Growing Food in Containers

It is not too late in the year to grow vegetables in pots, June is the perfect month as the temperature outside is warmer and the days are long and light.

This year I am growing more vegetables in containers than ever before. I realized last year that growing veg in pots has lots of advantages. First of all, I walk past them several times a day; maybe to hang the washing out, or take the dog for a walk, so I notice if my crops are dry or have new holes munched in their leaves…

Another good reason for growing veggies in pots is that they can be moved around fairly easily, so if it’s a windy day, the more fragile plants can be moved to a shelterHerbs June 14 – Resizeded position, and the pots can be turned regularly so they face the sun.

The other advantage is for anyone who doesn’t have a garden; maybe only a terrace, yard or balcony. Providing the sun shines on the ground for part of the day then pots and troughs really are the answer and it’s surprising how many pots can be packed into a small space!

Pots placed outside the house are easy for children to learn about growing their own food. When my children were younger, I would send them outside to pick herbs or vegetables. It wasn’t long before they knew all the plants, how to tell if they were ready to pick and what they tasted like. It was almost like a treasure hunt with a lot of excitement, bringing the harvest home. I’m sure this is due to the “hunter, gatherer” instinct in all of us. My youngest always insisted on picking the sugar snap peas; I gave her a colander and after ten minutes or so she would return with a few shiny green pea pods in the colander and green juice around her mouth! I think she must have munched her way through most of the peas that year! As for the strawberries? The same story, but the juice was pink rather than green! I don’t use any chemicals on my plants, so eating them freshly picked is fun and one of the best ways to eat them. My children still pick produce for me if I’m busy but don’t zoom around clutching colanders and baskets like they used to!

Herbs

Herbs will grow incredibly quickly in June. They can all be grown from seed or buy small plants from the garden centre.

Herbs picked resizedI’m very pleased with my herbs at the moment as the mixture of sunshine and showers has made them grow tremendously! I’m picking lots of fresh leaves to use in cooking. My pots include rosemary, parsley (curled and flat leaf), tarragon, chives, mint, thyme, sage, oregano, basil, coriander and lavender. Turning the pots once a week has really helped them to grow evenly. I have several pots of chives and have allowed one pot to flower as the bees love them, I love them and the aphids don’t, which is great news. If I see greenfly or whitefly on one plant, I pop the chives next to it and it seems to be doing the trick!

Salads

Growing salad from seed is very easy and they germinate in next to no time if sown indoors. I wrote an article called Grow Your Own Salad Leaves in May which goes into more detail.

I sowed some Lollo Rossa, Salad Bowl and Little Gem lettuces a few days ago so there’s not much happening besides some tiny seedlings sprouting. It is best to sow lettuces every two to three weeks to get a continuous supply over the summer and autumn. I also bought a pack of “living salad” from the supermarket for £1, planted them in an old plastic pot, spaced them out a little, and now they have really taken off. They looked a bit sickly soon after being planted but within a few days they soon recovered.

I have sown some radishes too. The variety I usually grow is French Breakfast which are crunchy, full of flavour and easy to slice. Radishes are so easy to grow in pots and especially for young children as the seeds are easy to sow, they germinate quickly and last year mine were ready to eat within a month of sowing. They are crisp and juicy when eaten very fresh and one packet of seeds will produce dozens of radishes if sown every couple of weeks throughout summer. A packet of radish seeds will cost about £2 and will contain about 1000 seeds, so a very thrifty and easy crop to grow!

Tomatoes

Garden centres are full of tomato plants at the moment and growing them is really easy and very rewarding. They taste so wonderful fresh from the plant and warmed by the sun.

Tomatoes need a fairly large pot containing a good quality multi-purpose compost. They need a sheltered position in full sun and the soil must never be allowed to dry out. Once the first truss of fruit appears on the plants, start feeding them weekly. I use an organic liquid seaweed fertilizer and find that it produces brilliant results on all my fruit, vegetables and flowers.

