story. We all enjoyed them and I got my Grandad to try some when I had a few more and gave him some to take home to nanny for her to try. They never made it home. I don’t think they even made it out of the door!
The berries to me taste like a cross between a blueberry and a grape. The skin has a slightly bitter taste but that maybe because I was feeding my plant with Worm Tea from my wormery.
Over the next few months I trapped more people into trying my berries. Nearly everyone who I asked to try them were dubious whether I was trying to poison them. Ye of little faith! Of course, I promised the I wasn’t and I ate them in front of them to prove that I was going to be poisoned as much as they were. Their responses were much the same as mine. They either said blueberry or grape or a mix of the two.
When it came to the flowers though a few really protested that you can’t eat Fuchsia flowers. Even with me eating them in front of them and explaining that Thompson and Morgan have tested it and verified it is safe they still wouldn’t. Those who did try them had a similar response to my dad. Although they did say that it wasn’t what they were expecting but they did taste ok and would eat them again if they were on their plate.
I think the reason why the flowers got such a bad reaction from my mum and an alternative reaction from others that tried them was because they don’t taste anything like you expect them to. They trick you. Being the hot pink and purple that they are, you expect them to be sweet like most other things of their colouring are. But don’t be fooled. When in their prime picking season, mid-summer, the stamens have a fiery kick to them, like pepper crossed with chilli and the petals and bracts taste like rocket and red mustard leaves. If you want to give your salad an exotic twist this is certainly the thing to do it with.
It was my mum’s birthday in August so, being the good daughter that I am, I made her a birthday cake. Chocolate sponge with chocolate fudge icing and chocolate sprinkle and sugar flowers. Pretty eurgh if you ask me, but then I don’t really like chocolate. More of a tomato girl. Any way just before I lit the candles and we sung the obligatory ‘Happy Birthday’ I went out into the garden and picked some Flowers along with some of my home-grown strawberries to finish the cake off. I think they added that extra little bit of pizzazz! Although mum still wouldn’t eat them even with Chocolate fudge icing on them.
The Fuchsia Berry is certainly a good conversation starter and this year I hope to see if feeding it sugar water makes a difference to how it tastes. But for now, it is tucked up in fleece inside my heated greenhouse.
I wish you all a Happy New Year and a prosperous and plentiful growing season to come,
Grow your own dramatically different Christmas veg.
Let’s face it; like Brussels sprouts, brassicas like broccoli and cabbage, have had a bit of a bum rap over the years. However, they have recently been enjoying some really good press and are even looking quite cool in the vegetable ‘it crowd’, trending heavily and inventively in culinary circles, restaurants and in those classic Christmas gift favourites, the celebrity chef cook book.
So why not give these colourful and super nutritious vegetables a place at your Christmas dinner table this year? In festive magazines and online, you’ll find numerous interesting and tasty recipes to present them at their best. And then you can grow some yourself ready for next Christmas!
Cauliflower has had a bit of a rebrand in the last year or so; no longer the bland horror of school dinners, but now appearing on menus sliced, seasoned with chilli, garlic and cumin and served as a ‘steak’; or grated, sautéed and used instead of rice as part of one of the low-carb diets that are doing the rounds.
Broccoli too has a new friend in the Instagram fitness sensation, Joe Wicks, aka The Body Coach. His speedy, tasty and nutritious recipes often include ‘midget trees’ – broccoli florets – and indeed a 25% increase in tenderstem broccoli has been attributed in part to the online nutrition coach’s Lean in 15 recipe programme.
But the real star in the brassica family has to be broccoli’s handsome Italian cousin, the stunning romanesco. With its whirling, almost alien-looking spirals, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this vivid green marvel is some kind of genetically engineered vegetable. In fact, romanesco has been around since the 16th century and predates broccoli and cauliflower. Sometimes referred to as caulibroc or broccoflower, the flavour of cooked romanesco sits somewhere between cauliflower and broccoli, but with an added tasty ‘nuttiness’. Needless to say, it’s full of good stuff: super-rich in antioxidants, vitamin C, fibre – you name it. The thing is, due to its fabulous pointed, whorled spears, romanesco doesn’t travel terribly well. Supermarkets find it difficult to store and package. You might find them on a nice farmers’ market stall, but the best way to get your hands on these fabulous green natural marvels, is to grow your own.
So if you’re ready to up your brassica game at home, take a look at the wide range of varieties available from Thompson & Morgan. Whether you choose to grow broccoli, cauliflower or romanesco, you’ll find brassicas are easy to grow.
Here are some top tips for growing brassicas from Thompson & Morgan’s Veg Guru, Colin Randell:
- Grow your cauliflower, broccoli and romanesco in soil that’s been well prepared.
- Keep well watered especially during dry spells.
- Brassicas enjoy a fortnightly liquid feed, particularly a seaweed feed, if possible.
- If feeding or watering is erratic, this may mean head development is not as good.
- Pick cauliflower and romanesco heads when young – you can keep a watchful eye on how they are developing by peeling back the protective leaves.
- Many gardeners use protective garden fleece, especially when growing small cauliflower and romanesco.
To grow your own visually stunning and super tasty romanesco, click here. Seeds are available for £2.29 for 125 seeds. And to check out Thompson & Morgan’s full brassica range, go to www.thompson-morgan.com/brassicas
A quick update from the garden after the growing season.
So now the colder months begin and the long, darker nights draw in I am reflecting back on the last growing year at certain successes and trials in the garden and allotment sites. One of the big successes has been the runner beans. I planted 3 different Thompson & Morgan varieties – all with different coloured flowers. I planted these down at the allotment mixed up so that when they grew it created not only tasty beans but also a lovely mix of different coloured blooms on the plants too, winding up the canes. These were perfect simply chopped up and boiled for evening meals in pastas or grated for seasonal, fresh salads. I simply kept picking them every few days and they kept on growing right into end September/October which was fantastic. A real crowd pleaser both for ease of growing and for taste value too.
Another massive success was the raspberry canes. Now I know I mention these every time but it is simply because I have been so impressed by them each year in the summer. In particular the ‘Glen Moy’ variety has flourished. Fruit started appearing nice and early in the growing season and from then on gave a regular and heavy crop each week till late. I loved picking these fresh, juicy raspberries as I wandered past to feed the chickens I keep and try to save the raspberries to go with my breakfast porridge. However, most of them did not make it back into the house for cooking desserts or breakfasts as they were consumed earlier on the garden walk.
Jerusalem artichokes have been a new discovery for me this year – trying to grow and cook with them. They were easy to grow and I have experimented with cooking them in different ways. They are a faff to prepare and peel but are a nice addition to a potato gratin with tasty layers topped with cheese and cream – perfect in autumn!
The spring onion (White Lisbon variety) crop I have had this year has been immense! Simply so easy to plant and grow with little intervention apart from regular watering. I have had a formidable crop and have used them mercilessly snipped into fresh salads, mixed into potato salads and as a quirky addition to scrambled eggs on a Sunday (with wild garlic).
Overall, I cannot wait to get cracking with the next growing season and focus on one particular element next year. I haven’t decided which project yet but possibly thinking salads or unusual varieties of vegetable.