I’d love to save you the frustration of your garden not growing well by encouraging you to become properly acquainted with your land, soil and climate before you begin.
Each season differs: the sun and shade expand, then contract, the water table rises and falls, frost comes and goes, and seasonal winds blow. Spend time outside in the weather and discover the sheltered spots and the most exposed. Slide your spade in to learn your soil – it’s surprisingly different from spot to spot. When 12 months have rolled by, you’ll know where your prime growing real estate is.
While you watch and learn and remediate your landscape, get growing fast with a temporary container setup. With dinner on the way, you’ll feel more relaxed about going through the process.
The right containers for growing veges
Containers can be anything from broken buckets to feed sacks, as long as water can exit and soil is contained.
However, the smaller the container, the quicker it dries out, the deeper it is, the more soil it requires to fill – a balancing act.
Beware unsealed terracota pots – they ooze water – and containers that previously held toxic stuff.
Plastic, for once, is a winner. It’s light and easily warmed when placed in the sun.
Fish bins and fruit crates are awesome – the wide surface area allows for a lot of greens and flowers to be jammed in together.
A depth of 30cm is a good go-to size that suits most crops.
Use these sizes as a general guide:
- 10-litre: Basil, salads, spinach, beetroot, onions, bok choy, mizuna, phacelia, calendula, radish, coriander, thyme, oregano, spring onions, strawberries.
- 15-litre: Tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, courgette, parsley, borage, carrots, celery, kale, chard.
- 20-litre: Squash, sunflowers, beans, sprouting broccoli, rosemary, potatoes.
Gather your containers in a sunny, sheltered spot as close to the house as possible. Crops that are close at hand are always the best cared for.
Bunch them together for moisture retention and let plants spill over onto each other in a neighbourly way because plants, like people, perform heaps better in community. Sit them direct on the soil, if you can, for access to worms and soil life.
Weeding, composting, hoeing, sowing and transplanting an entire summer vegetable garden in a weekend.
During cold weather, speed the pace of growth along by tucking pots into a warm microclimate. Use the north side of buildings, fences or hedges where the sun is trapped and held. Brick, stone or concrete walls or floors slowly release the day’s heat at night.
During hot weather, leafy greens will need to be moved into the semi-shade. Tuck them amongst other plants.
How and what to plant and grow
Fill your containers with an organic potting mix – one without added fungicides or artificial fertilisers. If you have the resources to hand, you can easily make your own. Mine is a very fluid brew. Think of potting mix like a stir-fry – use up all the bits and pieces!
Heavy feeders such as tomatoes, squash or broccoli will need a bit more food than just potting mix. Spread a layer of compost or vermicastings on top, or a sprinkle on a full spectrum mineral fertiliser.
Top it off with mulch, to retain moisture and soften the impacts of weather. Use whatever brown, crunchy bits are on offer in your garden – crop residue, leaves or straw.
A bit of wet cardboard or scrap of fabric is awesome too.
Visit your pots daily. Especially in extremes of weather. Plants in pots are more vulnerable to drying out or drowning, than those in the ground.
A gentle, weekly liquid of EM and seaweed, or worm juice feed keeps pots growing strongly. Add them into a watering can and pour it all over the plants and soil. Be careful of liquid manure though – it’s likely too strong.
Keep your pots barely moist – neither sodden or dry. Poke your finger in and check the state of the nation before watering. As much as possible avoid watering the foliage.
Cover direct sown seed with a bit of wet sack. Check for germination and when seedlings have 3 or 4 leaves, remove the fabric.
Protect young seedlings from birds with a tipi made of twigs, a layer of bracken or old net curtains, until they are big enough to go it alone.
Keep on top of slugs and snails. Lift the pots – they’ll all be hanging out beneath. Go out at night and gather them all up while they’re active. Squash them or save them for the chooks if you have them.
Kath Irvine is the author of The Edible Backyard and Pruning Fruit Trees: A Beginners Guide.