Many of us only have small gardens but it is still possible to grow tasty home-grown produce in a backyard, windowsill or balcony. If you choose your vegetable types and varieties carefully, you can cultivate plants that will thrive in containers and pots.
Lettuce, rocket, radish, pak choi, baby turnips, baby carrots are all happy growing in 4 inches (10cm) of compost/soil. But remember that shallow pots and window boxes will dry out quickly so make sure they are watered regularly. You can also add vermiculite, which absorbs and holds water and so held to stop compost drying out quickly in warm weather.
Tomatoes, cucumbers and courgettes (and any squashes) all like deep soil to grow in and will need large pots that are at least 12 inches (30cm deep). But look out for ‘patio’ varieties that are smaller and need less space. ‘Tumbling Tom’ cherry tomatoes are very petite and are happy in large hanging baskets or pots.
Peas and beans generally don’t like growing in containers as they like to get their roots down deep. But if you want to try them, choose dwarf varieties and that are not as vigorous and plant them in large pots – 24 inches/60cm in diameter.
Potatoes will grow happily in sacks or large pots, remember each seed potato needs a pot/area at least 12 inches (30cm) in diameter. So don’t overcrowd them.
Put good quality compost/soil in your containers with fertiliser granules or water-in a liquid feed (seaweed feed is the best) on a regular basis. Add vermiculite to your compost to help stop pots drying out. For carrots add sharp sand to your compost to improve the drainage and provide warmer growing conditions.
Most vegetables (even potatoes) like a sunny spot, but lettuce, spinach and rocket prefer partial shade. All will need regular watering – everyday at the height of summer.
Where you only have shallow soil or small containers try crops that you can harvest as young or baby crops – such as
- Salads and Kale (with these you can cut some leaves and leave the plant to continue growing),
- Turnips and carrots (these will have to be dug up, but you can then sow seeds of other crops in the pot, after adding fertiliser)
Reliable varieties of Easy-to-Grow container vegetables – here are my favourites
- Lettuce/Salads – Crisp Mint, Red Salad Bowl, Salad Niche/Oriental Mix
- Spinach – Emilia, Medina, Perpetual
- Pak Choi – Rudi F1, White stem
- Rocket – Wild or Cultivated
- Tomatoes – Tumbling Tiger, Tumbling Tom Red
- Cucumber – ‘Goblin’ F1
- Courgette – Midnight F1
- Peas – Bingo, Kelvedon Wonder, Shiraz
- Mangetout peas – Sweet Horizon, Sugar Snow Green
- Dwarf French beans – Amethyst, Boston
- Broad Beans – Oscar
- Potatoes – Charlotte, Anja, Desiree
- Beetroot – Bolthardy, Moneta
- Carrots – Early Nantes 2, Autumn King – harvest baby crops
- Kale – Nero Di Toscana, Red Russian, Reflex F1 – harvest young leaves (8-10cm)
- Radish – French Breakfast 3, Scarlet Globe, Rudi
- Turnip – Atlantic, Oasis – harvest when small (5cm)
- Kohl rabi – Azure Star
Find out More
I regularly run courses and workshops on gardening and growing vegetables in Manchester and the North West.