There’s absolutely no doubt that homegrown vegetables and herbs taste great. Plucked from your garden and popped straight on your plate – they’re the freshest you can get! If space allows, you can opt for a large vegie patch in your backyard, but if your outdoor space is limited to a balcony, courtyard or windowsill, you can still grow a thriving edible garden. Here’s what you need to know.
The correct size of container is essential for success, so choose pots 30–40cm deep for vegetables and 25–30cm deep for herbs. Larger containers hold more soil and are easier to manage, because there’s less chance of the soil drying out in hot weather. Good drainage is important, so make sure there are drainage holes in the base of containers and raise flat-bottomed pots up on pot feet to ensure excess water runs away. Self-watering pots, or containers that recycle excess water and nutrients, are handy on balconies. There’s a large range of options available on the market, including planter bags, lightweight containers, vertical wall planters, raised planters and windowsill herb planters.
How to grow vegetables in pots
- Potting mix Fill containers with a good-quality potting mix for herbs and vegies, one that contains added controlled-release fertiliser. You can mix through a scoop of compost or add a handful of pelletised poultry manure fertiliser (look for the low-odour type – think of your neighbours!).
- Water Vegetables need water regularly – every day in hot dry weather – to keep the soil just moist. Use your fingertips to test for soil moisture – if it’s dry 2–3cm down, then it’s time to water. And always thoroughly drench pots rather than just giving them a light spray.
- Feed Liquid fertilisers are marvellous for container-grown vegetables. They are taken up quickly and supply all the right nutrients for healthy growth. For leafy green vegetables, when harvesting a few leaves at a time, regular feeding will keep the supply coming. Alternatively, sprinkle a controlled-release fertiliser over the potting mix. These last three to six months, steadily supplying nutrients to your crops.
- Sun Most herbs and vegies need about six hours of sun each day, but won’t mind a bit of protection offered by afternoon shade in summer. In areas that offer half-day sun, try leafy salad greens, silverbeet, baby spinach, spring onions and leafy herbs like rocket, basil and coriander. These will be more successful than fruiting plants such as tomato, eggplant or cucumber.
Best vegetables for pots
When it comes to vegetable planting in spring, there’s plenty to choose from. So many edible plants are perfectly suited to pots, especially salad greens and leafy herbs, but there’s also an exciting range of compact and dwarf vegetable varieties. For the beginner it’s easiest to start with seedlings, but if you have enough space you could set aside a few pots for sowing seeds, then plant out seedlings once they reach a few centimetres in height.
- Salad greens These are easy and quick to grow. Try open-hearted lettuce such as baby cos or perpetual lettuc. Other great varieties include baby leaf spinach, mizuna, sweet rocket, tatsoi, watercress, colourful rainbow beet, silverbeet and mesclun salad mixes. Snip the outer leaves when just a few weeks old and continue harvesting every few days. Tip: Salad greens grow quickly and taste best when young, so liquid-feed fortnightly to keep them in top condition.
- Tomatoes Not all tiny tomatoes grow on tiny vines, so make sure you plant compact growing forms. Most varieties will need a short stake to support the vine and lots of sunshine.
- Chilli and capsicum These popular edibles love a warm sunny spot to grow, and produce plenty of fruit to keep things hot in the kitchen.
- Snow peas and dwarf sugar snap peas These climbing vegetables need support, so
pop three or four tall bamboo stakes into a pot, secure at the top, then wind twine around
to carry the wandering tendrils. Sow two or three seeds at the base of each stake.
- Baby root vegetables Baby carrots, baby beets and even baby turnips grow well together in containers. Radishes are super quick, so sow a few seeds or seedlings for summer salads.
- Onions Onion chives and garlic chives are handy pot buddies. Just snip a few as you need them for salads, omelettes, or to sprinkle over potatoes. Spring onions make a great pot crop, too.
- Cucumber Common cucumbers are sprawling plants, but there are now great compact forms for containers. A few short, sturdy stakes inserted into the pot will support the vine.