Great Bowden Gardening Advice
Second article in the
Ideas for those who garden in containers
Over recent years Harborough District Council (HDC) has bequeathed to us various containers, not least of which is the blue bin 'insert'. These 'sorting' bins – some of which need to be drilled to provide drainage – make useful containers for growing all sorts of vegetables. Creative re-use at its best!
You can adapt most of these ideas to suit small raised beds or square-metre gardens.
- Carrots love to grow in stoneless free-draining soil so deep pots and potato bags are ideal containers. Use 60+cm (24+") tall pots or bags as these have the added advantage of raising your crop out of the flightpath of the carrot root fly. Achieve the drainage by using a layer of horticultural grit under a deep layer of good multi-purpose compost. Given good soil, carrots grow fine in shallower pots (20cm, 8") or raised beds, so use what you have. In these latter containers sow the seed more sparsely to reduce the amount thinning needed (female carrot flies are attracted by the smell of bruised carrot leaves). Further outwit the carrot fly by raising shorter pots onto other garden structures or another upturned pot; or erect a 60cm (24") micro-mesh or fine fleece barrier around the carrot patch in raised beds; note that some damage may still occur because the carrot fly pupae can overwinter in soil. (Carrot root fly also affects related plants such as parsnip, parsley root, celery and celeriac.) Remember that quick cropping stump-rooted varieties and 'finger carrots' can be grown in pots with salad leaves and hearting lettuces.
- Bushy, hungry crops such as courgettes grow well in wide pots. When planting-up, sink a smaller plant pot into the compost next to the transplant and carefully water into this. This quickly gets water and feed down to the root area. Growing tomatoes and cucumbers in pots? Use same tip to get water and feed where it's needed and to avoid water damage to the lower leaves / vines.
- Growing beetroot in pots is effort-effective as you get two crops: roots that are sweet and nutritious plus a spinach-like leaf that goes well in baby-leaf salads, or which can be lightly steamed. Choose pots of sizeable diameter (30+cm, 12+") and use a good multi-purpose compost; sow the seed thickly and keep it moist. Thin-out by harvesting some roots when golf-ball sized and allow others to grow larger. Sow a succession of seeds for regular cropping; in autumn, leave a few plants to go through the winter so that (given a mild winter) you have fresh leaves to garnish salads or sandwiches.
- Herbs do well in pots and containers and for an invasive herb like mint, a container is a necessity. There are many varieties of mint – apple mint, spearmint, pineapple mint, and so on – thus it's possible to bring together a seasonal culinary 'mint experience' in a collection of patio pots and planters. Seasonal because as the different mints flower they tend to cross pollinate and, over time, lose their distinctive flavours. This can be lessened by regular cutting to stop flowering, however replenishing the mint collection every few seasons is often necessary. (Tip: stand the pots on feet to stop root-runners diving into the ground and setting off in all directions!)
- Those reduced-price, sad-looking pots of parsley and coriander (other herbs too) found in supermarkets can be put to good use. Although parsley and coriander don't like having their roots disturbed, many of us have had good success with re-potting and growing them on. The coriander is trickiest – it's less tolerant of root disturbance – and both it and parsley need free-draining soil that is kept moist but not wet. Coriander bolts readily if grown in full sun, and parsley likes a little shade too, so position the pots accordingly. Certainly, if you have spare containers and compost at home, reduced-price supermarket herbs are worth a go.
- Finally, a late-spring or early summer project for youngsters – or indeed for the space-challenged gardener. Try two or three different varieties of vegetable sown directly into a large pot or tub (at least 40-50cm or 16-20" diameter) filled with multi-purpose compost over a free-draining base. Try dwarf peas directly seeded at the base of a central wigwam of twiggy sticks; followed, in the next circle / row outwards, by a thin sowing of cos lettuce (tall and pointy rather than low and spreading). Then around the rim of the pot directly sow beetroot seed spaced to allow the root to grow slightly larger than a golf ball. Or the centre could be occupied by French beans climbing up a wigwam of canes surrounded by a circle of dwarf peas (to vine up the lower reaches of French beans), with the outer rim seeded with a red-tipped cos variety; or alternate a green cos variety with beetroot seeds. Such pots need to be kept well watered and, as the central peas or beans begin to set fruit, given a liquid feed every few weeks.
Venturing into Vegetables – Additional Resources
On my bookshelf…[Note: the 'book' links go to Amazon.co.uk simply for ease of doing and not for reasons of preference. For new, in-print books, please visit our local bricks-and-mortar booksellers; for second-hand books please cruise the many shelves of books in our local charity shops.]
Joy Larkcom's Creative Vegetable Gardening: Growing Vegetables with Flowers in the Classic Tradition is out of print but there are good second-hand copies around, or try the library. This book beautifully illustrates the practical – and holistic – approach of growing vegetables with flowers. Her latest book (not yet read) Creative Vegetable Gardening appears to cover some of that ground. Her other practical and informative vegetable-related titles are also on the linked page.
Charles Dowding – where to start? Organic Gardening: The Natural No-dig Way and How to grow Winter Vegetables are firm favourites; and Charles Dowding's Vegetable Course (as yet unread) seems like a good investment at £15.
Two books stand out in the Royal Horticultural Society's Grow Your Own series:
Carol Klein's highly successful RHS Grow Your Own: Veg, and Kay Maguire's Crops in Pots: with 30 step-by-step projects using vegetables, fruit and herbs. Another RHS book worth owning is James Wong's Grow for Flavour.
Organic Gardening by Geoff Hamilton – if you find a good second-hand copy, grab it; especially if it's the 2011 hard cover edition updated by Geoff's son, Nick. And for leisurely winter-time reading, what else but books by the master of year-round vegetable production, Eliot Coleman.
On my notice board…A simplified list of 'what to plant when' – by no means comprehensive but it covers a lot of what I grow. An at-a-glance reference, it gives approximate sowing, planting, and harvesting times.
On my radar…Plenty of hands-on learning with Nick Hamilton and his colleagues at Barnsdale Gardens.
In the village archive…And still available on this website: three newsletters written specifically for members of the Great Bowden & District Garden Society but of value to all vegetable growers. Don't be put off by the focus of growing for local shows – dive in and harvest some top class know-how from Roger Brown, one of the Society's foremost vegetable growers.
Autumn-Winter Newsletter – of huge value in this newsletter is a list of vegetable varieties which over the years have proven reliable and consistent; saves a lot of trial and error on your part.
Spring Newsletter – brief information about growing from seed: onions, leeks, carrots, beetroot, marrows, courgettes, French and runner beans; also onions and shallots from sets. Cabbages, lettuce, and and main crop potatoes get a mention too!
Summer Newsletter – not particularly helpful to the general grower; but if you plan to show your produce locally the content is a reminder of what needs to be done as show day approaches.
And finally…There is plenty of online help available. The websites of major seed suppliers usually have an 'advice section'; some have online videos that demonstrate how to sow, pot-on and plant out, plus advice about aftercare.
Companies with a long association of supplying growers with fruit and vegetable seeds include:
Kings Seeds, who have close links to the National Allotment Society and its members. Suttons Seeds also run 'seed schemes' for independent groups of allotment holders and leisure gardeners. D. T. Brown are specialist suppliers of fruit and vegetables by mail order. The Organic Gardening Catalogue has a strong association with Garden Organic. If you are a member of Garden Organic you can claim a 10% discount on purchases from this catalogue. The Real Seed Company and Chiltern Seeds (among others) supply more unusual heirloom seeds.
First article in the Spring 2016
Documents available to download on this site are saved in PDF format. You will need Adobe Reader to view them. Click the link below to download the software.