Basket of vegetables
Angela Slater
Daughter of a farmer and market gardener so have always had a connection with the outdoors, whether it was keeping animals or producing fruit, vegetables and cut flowers. Along with my work at Hayes Garden World I also have a smallholding, mainly breeding rare breed pigs. I gained an HND and BSc in Conservation and Environmental Land Management, as a result I am an ardent environmentalist and have a keen interest in environmentally friendly gardening. In my time at Hayes I worked for several years in the Outdoor Plant and Houseplant areas

What Vegetables Can I Grow In Containers And Small Spaces?

Home-grown vegetables are possible in a small space with a limited budget

Just because you don’t have much space doesn’t mean that you can’t save money and have tasty nutritious vegetables. If you are really short of space it is maybe not cost effective to grow vegetables which are cheap to buy, go for the ones which are expensive in the supermarket. You can have fresh herbs with just a single pot or salad leaves if you only have a windowsill, so no excuse! For a continuous supply throughout the summer sow just a few seeds every couple of weeks. Remember to keep them just damp otherwise erratic watering can lead to leafy vegetables bolting, tomatoes splitting or the root vegetables becoming hard and woody. They all need a sheltered, sunny position.

Aubergine (Egg Plant)

These need as long a growing season as possible and as warm as possible, so unless we have a long, hot summer they must be grown in a greenhouse. Sow an individual seed into good quality seed compost in a bio-degradable jiffy pot and cover with Vermiculite to provide protection against fluctuations in temperature. Place in a heated propagator and keep just damp by standing the pots in water for 10 – 15 minutes. Once germinated allow the seedlings to become established before planting the whole pot in good quality peat-free multi-purpose compost. Once this pot is full plant them into a pot at least 30cm (12”) in diameter; put a good layer of well-rotted farmyard manure in the bottom and top up with the multi-purpose compost. Pinch out the growing tip when the plant reaches 30cm (12”); this will encourage bushy growth and more fruit. Keep the greenhouse vents and door open to allow pollination from the bees. Try ‘Ophelia’ which is a compact variety with small fruits, ideal for pots; ‘Patio Mixed’, which is a mixture of tennis ball-sized fruits in white, purple and purple/white stripes is also a good choice for containers.

Beetroot

Fill a fairly large pot, at least 30cm (12”) in diameter and 30cm (12”) deep, with good quality peat-free compost up to 2.5cm (1”) below the rim. Sow the seed thinly, water with a fine rose. Thin out to about 10cm (4”) apart; use the thinnings as micro-leaves. ‘Cardeal’ is a good variety for pots as it is smaller than other beets, therefore doesn’t need as much space.

Broad Beans

There are dwarf varieties of broad beans which are ideal for growing in containers; the best being ‘The Sutton’ which only reaches a height of 30cm (12”) and a spread of 25cm (10”). ‘Aquedulce Claudia’, a full-sized variety, can be sown outside in October/ November to give you an earlier crop in summer, otherwise sow in March/April provided soil conditions are suitable. You will need a large tub, at least 45cm (18”) in diameter; fill to within 2.5cm (1”) of the rim with good quality organic-rich peat-free compost. Push 5 beans, evenly spaced, about 2.5cm (1”) into the compost, water well and keep damp. When the beans germinate push a cane in besides each one. If growing ‘The Sutton’ you should be able to grow 5 plants in a 30cm (12”) pot. They can be started off early in February and germinated in a heated propagator for a head start, then planted outside in May. Once the plants become established feed fortnightly with a liquid balanced fertiliser, such as seaweed extract. Nipping out the tops will encourage the plants to grow bushier and so produce more beans; it also discourages black fly as they prefer soft new growth. Picking the pods regularly will encourage more bean production. If you want to use the tops as a vegetable pick the top 7.5cm (3”) when the plant is still flowering and hasn’t started to produce beans.

Carrots

Small round or stump rooted carrots, ‘Royal Chantenay’, ‘Parmex’ or ‘Atlas’  are the best for growing in containers, don’t go for the ordinary large ones unless you have tubs at least 60cm (2’) deep. They need sieved loam based good quality John Innes No 3 compost, if there are stones you will find that they grow distorted; they still taste the same just won’t win any beauty contests. Fill the container to within 2.5cm (1”) of the rim, sow the seed thinly and cover with a thin covering of sieved compost. Water with a fine rose. Don’t sow the seed too thickly as you bruise the foliage when you thin them out and the scent of this attracts carrot fly. Growing them in containers will reduce the chances of getting carrot fly as the females usually fly close to the ground. Place the pot in a sunny position, water with a fine rose and keep just damp. Thin out to 7.5cm (3”) apart.

