The endeavour of growing your own food from the ground up can bring both joy and frustration simultaneously. It requires patience and there are a lot of variables to consider. There are hundreds of different variations of soil mixes, fertilisers, and seeds to choose from; finding the formula that reaps the best results can be a lengthy process. However, don’t be put off. Put the work in and year after year, you could be tucking into culinary delights created using produce plucked straight from your own humble garden.
For most of us, growing directly in the ground or even building raised flowerbeds isn’t an option. Container-growing your own veggies, in smaller pots and planters, is a convenient alternative, and makes homegrown food accessible to all. Here are a few of the basics you need to consider before getting started…
To sow or not to sow
You’ve got two options: sowing your own seeds or buying ready-made seedlings. Growing completely from scratch isn’t for everyone; seeds are high maintenance and sensitive, requiring between 12 to 16 hours of light per day, good air circulation and a lot of love to grow up strong. If the moisture content of their soil isn’t being closely monitored in the crucial early stages, seeds are at risk of drying out or drowning – which can be super disappointing for the grower!
However, if you’ve got the time and patience, there are many benefits to sowing your own seeds; it’s generally cheaper and you are often able to get your hands on more interesting and rarer varieties of veggies. Whichever way you do it, make sure the original seed used is of high quality and organic. After all, you will be eating the result! Top-tip: a lot of the things you like to eat contain the seeds you need to grow them. So save one of those delicious tomatoes, get the seeds and use those to grow new ones. On internet there are tonnes of instructions on how to do this!
Choosing the right container
Deciding what vessel to use to house your fledgling veggies can be daunting. Avoid overcrowding and allow growth by opting for large or long pots. The more soil your pot can hold, the more moisture it will retain, meaning plenty of nutrients to go around, and less watering on your part.
Proper drainage is non-negotiable; a hole in the base of your pot should allow excess water to run away, so your veggies don’t fall victim to root rot. If your plants seem waterlogged, check that drainage holes aren’t getting clogged up if your pots are sitting on a hard surface. Elevate accordingly with pot feet, or something similar, if this is the case.
To eliminate watering stresses altogether, go for a pot with an integrated water reservoir. For instance, check out the Bruges with water reservoir. The length (up to 80 cm!) allows you to have several rows of veggies in one pot, or even a few different varieties living harmoniously alongside one another.
If space isn’t on your side, choose a set-up that takes advantage of height instead of width. The Berlin Grow Table or Berlin Tower make great options; the narrow Tower will maximise your potential crop-growing space by stacking 4 pots in one organised frame, whilst the cleverly designed Grow Table has ample storage space underneath your pots. The bottom line is, if you’re organised and attentive, you can grow veggies in a variety of vessels – indoors or out.
It may seem obvious, but something to also note when growing food, is that a pot made from food-safe materials is an absolute must. The last thing you need is nasty chemicals leaking into your soil and making their way onto your plate. Favour durable long-lasting recycled plastics over materials such as wood, that will need replacing after a few seasons due to rot.
Go potty for potting mixes
High-quality potting soil is essential to the success of your vegetable-growing endeavour. Tempting as it me be, transferring the soil that already exisits in your garden to your container is a big no no - you could be unwittingly importing soil-borne diseases and weeds straight into your vulnerable vegetable plant’s environment.
We recommend purchasing a peat-free potting mix made up of organic compost, tree bark such as pine or coconut coir. To read up on the effects of peat-based products on the environment, check out Peat-free growing media / RHS Gardening.
Depending on which soil you choose, it should come with recommendations on which specific fertilisers are well-suited to use alongside it. Use either the recommended product or one with a similar nutrient balance. Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, or NPK, are the three core macronutrients you will see appearing on most packaging - many brands will claim equal numbers of the golden trio are ‘all-purpose’ and the most balanced - however, it would be wise to note that this isn’t necessarily the perfect ratio for your container veggies.
For example, if tending to vegetables that are grown for their fruit, such as cucumbers and tomatoes, as opposed to those with edible leaves, like lettuce - pay close attention to the nitrogen content. Nitrogen is great for foliage growth but overloading your plant with the stuff may mean you end up with a tall, luscious plant that has hardly any fruit on it (the bit you can actually eat!).
Not too hot, not too cool
Different vegetables have different preferences when it comes to optimal temperature and sun exposure. The ideal soil temperature for planting and growing most vegetables is between 18°-24°C. Use a soil thermometer to assess your outdoor space to choose the best location for your containers; and be realistic about what you can and can’t grow successfully.
Fruiting vegetables, like tomatoes and peppers, generally thrive in full sun, meaning they’ll need at least six hours of direct sunlight each day. In extremely hot climates, you might need to provide your plants with shade during the peak heat of the afternoon to prevent them from scorching. It is also worth noting that darker coloured pots will absorb the heat, whereas lighter ones will reflect the sun’s rays, keeping your veggies cooler.
In chillier environments, avoid putting pots outside full time until the temperature is reliably warm. Young seedlings, in particular, will need to be gradually acclimatised to the less comfy outdoor conditions, if they began life inside.
Stay wary of watering
The main thing to remember when watering veggies is to keep soil evenly moist, but not soaking wet. To figure out whether your plants need water, stick your finger down into the soil about an inch and if the soil feels dry, add water. At the height of summer in a warm climate, your plants may require watering at least once a day – we never said potted veggies were low maintenance! However, if attention-to-detail isn’t your forte - opt for a more forgiving pot with a self-watering mechanism to allow for over-watering or under-watering mistakes.
We hope these tips will help you to discover the marvels of growing your own fruit, herbs or veggies. Enjoy!
Peat-free growing media / RHS Gardening