If you want to grow some of your own vegetables, and you’re short on space, then growing them in containers is a great option. But it’s not the only reason. If your soil is rubbish, and you hate digging, then it’s easy to create beautiful soil for growing in pots… and I’ll be sharing my recipe for a super soil mix a little later on. If you’ve never grown anything before, then grabbing a few pots, filling them with mix and planting out some established seedlings is the quickest and easiest way to get a start.
If you’ve got something nasty in your ground, like soil borne disease or nematodes (a common result of growing lots of Solanaceae plants in one spot, like tomatoes and peppers) then container growing helps to relieve the heartache. But the thing I love most about container growing is the control you have over the environmental conditions … and by that I mean …if it’s too hot, too cold, too wet, too windy… you can just pick up your pots and move them to a more protected spot until the environmental extremes have passed. It’s also easier to make your own little microclimate for them with a shadecloth cover or a mini-greenhouse to extend the range of vegetables you can grow in your climate zone. Not so easy with an in-ground vegie garden!
So what vegetables grow best in pots? Well, you can just about grow anything, but some things do better than others, so here are my top ten picks to get you started. (It’s a tough call picking just ten, so I’ve grouped a few of them to add value… and to make my job easier!).
1. Salad greens (lettuce, rocket/aruglia, Mizuna etc)
2. Asian greens (pak choy, bok choy, tatsoi etc)
3. Spinach (English spinach & silver beet)
4. Roots (radish, beetroot/table beet, turnip)
6. Spring onion/scallion
7. Bush bean**/wax bean/French bean/haricot
8. Tomato & eggplant/aubergine
9. Capsicum/red and green peppers
Vegetables are vigorous growers, so big containers are best. Small plants such as lettuce need a pot that’s at least 20-25cm (8-9″) deep and about 30cm (12″) wide, while more robust plants such as tomato and eggplant (aubergine) demand pots that are 30-40cm (12″-15″) deep and 40-50cm (15″-20″) wide. When it comes to those bigger plants, keep an eye out for more compact varieties that don’t fill the pots so quickly. Choosing plastic or lightweight pots will make it easier for you to move them around to an ideal location depending on the weather and season. Put heavier pots on a rolling stand or lots of smaller ones on an old BBQ or serving trolley. (And here’s a great vid from Adam about how to upcycle an old BBQ trolley)
Sunshine? Well vegetables like lots of sun… but if you’re in a warm climate, it’s good to select a spot that offers some protection in the hotter times of the day as pots dry out quickly and get really stressed in the heat. If you are limited for sunlight, say on a balcony, you can grow most leafy vegetables with as little as three hours direct sun a day. Fruiting plants however demand at least 5-6 hours to perform well.
OK… now for that mix. Don’t just fill your pots with garden soil and expect to grow good plants. It’s too heavy and over time settles in the pot and becomes hard, making it difficult for plants to thrive. Always use a good quality potting mix… and look out for one that contains added organic fertilizers and conditioners, although you have to be careful about how long it’s been stored at the nursery as it may have already lost its added goodness.
So I like to start with a quality potting mix and then add my own organic goodies to create the kind of medium that young vegies dream about… and here’s the recipe. (To measure the ingredients, you’ll need a 9-litre/9 quart/2½ gallon bucket and an empty 400g/1lb tin from the kitchen).
Phil Dudman’s Organic Potting Mix Blend for Growing Vegetables
2 x 9 litre (9 quart) buckets of good quality potting mix
1 x 9 litre (9 quart) bucket of garden compost
A few good handfuls of coir/coco peat
(I use an old 400g (1lb) tin/can as a scoop, and with it add >
2 scoops of pelletised chicken manure
½ scoop blood and bone
A good pinch of trace element mix
Mix it all together on a bench and you’ve got a truly magical blend.
Give it a try, and remember you need to keep potted vegies growing quickly for the best flavours, so don’t let them dry out, and to keep them kicking along, treat them to some liquid fertilizer every fortnight.
[** bush beans means those varieties that don't climb a pole or trellis. You can harvest them as young snap beans, beans that you shell, or for use as dry beans, depending on which variety you choose. Here is a good variety selector]