LETTERS, PHOTOS &QUESTIONS
Here we share your tips, tales, photos and feedback, answer your questions and identify mystery plants
Jeremy Coleman, Brisbane, Qld
I’ve recently developed a strong urge to throw myself into gardening, and my Pop has given me a lot of advice. One such piece was to subscribe to your magazine, which I have, and he said you answer questions. I want to get some planter boxes and grow edible plants such as basil, broccoli, beans, rosemary, strawberries and cherry tomatoes. Can I plant them all in the same box? What type of soil do I need, acidic or alkaline?
Do they require similar soil conditions? Can you also give me some detailed information for growing cherry tomatoes and strawberries? e planter boxes will be placed in the backyard along a western wall.
Phil Dudman says
It’s always great to hear from someone who has recently discovered the joy of growing things. Welcome to the club, Jeremy! Growing vegies and herbs in containers such as planter boxes is a good way to go if you’re new to gardening, because there’s no digging and messing around building beds and improving soils and drainage. Just install the containers, fill them with mix and get growing.
Buying mix in bulk from a reputable landscape supplier will save money. Shop around for a blend of natural soil, coarse sand, compost and aged manures. This is a good base, to which you can add additional composts and fertilisers as needed. Before any plant purchases, buy a simple pH testing kit at a garden centre, grab a soil sample and test the pH. Ideally, your pH is about 6.5–7 (slightly acidic to neutral), which is suitable for a wide range of herbs and vegetables.
Most of the plants you mentioned are fine growing in the same planter box, as long as there is ample room for them. However, to avoid being shaded out, the strawberries will be best on their own. They are also susceptible to the tomato disease verticillium wilt, so it’s best not to plant them where tomatoes were previously grown.
The western aspect should be fine in winter, but may prove too hot for vegies through the warmer months. Too much heat burns the foliage and fruit, and rapidly dries out the soil. An eastern or north-eastern aspect would be better, but if west is the only option, reduce the sun’s intensity by erecting a simple shade frame over the boxes and using shadecloth with a 30 per cent shade factor. Some planter-box manufacturers supply special frames and covers designed for the purpose.
As for tomatoes, the smaller bush types are best for planter boxes. You can grow tomatoes virtually year-round in Brisbane, except perhaps in the peak of summer. See ‘Tomatoes in a Tight Space’ on page 66 for more details on growing tomatoes in containers.
Strawberries thrive when grown in planter boxes. The best time to plant them in the subtropics is April to May. They grow and flower through the cooler months, providing a steady crop of sweet fruit from late winter to early spring. Be sure to start with certified disease-free plants from a garden centre or mail-order supplier. Dig in a little sulfate of postash, and blood and bone, then plant with the crowns (central growth points) sitting just above the surface. Keep moist, and feed fortnightly with a liquid fertiliser formulated for flowering and fruiting plants. Mulch around plants with straw to conserve moisture and protect the fruit from moulds, which commonly occur when fruit rests on bare soil.