I always grow a cherry type of tomato and a large “beef” one. This year I’m growing one of my old favourites, Gardener’s Delight which are very reliable and produce masses of delicious cherry tomatoes. The beef tomato I enjoy growing is called Brandywine. They are a large heritage tomato, almost pinkish in colour and the flavour is out of this world!

Green Vegetables

Again, small plug plants from a garden centre will take off at this time of year and it’s not too late to sow beans, peas, chard, cucumbers and courgettes inside.

I grow French climbing beans in an old dustbin with holes in its base for drainage. I almost filled the bin with homemade compost and added a shallow layer of bought compost. I am growing Cobra again this year as the beans are stringless, they taste amazing and the flowers are a pale mauve colour which are pretty. These beans climb high and produce bumper crops, even in a bin! I have made a wigwam of bamboo canes for the beans to climb up.

Swiss chard

Swiss chard is one of my favourite vegetables and I always grow Bright Lights which have very colourful red, yellow or orange stems. Chard can be sown throughout the summer Chard resizedand takes about 60 days from sowing to harvest. This year, my chard is growing in a large pot filled with homemade compost and the leaves and stems are almost ready to pick. I grow these as “cut and come again” by only picking a couple of leaves from each plant. Baby chard leaves are great in salads, and chard is delicious lightly steamed, but one of my favourite ways to serve it is to melt some butter in a frying pan, add some minced garlic, wilt the chard leaves by cooking for just a couple of minutes, pour over a little cream and grate some parmesan cheese over – so yummy! Use as a side dish or on toast for a quick snack.

Sugarsnap Peas

I always grow peas and this year it’s the sugar snap ones again, and yes, my daughter is pleased! I am growing them in another old dustbin with a few twiggy sticks for support. The variety I grow is called Sugar Ann. They’re reliable, heavy cropping, mature quickly and taste delicious. Sugarsnap and mangetout peas are wonderful sliced up in salads or very gently steamed then topped with some butter and chopped mint leaves, and of course, they are fantastic in stir-fries.

Cucumbers

Cucumbers are very rewarding to grow, and again, children will love them. I grow a mini female variety called Passandra which is easy to grow, produces lots of sweet juicy cucumbers and seems to be disease tolerant. I sowed my seeds at the end of April in small pots on a windowsill but it isn’t too late to have a go at sowing them now. They will need to be grown in large pots or grow-bags with a cane for support. Mine are now large enough to pot up into larger pots and I’ll gradually get them used to growing outside during the day (bringing them in at night) for a couple of weeks before planting them in growing bags against a sheltered, sunny wall when the weather warms up. These cucumbers can be rinsed and eaten whole and are perfect for a lunch box. My children love these little cues.

Courgettes

Courgettes are easy to grow and I don’t even plant mine out in pots, instead, because they are greedy plants, I grow them in the compost heap and they do really well. They don’t need feeding if they’re growing in compost, just watering when it’s dry. I like courgettes when they’re small in salads and a little larger for steaming or adding to baked recipes. The variety I am growing this year is called Defender. I’ve grown it in the past and always get consistently good results with this variety.

Chillies and Red Peppers

Chillies and sweet peppers are fun to grow but they do take quite a while to mature and they need warmer temperatures. I grow my chilli plants inside on a sunny windowsill and sweet peppers outside against a sunny wall. As they take longer to mature, it would be best to buy plants from a garden centre at this time of year. They don’t grow very big so my advice would be to keep them inside if possible. I had a beautiful sweet pepper plant last year but unfortunately it didn’t survive the winter in the garage even though the weather was mild. I am growing a chilli called Krakatoa which produces dozens of small chillies on a compact, bushy plant. It is very hot so just one is enough in a dish for me! Chillies and sweet peppers need watering little and often rather than being soaked daily and benefit from a liquid feed every week or so.

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