Don’t slow down now!
TEXT Alice Spenser-Higgs
Autumn is a good time to grow vegetables in containers. The milder days are less stressful for the veggies than the blistering heat of summer. Looking ahead to winter, containers can be shifted into sunny, sheltered areas, especially if the veggie garden is draughty or doesn’t get enough winter sunshine.
Position: Autumn and winter veggies need 5 – 6 hours of sun a day and there should be good air circulation. Move the pots around to make the most of the sun.
Container size: The bigger the better, because larger containers hold more soil (which doesn’t dry out as quickly). The shape of the container, round or square, doesn’t matter, provided the plant has enough space for its roots and top growth.
- Broccoli, cabbage, kale: One plant per large plastic pot (35 – 43cm diameter). Baby cabbage can be grown in 20 – 35cm pots.
- Spinach, lettuce – One plant per 20 – 35cm plastic pot or three plants in a 50cm pot or trough. Space 10cm apart.
- Baby carrots, radishes, beetroot – Direct sow seed into troughs/ window boxes or pots that are at least 20cm deep. Thin to 10cm apart.
*Plastic pots are used to give an indication of size. Even if the seedling looks a bit silly in such a large pot, it quickly grows to fill the space. Planting too many plants in a small pot reduces yield, and increases pest and disease problems.
Types of containers: The lighter the type of pot the easier it is to move. The Urban Box has castors so that it can be wheeled into position. Terracotta pots are heavy and more porous, which means they need more watering. Dark pots can get very hot because they absorb the sun’s heat. Also steer clear of plant boxes made of treated wood (creosote) as the chemicals can end up in the veggies.
Soil mix: Use the best quality potting soil, not ordinary garden soil. However, commercial potting soil does not contain enough nutrients for vegetables. Mix in the following supplements:
- Fertilis Earthworm Castings;
- Vita Grow 2:3:2 fertilizer;
- Vermiculite for good water retention;
- Agricultural lime (also called dolomitic lime), which contains calcium and magnesium, as most edibles like a higher level than is present in commercial potting mixes.
Line the bottom of the container with hessian cloth or weed-guard fabric to ensure good drainage before filling it.
Made for containers
- Broccoli ‘Spring Rapini’ is a sprouting broccoli that produces edible leaves, stems and small heads that can be harvested sooner (50 – 60 days) than conventional broccoli.
- ‘Vates Blue Curled’ kale is a compact, low growing cut-and-come again variety. The first baby leaves can be harvested within 25 days.
- ‘Sweetheart’ is a tiny Nantes-type group carrot that is only 10cm long, and ‘Parisian’ is a small and sweet, round orange carrot.
- Radishes now come in a range of colours. ‘Watermelon’ has a white ‘rind’ and deep pink core (like a tiny watermelon).
- Baby beet ‘Rainbow Mix’ can be grown as a sweet-flavoured baby beet or left to mature into larger veggies. The mix provides a lucky packet of colours: deep red, yellow, white, candy-striped and lighter purple-red. ‘Chioggia’ is an heirloom candy-striped beet.
- Loose-leaf lettuce doesn’t need as much space to grow as crisp-heads, and individual leaves can be harvested for longer. Plants are not frost hardy but will survive under frost cloth or in a sheltered position.
- Swiss chards with coloured stems like ‘Bright Lights’ are just so pretty, and their stems can be chopped into soups and stews.
- Endive Chicory ‘Catalogna Bi-colour Blend’ is a salad leaf with an edge. The curly leaves and crispy white stems add crunch and a tinge of bitterness to winter salads. Pick young, before the plant blooms.
Container growing tips
- Water often and adjust to changing temperatures as days become cooler.
- Spray pests with organic, non-toxic solutions like Biogrow Pyrol, Ludwig’s Insect Spray or Margaret Roberts Organic Insecticide for pest attacks like bollworm, vegetarian ladybird, scale or mealybug, as well as for aphids, white fly and red spider mite.
- Starting about a month after planting, feed your vegetables about once a week with a water-soluble fertiliser, like Margaret Roberts Organic Supercharger, or a home-made manure/green tea. Alternately feed with a slow-release fertiliser like Vita Fruit & Flower 3:1:5 every 3 – 4 months or as per crop requirements.
Don’t forget to add the vegetable container garden soil to your compost at the end of the season. Reusing soil from year to year can spread infections and insect infestations. Scrub the container and rinse with a solution of one-part bleach to 10 parts water, then rinse with clean water and store in a dry spot.