Vegetables In Containers

Posted on: 20 June 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Growing organic vegetables in containers is easy if you follow some simple advice.

Almost any vegetable can be grown in a container.

Courgettes, tomatoes, potatoes and aubergines do well in large individual containers.

Salads, spring onions, chard, leaf beet, French beans, beetroot, carrots, radishes and oriental brassicas can be grown in a mixed pot or trough, or on their own.

Avoid vegetables with deep roots such as parsnips, and those with a long, slow growing season, such as cauliflower, or with high demands for food and water, such as pumpkins.

Both Useful & Beautiful

Remember that vegetables can look good too, and an "edible" container can look as striking as one filled with ornamentals.

You might also like to add some herbs and edible flowers. In cool climates, pots of fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers can be started off under cover and moved outside to a warm, sunny spot when the weather improves.

Container Size & Compost Mix

Vegetables each have different growing requirements.

Some Compost Requirements

Aubergines 10 litres (2 1/2 gallons) per plant.

French beans 2.5 litres (4 pints) per plant.

Beetroot, kohl rabi Minimum depth of compost 20cm (8in); plants 7.5-10cm (3-4in) apart.

Leaf beet and chard 4 litres (7 pints) per plant.

Courgettes 30-40 litres (6-9 gallons) per plant.

Sweet peppers 5 litres (1 gallon) per plant.

Tomatoes 15 litres (3 1/4 gallons) per plant.

Baby salad leaves can be grown in compost that has already been used once, while heavy feeders such as tomatoes need fresh compost and, once they are established, additional feeding.

Generally, the larger the container the better, as vegetables need a good supply of food and a consistent supply of water to do well. Growing several plants in one large container may give better results than using individual pots, and the plants will be much easier to look after.

As containers come in all shapes and sizes, it can be easier to talk volume rather than dimensions (see panel, right for some examples). Measure the approximate volume of a container by filling it with compost from a bucket of known volume. In general, use a container that is at least 20cm (8in) deep.

Baby salad leaves can go in shallower pots or trays, as long as you keep them watered.

Heavy feeders like tomatoes and courgettes need a container at least 25-30cm (10-12in) deep.

Carrots grow well in containers, and are easily protected from carrot fly by draping fleece over the pot. Grow early, short- or round-rooted varieties such as 'Amsterdam Forcing' and 'Early Scarlet Horn', in a container at least 15cm (6in) deep. Pull the bigger carrots first, leaving the others to grow.

Growing Tips

  • For a quick impact, buy young plants, or raise plants under cover and transplant, rather than sowing direct.
  • Never let pots dry out. Many vegetables are likely to "bolt" (run to seed) or split if the water supply is erratic.
  • Line clay pots with plastic to cut down on water loss.
  • Choose dwarf or miniature cultivars.
  • Feed with a general or potash-rich liquid feed as appropriate. Seaweed extract will give plants a boost.
  • Grow annual flowering plants such as calendula (also edible) or Convolvulus tricolor to attract predators to improve pest control.

Edible Delights

In the courtyard pictured, vegetables benefit not only from the shelter of this sunny wall by day, but also by the warmth it radiates back at night. A sheet of wide-gauge wire netting fixed to the wall allows the plants at the back - tall tomatoes and aubergine, and a scrambling cucumber - to be tied as they grow.

Grow OrganicThis extract is taken from Grow Organic, a 'Made with Care' book published by DK using sustainable paper and vegetable inks, in association with Garden Organic. It's available at all good book shops, RRP £17.99, or online from Amazon for £12.59.

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