Pots are fantastic inventions – with regular watering and the right choice of compost, you can reduce your shopping bills and even enjoy fantastic flavours without leaving the home.
Pots also allow us to introduce plants into the garden without having to dig a massive trench through the middle of it. They’re also perfect for savvy gardeners, who start potted vegetables on their porch before moving them out onto the patio.
But exactly which vegetables should you start with? Let’s consider some of the more popular candidates.
There’s a reason lettuce is so ubiquitous – it’s incredibly quick to grow and can be harvested in seconds. You needn’t uproot the plant; just trim the tops off the leaves, or pick them as you see fit for maximum freshness. You’ll never have to pick out another browning, limp lettuce leaf from the back of your fridge again!
At least to begin with, it’s best to start with the smaller varieties of tomatoes, with cherry being an obvious choice. You’ll need to give the vines something to grow onto, so grab a bamboo stick and carefully place it. For best results, tomatoes need at least six hours of sunlight every day, and a regular supply of moisture. A 24-inch pot will provide each plant with enough space – but don’t over-pack them, as contact between the leaves can cause diseases to spread rapidly.
We could have included any number of herbs here (with mint, coriander and basil being worthy contenders). But chive is so quick and unfussy that it’s difficult to fail. Sow the seeds across the top of your compost in March and cover them with a thin layer of soil. Leave at least five centimetres of stalk every time you trim them to sprinkle atop your scrambled eggs, and they’ll last for months.
Broad beans are cheap and easy to handle, and the dwarf varieties are ideal for growing in pots. Their roots spread deep, so you’ll need a deeper pot to accommodate them. Pinch out the tops and you’ll suffer fewer blackflies. Space them around eight inches apart, and sow them in February. They’ll be ripe for picking in mid-summer.
Most varieties of pea can be grown in a container, but mange-tout cultivars are probably the most forgiving. Peas dry up quickly, and so you’ll need a big pot to store the required moisture. Consider 12 inches a minimum. Apply a new fertiliser twice during growing season, and watch out for root rot, which occurs when the soil is over-drenched.
Root vegetables provide a sweet-tasting harvest in mid-autumn. Beetroot is unfussy about how much sunlight it gets, so is a great option for newbies. Plus, they won’t need frequent watering unless there’s a drought on. Plant them from May to July and harvest them after two months.
TIP: For best results, pick them when the roots are just bigger than a golf ball – which they should be around ninety days after sowing.
Where would we all be without the potato? The right spuds will make an enormous difference to the quality of your roasts. And growing them in pots is mercifully straightforward. Cut your seed potatoes into rough five-centimetre chunks and bury them 3-inches deep. You’ll need to space your tubers appropriately, so a larger pot is required.
TIP: Cover them with more soil as they grow for best results.
Another root vegetable that’s easy to grow and delicious is the carrot. It’s best to stick to the smaller radish-shaped cultivars when you’re growing in a pot – Chanteray is ideal. Get a wide, tall container so that your carrots have a chance to grow. Most carrots won’t much beyond five inches, so ten is around the right depth for your container. Plant them in February, and they’ll be ready to harvest in June.
TIP: Carrots attract flies, so cover them from April for best results.
Home-grown cucumbers are brilliant; when you get them right you’ll never go back. If you’ve got a heated greenhouse, you can get them started as early as February. If you haven’t you’ll need to wait for April. Sew the seeds on their sides, around a centimetre deep. As with the tomato, you’ll need to train the stem to grow up a vertical stick (bamboo).
TIP: For best results, water around the plants rather than over the top of them.
The onion is probably the most versatile vegetable there is – it goes in everything from bolognaise to rogan josh, so it’s always worth having in reach. They flourish on open ground, but they can still work wonderfully in a generously-proportioned pot.
TIP: Fertilise before planting and keep an eye on soil acidity – onions work best above pH 6.5.