If you only have a small garden there are lots of vegetables you can grow in pots. It is great to have a supply of fresh produce just outside the back door. Growing your own is a great way to encourage children to both grow things and to eat more vegetables. The advantage of being in a pot is it makes it more accessible for them and easier for you to water. I have a very small garden and below are the ones I grow regularly.
Mixed salad leaves and “cut and come again” type lettuces grow well in large pots. I tend to grow it in a shallow trough my Dad made for me several years ago from some decking offcuts lined with an old compost sack. If you sow seeds only sow a few rows at a time and sow some more 2 or 3 weeks later so it spreads them out over the summer rather than a ton of lettuce for about a week followed by none! Garden centres and nurseries sell small plants for growing on. I’ve also bought from the supermarket the “living leaves” punnets (like the herbs you buy). I divide these up and replant with a bit more room between them. Let them grow a bit bigger for a couple of weeks and then you can snip a few leaves from them over several weeks.
Lettuce plants will not survive the winter, they don’t like frost, so don’t plant out any small plants in the Spring until the risk of frost has passed.
Climbing French beans
I prefer the taste of French beans (or fine beans) to runner beans but this would work equally well for those. I have a really large terracotta pot in to which I put bamboo canes to create a wigwam for the beans to grow up. I usually plant about 10 to 12 plants and get a really good crop for a few months from these. You can either grow from seed or buy small plants. If growing from seed they will need to be started under cover, in a frost-free greenhouse for example. If you don’t have one then a sunny window sill will do the job. Once it has warmed up outside plant them out where they are to grow. I put the bamboo canes in first then put the plant in beside them so I don’t damage the roots of the young plants. Over the summer keep them watered and fed; beans are quite thirst plants. As they ripen keep picking them to keep them producing more beans. I keep a ziplock bag in the freezer and once picked put them straight in the bag in the freezer. When I want to cook them I take out a handful, snap them in half, and put them straight in boiling water. They are cooked in a couple of minutes. They keep their flavour as they are frozen within minutes of picking so even in Winter you can enjoy the taste of freshly picked beans.
The plants will not survive the winter so take them out once they have died and cut them up before adding to the compost bin.
I haven’t tried them from seed; I bought some young plants from the garden centre. They did quite well and were really sweet. Sweet peppers are great if you have a greenhouse or similar. I grew mine in my sunny lean-to. If you do try them outside they need to be in a really sunny, sheltered spot to get them to ripen. As with all vegetables regular watering and feeding is key.
You can get varieties for growing outside although I have not tried these myself. I am lucky to have a lean-to which doubles as a greenhouse. They are grown from seeds sown in March/April. They will need to be put on a sunny windowsill to germinate and then kept frost-free. I grew 2 last year in 5 litre plastic pots (pots often have the size on the bottom) in my lean-to. Cucumbers have triffid-like tendencies and will need some support to grow up. I constructed a very Heath Robinson type of structure using some bamboo canes but it worked well and have at least one cucumber a week for a couple of months. The flavour of home-grown cucumbers is really sweet although they tend to have a tougher skin than those you buy in the supermarket. As for other fruits and vegetables they do need regular, even, watering and also feeding. I feed with tomato feed. You also need to keep picking them to encourage the production of more flowers and so fruit.
Cucumber plants will not survive the Winter.
You can get varieties specifically bred for growing in pots. They do need really big pots for best results. Courgettes can be a bit tricky with watering; too much and the fruit just rots before it is ripe, not enough and the plant gets powdery mildew. In a big pot (at least 10 litres) it is easier to even out the watering. They can also be grown in Grow bags but I’ve not tried this. As for cucumbers sow them in March/April and put on a sunny window sill to germinate. Don’t plant them out until the risk of frost has passed. As you can see from the picture on the left; slugs and snails love the young plants so protection is needed! Once they have survived the slug attack and grown into mature plants the flowers are like splashes of sunshine.
Cherry tomatoes are really good to grow in hanging baskets and require no pruning or training. I have mine in some wall baskets on a sunny white wall. The wall acts a bit like a storage heater keeping the plants warmer and the white wall reflects the sunlight helping to ripen the fruits more quickly. They will need regular watering and feeding. Keeping them slightly damp all the time is better then letting them dry out and then drowning them. Irregular watering will make the skin more likely to split or it will be tough. If your plants are constantly waterlogged though they will be more likely to have problems with fungal diseases where the fruits just rot before fully ripening. Once the fruits start to form feed once a week with liquid tomato feed. This makes sure the plant has the nutrients it needs to keep producing more flowers and fruit so you have tomatoes for a longer period of time.
I have to admit not many of mine make it indoors to the kitchen – I tend to pick and eat them whilst watering my pots or hanging out the washing. Home grown ones are really sweet and tasty.
You can also grow standard tomatoes outside in large pots which I have also done. They need to be in a sunny, sheltered spot to be their best. If you grow bush varieties there is no need to worry about removing side shoots as these will also fruit and flower. Standard tomato plants will need some support and regularly tying-in as they grow. As for the cherry tomatoes regular watering and feeding is needed to get the best from them. You can buy grow bags in garden centres which work well.
For all size and types of tomatoes you need to keep picking them as they ripen to encourage the plants to keep producing flowers and fruits for longer.
Tomato plants will not survive the winter. I either sow seeds in March or you can buy small plants in garden centres and nurseries in April. Just don’t put them outside until all risk of frost has passed. In the Autumn, once the plants have finished, put the old plants (chopped up) and soil from the grow bags or pots in your compost bin if you have one. If you don’t have a compost bin the soil from the used grow bag can just be spread on your flower beds.
I hope this has inspired you to try and grow some of your own vegetables. Also, have a look at my post of growing fruit in pots. There are increasing numbers of plants being developed for growing in pots so it is worth having a look through the seeds when next in a garden centre.