Con­tainer plant­ing

With the Covid-19 lock­down, grow­ing your own veg is all the rage, but what if you have lim­ited space? Les­lie Bliss dis­cov­ers a whole new world of con­tainer crop grow­ing

Country Smallholding - - Contents - By Les­lie Bliss

Months of stay-safes­tay-home lock­down has made ev­ery­one ap­pre­ci­ate more than ever how pre­cious it is to have your own out­door space. With gaps sud­denly ap­pear­ing on su­per­mar­ket shelves, it isn’t sur­pris­ing that Bri­tain, as a na­tion of gar­den­ers, has turned to grow­ing its own veg en masse.

I am one of them, an am­a­teur gar­dener and lapsed veg grower of 10 years. With gar­den cen­tres shut and a long wait for on­line or­ders, it be­came a chal­lenge of re­source­ful­ness to start again from scratch. The other is­sue was where to put the plants. As I wanted to keep the lawn and flower bor­ders in­tact, every cor­ner of the gar­den and house was scoured for po­ten­tial planters. A rusty old cast iron wok had a hole drilled in the bot­tom to grow cut-and-comea­gain salad, while the lid of a bro­ken plas­tic wa­ter butt was also put to use — and it had a hole in the right place. Tomato grow bags were snapped up at Tesco, a set of five large felt bags was bought on eBay and, hey presto, the pa­tio has come alive with green­ery that in­cludes run­ner beans, French beans, var­i­ous let­tuces, curly kale, chard, chilli pep­pers, to­ma­toes, cu­cum­ber, cour­gettes, spinach, sprout­ing broc­coli and but­ter­nut squash.

It’s been in­ter­est­ing to watch their progress and com­pare how they’ve fared in dif­fer­ent con­tain­ers and po­si­tions. So that begs the ques­tion, what are the best con­tain­ers? Af­ter all, the op­tions seem end­less: felt, grow bags, plas­tic, con­crete, stone, ter­ra­cotta, glazed, hang­ing bas­kets, Air-Pot con­tain­ers, gut­ter­ing, old dust­bins, an­i­mal feed troughs, wooden crates, bar­rels, cast iron, hes­sian sacks and wicker bas­kets, to name but a few.

THINK SIZE AND DEPTH

Tom Har­ris, au­thor of the re­cently pub­lished Pots For All Sea­sons, points out that it’s not about the ma­te­rial: “Size and es­pe­cially depth are de­cid­ing fac­tors in choos­ing pots for par­tic­u­lar veg. Some veg need deep pots with lots of room for roots and wa­ter re­ten­tion, such as cour­gettes and to­ma­toes.

Leafy salad crops are bet­ter in rel­a­tively shal­low but wide con­tain­ers. I use a wooden drawer for a mix of cut-and­come-again leaves. Long-term plants, such as dwarf fruit, need con­tain­ers that aren’t only in pro­por­tion, but also sta­ble and won’t top­ple in a breeze. Ideally they need to be wider than they are high. It’s best if they are equal in width and height. Root crops need good depth and choose va­ri­eties that have rounded roots. Chilli pep­pers will floun­der if they are planted in too big a pot.”

Tom ex­cels at making ev­ery­thing look beau­ti­ful.

“I grow in con­tain­ers be­cause I love the end­less pos­si­ble com­bi­na­tions of pot and plant, and how, when you get it right, one can sig­nif­i­cantly en­hance the other. The pots I use have to be at­trac­tive ob­jects in their own right. I also only grow at­trac­tive crops — which is most of them.”

Tom lines wooden planters with plas­tic, which is some­thing also rec­om­mended by some for ter­ra­cotta pots (only the sides, not the base). How­ever, col­lec­tor of English an­tique clay pots Richard Holmes ar­gues oth­er­wise. “I don’t rec­om­mend lin­ing with plas­tic as I found that I get ant prob­lems. Ants find be­tween the clay and the plas­tic a won­der­ful place to nest. Slugs seem to like it, too.”

Ob­vi­ously the soil in the con­tainer is crit­i­cal, and Tom Har­ris rec­om­mends: “Buy the best you can af­ford. I mostly use

Syl­vaGrow Sus­tain­able Grow­ing Medium. It’s peat-free and en­dorsed by the RHS.”

Feed­ing is an­other con­sid­er­a­tion, and Tom com­ments: “Some fast crops and herbs may not need it, but longer-term plants, such as aubergines, to­ma­toes, cour­gettes, cu­cum­bers and tree fruit are greedy. Pel­leted chicken ma­nure is use­ful, as are sea­weed prod­ucts, while DIY liq­uid feeds

made from net­tles or com­frey are ideal. I use a so­lu­tion of the lat­ter every 10-14 days.”

But the big­gest daily time com­mit­ment is wa­ter­ing, and an ex­pand­able 45m hose has trans­formed my life.

Tom ad­vises: “Most crops need an even sup­ply of wa­ter and plenty of it. You can’t rely on rain­fall, so don’t over­stretch your­self with too many pots, es­pe­cially small ones as they dry out far more rapidly than larger ones. You can add wa­ter­stor­ing gels at plant­ing time, but they should be used spar­ingly or the com­post may stay too wet. Group­ing to­gether pots of vary­ing sizes can help to re­duce mois­ture loss.

“A pot care­fully po­si­tioned in front of an­other can help to shade the roots of the plant be­hind. If you build up a com­mu­nity of planted pots you can achieve a sym­bio­sis. Ideally the ma­jor­ity of veg need shel­ter and not to be on a scorch­ing hot, south-fac­ing ter­race. Sink­ing a length of pipe or the up­turned top half of a plas­tic soft drink bot­tle along­side thirsty plants al­lows you to aim wa­ter down to the roots where it’s needed. If you have a large num­ber of big­ger pots, a drip-ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem is worth con­sid­er­ing. They are ef­fi­cient as there’s no spilled wa­ter and slower wa­ter­ing is much more ef­fec­tive than try­ing to race around quickly with a hose.”

Avid grower and al­lot­ment holder Alex Tay­lor has in­stalled one for his green­house.

“The big tomato plants in high sum­mer needed wa­ter­ing daily, but I can now leave them for a week. The timer was £15, I scrounged an old cold-wa­ter stor­age tank; and the dripir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem for 10 plants cost £30.”

Apart from the joy of hav­ing or­ganic and fresh pro­duce, grow­ing veg has been a wel­come dis­trac­tion. Time con­sum­ing yes, but the ben­e­fits as re­gards keep­ing healthy men­tally and phys­i­cally dur­ing one of the most dif­fi­cult and stress­ful times for gen­er­a­tions are price­less.

Here’s to the Good Life!

ABOVE: If you are short of space, pot grow­ing can be the way for­ward

RIGHT: Myr­iad vegetable edi­bles can be grown in pots

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.