‘I plant the seed,
You make it grow.
You send the rain,
I work the hoe.’
- Author Unknown
Those of us with small gardens often feel that, either because of the lack of space, or just from the economical point of view, the cultivation of fruit and vegetables is not a practical proposition. Indeed most fruit and vegetables that grow in a temperate climate like ours are so plentiful and cheap in the supermarkets that it seems hardly worth the bother of growing your own produce.
But anyone who has tasted fresh fruit and vegetables straight from the garden, grown organically, will tell you that it really is well worth the effort.
I am not suggesting that we can be in any way self-sufficient throughout the year in a small garden. Neither am I asking you to dig up your precious lawns or flowerbeds! However, there is a way to enjoy fresh delicious vegetables for at least a few weeks of the year.
If you have only a little vacant corner in the garden, or a bit of space in a back yard or patio, you can get results that will amaze you.
Furthermore, this can be achieved with little effort, organically, and largely free from the depredations of pests and disease. So this autumn and winter make your plans for next spring and learn how to grow the vegetables that you like in containers.
We are all familiar with grow-bags which are often used to grow tomatoes or strawberries. Many varieties of cherry tomatoes are also eminently suitable for growing in hanging baskets or window boxes. Strawberries can be grown in pots in tiers and take up a minimum of room.
But this is just a skirmish around the edges of fruit and vegetable container gardening.
Many, but not all, vegetables can be grown in suitable containers and sometimes in quite prolific quantities. My own particular favourites are dwarf French beans, and early potatoes.
Now, a few years back, I would never have dreamt of growing potatoes in containers, but let me share with you my first experience of growing potatoes this way on advice gleaned from old Ernie.
“Growing potatoes is too much like hard work” I said, “Also they take up too much room on my small plot, and anyway I just haven’t the time to spare”.
“Dustbins” says Ernie, “Get yerself a couple of old dustbins and buy a big bag of all purpose compost”.
Well, I couldn’t find any old dustbins but I bought a couple of cheap plastic ones, and proceeded to follow old Ernie’s advice almost to the letter. Of course it isn’t really necessary to use dustbins. Any container that is reasonably wide and deep will produce a small crop.
First obtain your seed potatoes. Ernie recommended a variety called ‘Kestrel’, but I bought from a well-known DIY store, a small bag of early seed potatoes ideal for summer “new” potatoes. (I have since tried ‘Kestrel’ myself and thoroughly recommend this variety) These need to be “chitted” before planting.
Put them, with the “eyes” upwards, in a clean dry box in a light (not sunny) frost-free dry place in late February to March. Wooden trays or egg boxes are ideal for the purpose.
After a few weeks they will eventually chit, or sprout. You should get several sturdy ½ to 1-inch shoots. Do not remove any of these shoots.
When they are ready, prepare the dustbins by drilling or punching drainage holes around the base of the dustbin. This is to ensure the container doesn’t get water logged in spells of heavy rain. If you are placing your container on soil, it is a good idea to raise it off the ground with bricks or blocks of wood to help prevent wireworm or other nasties getting in.
Then put a six-inch layer of nice clean compost in the bottom. Plant, spaced apart, four of the chitted seed potatoes and cover with a few inches of compost. When the potatoes have grown three or four inches, cover them over with a few inches of compost again.
As the potatoes continue to emerge, keep covering with a layers of compost until the dustbin is full to within a couple of inches of the rim. This method takes the place of the earthing up process, which would be done if the potatoes were grown in open ground. Keeping the growing potatoes covered stops them from going green. Green potatoes are poisonous.
You should end up with a mass of foliage growing out of the top of your dustbin!
Needless to say, plants, especially those grown in containers, require watering and feeding to produce best results.
Feeding is most important because although there are some nutrients in bagged all-purpose compost, these are soon exhausted.
A weekly organic liquid feed is what old Ernie recommended, as he knows my preference for environmentally friendly solutions. Begin to feed when the foliage is about a foot high out of the top of the container.
Do not allow the compost to dry out. Water regularly.
After flowering, or even later when the foliage is beginning to die off, have a gentle prod around inside the container.
You will be pleasantly surprised.
Potatoes the size of hen’s eggs or a little larger are best. Your produce, having been grown in compost, will be clean, and free from the ravages of disease and pests.
This year, we had a large crop of delicious waxy potatoes from two dustbins, and potatoes can be stored for ages in clean dry conditions, in sacks or boxes.
So roll out the barrel (sorry, I mean dustbin). No need to dig! Eat and enjoy!
Cook the blighters first of course!
Finally, with the introduction of dwarf varieties of green vegetables, many, such as dwarf French beans, and salad crops are excellent candidates for container growing.
Imagine delicious new potatoes with succulent French beans and baby carrots. Yummy!
And don’t forget, plant green side up!