Cavelo Nero (Tuscan Kale)

This “super-food” is a kale which is harvested over winter, from November to April. Sow very thinly in a large pot, at least 45cm (18”) in diameter, in good quality peat-free organic rich compost, cover the seed with a thin layer of sieved compost. Water the compost before sowing. Sow in May/ June. Thin out when the plants are about 7.5cm (3”) tall; use the thinnings as micro-leaves. Feed with a liquid high nitrogen fertiliser every fortnight. Picking the young leaves from the inside of the plant will encourage side shoots.

Chillies and peppers

If you are growing them from seed you really need to sow in January to give the chillies as long a season as possible in which to ripen. Sow thinly on the surface of good quality seed compost and cover with a thin layer of Vermiculite, this insulates against extremes of temperature. Water by placing the tray in water for 10 – 15 minutes, keep just damp. They need to germinate in a heated propagator. Once the seedlings are large enough to handle prick them out into 7.5cm (3”) pots using good quality potting-on compost. When the plants are 15 – 20cm (6 – 8”) tall transplant them into their final pot, which must be at least 30cm (12”) in diameter and deep; use good quality peat-free organic rich compost. As soon as they have formed the first tiny fruit feed fortnightly with a high potash fertiliser, such as Tomorite. They really need to be grown in a warm sunny environment so indoors is best or a sheltered south facing position outside. If you love growing chillies check out the blog 'How to Grow Cracking Chillies'.

Mixed chillies and peppers

Cucumbers

Even though cucumbers are better grown in a greenhouse or poly-tunnel they can still be grown successfully outside in a sheltered south facing position. Sow 1 seed about 2.5cm (1”) deep in seed compost in a 7.5cm (3”) pot in March. Water by standing the pot in water for 10 – 15 minutes, keep damp. Once the frosts have finished, about May, transplant into a fairly large pot, 45cm (18”) in diameter, using good quality peat-free compost. If there are any late frosts predicted they must be protected. When the first tiny fruit appears feed fortnightly with a high potash fertiliser, such as Tomorite. Try growing ‘Cucino’ a mini cucumber or ‘Crystal Apple’ which has round golf-ball sized fruits and is bred for growing outdoors. Keep picking the fruits to encourage more production.

Dwarf beans

Dwarf beans are easy to grow in a pot, just make sure it is at least 30cm (12”) in diameter and reasonably deep. Fill the pot to within 2.5cm (1”) of the rim with good quality peat-free compost. Put 3 beans around the edge. Place the pot somewhere sunny, water well and keep just damp. There is a variety called ‘Bellini’ from Thompson & Morgan which is bred for growing in containers.

Edible Flowers

These can be grown around the edges of the other crops. Just push the seeds of Nasturtiums about 1.25cm (0.5”) into the compost in any gaps.

nasturtiums

Garlic

They can be grown easily in pots which are at least 20cm (8”) deep. Use well-draining compost either loam based John Innes No2 or mix 3 parts good quality peat-free compost with 1 part horticultural sand. Fill the container to within 2.5cm (1”) of the rim. Break the bulb into individual cloves and plant 10cm (4”) apart. Buy garlic from the garden centre; don’t use bulbs from the supermarket as they will more than likely have been bred to grow in a warmer climate than the UK. Place in a sunny position, water after planting and keep just damp. They should be ready to harvest after 8 – 10 months. When the foliage has died back and gone brown lift them and leave to dry out in a cool dry spot. If they should start to flower just cut the flower out as leaving it will take the energy away from producing a nice plumb bulb.

Herbs

Most herbs are suitable for growing in tubs except for the huge ones such as Angelica, unless you have a large tub. Some are also suitable for growing in hanging baskets and flower pouches. For instructions on how to grow herbs in a container, see 'How to plant up a herb container?.

Lettuce

The mini lettuces such as ‘Little Gem’ or ‘Tom Thumb’ are suitable for growing in containers. Plant 5 – 6 in a 30cm (12”) container, using good quality peat-free compost. Place in a sunny position and keep evenly damp, if they get dry they tend to bolt. Stand the pot on sharp gravel or place a band of grease around the pot to deter the slugs.

