Beginner's guide to vege gardens: Pots and small spaces

In this tiny garden veges and herbs grow in the table, up the walls and even on the roof.

In this tiny garden veges and herbs grow in the table, up the walls and even on the roof.

In part four of our "Start a Garden" series, we have advice for gardeners without a lot of space who are still keen to grow their own.

On small city sections, design hard landscaping so it does double duty. Rig climbing frames for beans up boundary fences or garage walls; build a compost bin with a flat lid that doubles as a potting table; store tools in a flip-top garden seat; hang baskets or bird feeders from trees and trellis; grow salads or microgreens in pretty windowboxes; and flank your front steps with matching containers of herbs. 

Remember your garden might not have much room at ground level but you can always go up. In summer, grow climbing beans up trellises or teepees and in winter and spring, use the same frames for climbing peas. 

Chillies and capsicums grow well in pots.

Chillies and capsicums grow well in pots.

Cucumbers, gherkins, pumpkins and melons can also be encouraged to climb. They will happily cling to wire mesh or taut strings. As the fruit develops, slip pantyhose or a recycled onion bag sling over it to hold its weight. Grapes, kiwifruit, passionfruit and bramble berries will all climb too. 

* Beginner's guide to vege gardens: First step? Get the site right
* Beginner's guide to starting a vege garden. Part two: It's all in the soil
* Beginner's guide to vege gardens. Part three: Seeds vs seedlings

It is harder to grow your own if you are restricted to container growing, but don't let that stop you. Plenty of crops produce well in a pot. In fact you don't even need a pot. You can grow food in anything from a wooden crate to a bucket. You can even poke drainage holes in one side of a bag of potting mix, cut planting slits in the other and plant straight into it.

But plastic containers are your best bet. They don't lose water as quickly as terracotta pots (which need to be sealed with a product like Yates' PotA-Seal), plus they're cheaper, lighter and won't break if you drop them! 

Don't fill your pots with garden soil. It can lack aeration, nutrients and decent drainage. There are lots of bagged potting mixes out there, and prices vary but you do get what you pay for. A cheaper mix might not contain enough nutrients to satisfy slower-maturing crops such as tomatoes or spuds throughout the season. 

Don't fill your pots with pure compost either. It's not suitable as a growing medium on its own. Mix compost with potting mix, or use it as a mulch on top of large pots. 

Some veges crop better in pots than others. Asian greens like bok choy, choy sum and wong bok are fast and foolproof.

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Beans will do well in summer, but choose prolific varieties, like 'Roquefort' or 'Top Crop'. You can grow salad greens too, but plant non-hearting, or cut-and-come-again, types as you pick individual leaves without harvesting the whole plant. Pop in a few seedlings every few weeks for a constant supply.

Always keep lettuce well-watered to stop it bolting to seed or turning bitter. Rocket is easy to grow in pots too (and you can harvest the peppery shoots as microgreens) but again keep the water up. You can also grow silverbeet (go for a compact variety) and spring onions in containers. 

Tomatoes are a good container crop too but get the variety right – cherry tomatoes might have small fruit but they can still get to be big plants! Read the plant label carefully and stick to varieties with a maximum height of 1m. You can even grow zucchini in a container, but go for a large pot or a 10L bucket.

Capsicums and chillies are perfect for pots, you can start them off early indoors, bring them inside on chilly spring nights and carry them around your garden to soak up as much sun as possible while fruiting. Capsicums need a bigger pot than chillies, at least 25cm diameter. 

What not to grow: Brassicas, such as cabbages, cauli and broccoli, take up a lot of space per plant, need to grow for months to head up and only yield a single meal, so they don't suit pot life. Garlic, onions and leeks take such a long time to crop, it's not really worth it (plus the soil in pots tends to get too hot and dry for garlic). 

Most herbs grow fabulously well in containers. Parsley, chives, basil, thyme, rosemary, coriander, mint, oregano and sage will all do well in a pot, even a relatively small one. Harvest by nipping off the growing tips, rather than harvesting whole stems, to encourage bushy plants rather than lanky spindly growth.

Tomorrow look out for part five in this start a garden series: Watering 101

This is part four of an eight part series on starting a vege garden from New Zealand's leading gardening magazine NZ Gardener. If you want ongoing tips on what to do in the garden each week, sign up for free to NZ Gardener's online magazine Get Growing and get this info delivered to your inbox every Friday. 

 - NZ Gardener


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