Growing vegetables in small spaces
Don’t miss out on the fun and flavour and growing your own food. Even If you only have a backyard or paved space you can still grow a wide variety of vegetables, fruit or herbs.
What can I grow in?
You can grow in any type of container as long as it
- can hold compost
- allows water to drain through it
- is made of a waterproof material
So plastic, wood , metal and clay are all good to use as long as they have holes at the base for water drainage.
You’ll need a minimum depth of 10cm (4 inches) – unless you a growing mini-veg on a window inside (see below for more information on that). You don’t have to spend a lot of money if you’re just starting out. You can use recycled pots and containers from shop bought mushrooms, fruit, yoghurt, ice cream, drinks etc. ‘Bags for life’ can also be used as long as you make holes at the bottom before you put in the compost and plants. Old wooden pallets also make great growing containers see my blog on how to make these. If you have space, larger pots and containers are easier to use as they give roots more space and need watering less often.
For growing vegetables in small spaces over the spring and summer months you can use any fresh garden compost or bagged compost. ‘Multi-purpose’ compost is ideal and gro-bags are fine for smaller plants.
Pots in the Sun
If you can put your pots in a place where they will get the sun for at least 6 hours a day in the summer you can grow these plants:
- Any herb – thyme, rosemary, parsley, mint, bay etc. (see here for more information on herbs)
- Onion and garlic (sow the seeds/cloves in containers at least 15cm deep)
- Carrot (sow the seeds in containers at least 25cm deep for large carrots or 10cm deep for mini-carrots)
- Beetroot (sow the seeds in containers at least 15cm deep)
- Potato (each potato needs a container at least 30cm wide and 45cm deep)
- Courgette (each plant needs a container at least 30cm wide and 45cm deep)
- Cucumber (each plant needs a container at least 30cm wide and 45cm deep) Put bamboo canes in the pot so you can train the shoots upwards.
- Tomato (most varieties need a pot at least 25cm wide and 30cm deep, unless they are mini plants) Put bamboo canes in the pot so you can train the shoots upwards.
- French beans – small bush variety only – sow the seeds in a container at least 30cm deep.
Pots in the Shade
If you can put your pots in a place where they will get the sun for at least 4 hours a day in the summer you can grow these plants:
- Lettuce (sow seeds in containers at least 10cm deep)
- Spinach and Chard (sow seeds in containers at least 10cm deep)
- Kale (sow seeds in containers at least 10cm deep for kale leaves or deeper if you want a large plant over winter)
- Pak Choi (sow seeds in containers at least 10cm deep)
- Mangeout (sow the seeds in a container at least 45cm deep) Put bamboo canes in the pot so you can train the shoots upwards.
- Podded peas (sow the seeds in a container at least 45cm deep) Put bamboo canes in the pot so you can train the shoots upwards.
My favourite seed suppliers are below – you can get a much wider range of varieties if you buy online or go to specialist garden centres. They will also be able to give you advice on which vegetable varieties to buy. If you’re confused by the choice on offer, focus on the varieties with ‘AGM’ – this means they have been tested and found to be reliable and easy to grow.
If you have some ground you can grow into you can also grow these plants, which need more space. You should start growing the seeds in small pots inside in April and then plant them outside into the ground after all the frosts have finished (usually late May or early June). They all need plenty of space and all (except the pumpkins) need bamboo canes, poles or trellis that they .can grow up.
- Summer Squash – Patty Pans are my favourite
- French Beans, Climbing variety – ‘Purple Teepee’ are excellent
- Runner Beans
Growing vegetables in small spaces also includes windsowsills! You can use even the tiniest space to grow fresh ingredients to add flavour to your food.
Pots of herbs will grow on a sunny windowsill – just remember to water them!
You can also grow salad leaves in shallow containers with 5-10cm deep compost. Sprinkle seeds onto level, watered compost. Let the leaves grow to about 10cm high and then start to cut them for salads – taking a couple of leaves from each small plant. The plant will keep growing and produce more leaves, so if will keep you supplied with fresh salad for several weeks.
Pea shoots and sprouting seeds
You can buy special ‘sprouting seeds’ which are familiar vegetables but designed to growing on windowsill and be harvested while they are seedlings/sprouts. You can eat them a few days after sowing the seeds – they are full of nutrients and can be sprinkled on salads and soups to add flavour.
Find out more about Growing in Small Spaces
I regularly run courses and workshops on gardening and vegetable growing in Manchester and the North West.
More tips on Seed sowing for homegrown vegetables.