Growing vegetables can inspire the farmer in anyone

Here’s a little-known secret: most vegetables can be grown in containers.

If you don’t have room for a big vegetable garden, grow vegetables and herbs in pots.

Here are a few advantages of container planting:

  • If you live in a townhouse or flat with no space for traditional gardening, containers offer you the opportunity to still grow your own food. Nothing is more convenient when you need a tomato or a pinch of fresh basil than to step out the kitchen door to your container garden of vegetables and herbs.
  • Often the soil around a newer home is poor because all that is left is subsoil that has been compacted by machinery. You will spend less time, money and effort if you plant in containers of potting mix until you can build good soil in a spot in the garden.
  • Containers can be placed at a height that minimises bending for watering and tending to plants.
  • Movable containers can be placed in sunny areas at different times of the day if you have changing exposure to the sun throughout the day.
  • Container gardening also gives you the opportunity to try new plant varieties on a small scale.

When it comes to size, the bigger the pot the better, especially for beginners. One of the main reasons for this is that large pots hold more soil, and thus hold moisture for longer so you don’t have to water as much. Look for containers that are at least 25cm wide and 30cm deep.

Some vegetables need particularly large pots to grow in. Standard-size tomatoes and vining crops, such as cucumbers, will do best in containers 35cm or more in diameter. Peppers like pots at least 25cm in diameter.

Five container-planting tips:

1. Container selection: It’s tempting to want to go with funky and pretty pots, but make sure the containers you select will give your plants room to grow, taking into consideration the expected size the plant should reach. Holes for drainage are also important. In general, plants of clay (such as terracotta pots) need more watering than other types of pots. Water quickly evaporates from clay pots when compared to plastic containers due to the porous nature of clay.

2. Soil selection: The correct soil is key to successful container planting. Use a high-quality potting mix and blend in an organically enriched fertiliser, such as Ludwig’s Vigorosa 5:1:5 (25), which contains all the essential nutrients for feeding container plants. Soak the potting mix completely, then allow the mix to sit for a few hours to drain excess water before planting.

3. Magic mulching: When you plant in containers in full sun, a layer of mulch on the top of the soil will help retain moisture, as up to 70% of water can evaporate from the soil on a hot day. 

4. Be water wise: Research suggests that watering container plants in the afternoon during summer may lead to healthier, stronger-growing plants. In winter, plants don’t like wet feet, just like humans, so do your watering in the morning so that plants can absorb water before the soil gets cold at night. The next time you boil or steam vegetables, save the water, let it cool and then use it to water your container veg – you’ll be amazed at how the plants respond to this ‘vegetable soup’.

5. Sunny spots: Sunlight is crucial, as the plants must have at least 6 – 8 hours of sunlight a day.

Grow your vegetables and herbs in hanging baskets if ground space is scarce. Choose compact or ‘bush’ varieties as they work best in hanging baskets.

It is also important to remember that indoor plants in containers should not be kept too close to a window during summer. Windows act as magnifiers and plants will burn.  

The Gardener