At GIY we want to finally knock on the head the notion that you can't grow vegetables if you don't have a large garden. With a little bit of imagination, GIYers can grow lots of great vegetables on decks, patios, terraces, flat roofs, balconies, conservatories, or even on a kitchen shelf or windowsill. Clearly you won't be able to grow as much as you would in a large garden –you probably won't ever become self-sufficient in spuds for example, but does it matter? NO! Anything you can do to break your reliance on the supermarket and produce some of your own food is a wonderful thing! The good news is that you should be able to get a decent crop of most of the vegetables you like to eat and there are plenty of shallow-rooted vegetables, salad crops and herbs that you could become self-sufficient in! So get growing!
Basics Of Container Growing
Most vegetables will grow well in containers and pots but they are demanding when grown this way – because the roots are restricted in terms of the nutrients and water they can access, they need plenty of water and may require additional feeding.
On the other hand, the problems that many GIYers have with poor soil in their gardens, generally aren't an issue when you grow in containers, since you are using shop bought compost. There are also fewer problems with weeding and there is no digging required!
Pretty much any container can be used to grow vegetables in, so let your imagination run riot! Pots, troughs, hanging baskets, window boxes, grow bags, wheelbarrows, old watering cans, tyres etc. The bigger the container the better – a minimum of 6 inches deep but 8 inches or more would be better, particularly for root vegetables like carrots. A very deep container of 12-15 inches would be ideal for deep-rooted plants like tomatoes.
There must be some form of drainage holes in the base of the container. In a larger container put in a layer of 1cm of small stones to aid drainage.
Garden soil is unsuitable for container growing. Use shop-bought compost (but not potting compost, which does not have enough nutrients in it) or make up a mixture of potting compost, top soil and well rotted garden compost or manure.
Remember that you may need to water containers twice a day in very hot weather. A mulch of bark, straw or well rotted compost on the surface will help prevent evaporation.
What To Grow
All of the following will grow very well in containers – baby carrots, short-rooted carrots, radishes, spring onions, cucumbers, swiss chard, courgettes, beetroot, chillies, aubergines, strawberries and tomatoes.
Try growing lettuces, radishes, endives, rocket and oriental salads in window boxes – these are all relatively quick growing and undemanding vegetables. Allocate three or four window boxes to the project and sow little but often. Sow 10-15 seeds in the first box, then three weeks later sow another batch in the second box, and so on – this should guarantee a regular supply.
Cut-and-Come-Again (CCA) varieties of salads are ideal for growing in small spaces – rather than waiting for a full head of lettuce to mature, with CCA varieties you can snip off leaves as needed and they grow back (up to three cuts from one sowing).
Potatoes grow well in pots, bags or boxes - but the container needs to be deep. Try a very large pot or a metal bin. Plant them about a third of the way down and top up with soil as they grow. Alternatively try this method: buy a bag of compost – empty all the compost out and put a shallow layer back in on the bottom. Place your seed potatoes on this layer and put another layer on top. Store the remaining compost somewhere it won't get wet. Each time the foliage starts to appear above the soil, add another layer of compost until the bag is full again. This process of "earthing up" encourages the plant to create more stem, which ultimately means more spuds. Keep the compost moist – do not allow it to dry out. New potatoes will be ready to eat in approx 13 weeks.
Hanging baskets are ideal for growing herbs, salad leaves, strawberries and tomatoes. Bush varieties of tomatoes are ideal for growing in containers but they are thirsty and hungry when grown this way and will need regular watering/feeding.
Why not try these miniature varieties of vegetables: King Richard (leek), Amini (carrot), Minipop (sweetcorn), Arcoat (turnip) and Tom Thumb (lettuce).
A windowsill indoors is a great substitute for a greenhouse/polytunnel, and is an ideal location for raising seedlings. It also has the added benefit that you can't help but notice when your plants need attention!
Most herbs will do very well indoors in small containers and it's ideal to have them so close to the kitchen. Raise from seed and pot up, or buy small plants. Try parsley, thyme, mint, lemon balm, sage and basil.
Try growing sprouting seeds such as mustard, chickpeas and fenugreek – they make an excellent addition to salads or a great, healthy snack for a train journey!
Peppers (chilli and sweet) are compact little plants and like heat and light and so will do very well indoors.
Dwarf varieties of vegetables are ideal for growing indoors or in any small space. For example grow dwarf French beans instead of regular French beans. Tiny Tim is a miniature variety of cherry tomato that will do well in a 6-inch pot. There are excellent dwarf varieties of peas, beans, aubergines and cabbages.
Apartment Balcony Growing
With a bit of ingenuity an apartment balcony can be turned in to your very own GIY HQ.
The key to maximising growing space on a balcony is to go vertical! A four or five-shelf plastic "greenhouse" for example would be a great investment – each shelf will support five or six pots and it has a zippable plastic cover to keep your vegetables toasty warm on cold nights. Stash some gardening tools, compost etc on the ground beneath the shelves.
Take a bit of time to work out which plants should go where based on which part of your balcony gets the most sunlight. Some plants need direct sunlight while others prefer partial shade, so check seed packets.
Patio growers will also be able to use existing balcony features such as a railing to trail climbing plants up. You can also hang rectangular planters for rows of lettuce and other plants that have shallow root systems from the rails on your balcony.
Bear in mind your veggies may be exposed to the elements if you are growing high up on a balcony, so use netting or bamboo screens to act as a windbreak. On the other hand, slugs are generally not a problem four floors up on a balcony!