If you want to grow some of your own veg, 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… 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. You can’t do that with an in-ground vegie garden!
So what veg 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
8. Tomato & eggplant/aubergine)
9. Capsicum/red and green peppers)
Vegies 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.
Sunshine? Well veg like lots of sun… but it’s good to select a spot that offers some protection in the hotter times of the day – 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 veg 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. I like to start with a quality potting mix and 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/2½gallon 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.