Oriental Greens

These include: pak choi, mizuna and Chinese cabbage; they can be used raw in salads when young or the crunchy stems in stir-fries. One of the problems with them is that they run to seed easily so don’t sow too many at once. Another way to solve the problem is to start sowing after Midsummers Day, for harvesting in late summer and autumn, as the bolting is triggered by lengthening days. They do stand up to the frost fairly well so can be over-wintered. Sow just a few seeds in the pot they are to grow in, keep damp, thin to about 10cm (4”) apart and use the thinnings as micro-greens. Don’t sow too many at once as they will soon deteriorate. Once they have reached 10cm (4”) feed with a liquid high nitrogen fertiliser every fortnight.

Peas

Peas are really easy to grow and the variety ‘Bingo’ from Thompson & Morgan is particularly suited to growing in a container as it only grows to a height of 80cm (31”) and has a spread of 25cm (10”). Use a pot at least 30cm (12”) in diameter and deep. Fill to within 2.5cm (1”) of the rim with good quality peat-free compost. Sow 3 seeds evenly around the edge. Place in a sunny spot, water and keep just damp.

peas in pods

Pea and Broad Bean Shoots

These can be used in stir-fries, salads or as a garnish and are full of vitamins A and C. They can be grown on a warm, sunny windowsill all year round. Soak the peas for 24 hours before planting as this speeds up germination, although it isn’t essential. Fill a seed tray to within 1.25cm (0.5”) of the rim with good quality peat-free compost. Sow the seed fairly thickly, cover with a layer of sieved compost and water with a fine rose. You should get a crop within 2 – 3 weeks, longer if the temperature is cool. Cut the shoots rather than pulling them out as some may re-grow.

Potatoes

First Early potatoes are definitely worth growing as they are so expensive to buy. Second Earlies and Maincrop are also worth growing if you have the space for quite a few tubs or bags. See the blog ‘How to grow 1st Early Potatoes in bags and containers’ for instructions on how to grow them.

Radish

These are easily grown in containers or in between other crops, try ‘French Breakfast’ or ‘Rainbow Mixed’. Just sow a few seeds, where they are to grow, in seed compost or between other crops and keep damp.

Runner Beans

These can be grown in tubs but they need to be fairly large, at least 45cm (18”) in diameter. Place a spadeful of well-rotted farmyard manure in the bottom then fill to within 2.5cm (1”) of the rim with good quality peat-free compost. Push in 5 x 210cm (7’) canes around the edge of the tub; tie them at the top to form a wigwam. Push 2 bean seeds about 2.5cm (1”) into the compost at the base of each cane in early May. Water well and keep damp. When the seeds germinate remove the weaker of the two seedlings. As soon as the first beans are formed feed every fortnight with a high potash fertiliser, such as Tomorite. Keep picking the beans to ensure a continuous crop.

Salad leaves

These can be grown on a sunny kitchen windowsill throughout the year. ‘Speedy Mix’ is ready to eat 25 days after sowing. Sow a tray every 2 weeks for a continuous supply. Just put good quality John Innes No 1 compost in a seed tray, scatter seed over the surface and cover with a thin covering of sieved compost. Water by standing the tray in water for 10 – 15 minutes, keep the compost just damp.

salad leaves

Spinach and Chard

These need a fairly large pot as ideally they should be grown in rows 30cm (12”) apart but grown closer together just means that you pick them younger. Sow the seed about 2.5cm (1”) deep; when you thin them out use these thinnings as baby leaves. Try spinach ‘Violin’ a new variety which can be picked as baby leaves. Chard ‘Rainbow Mix’ is suitable for growing all year round, sow in autumn for a winter harvest; but the winter crop needs to be grown under cover. Take the leaves from the outside of the plant as one chard plant can produce leaves for several weeks. The spinach needs good quality compost with plenty of organic matter otherwise it can be bitter, so incorporate some pelleted chicken manure or feed with a liquid high nitrogen fertiliser every fortnight when the leaves start to grow.

Spring onions

These take up very little space so are ideal for growing in between other crops. To grow from seed just sprinkle a few seeds on the top of some good quality seed compost, sprinkle a layer of sieved compost on top, water by placing the tray in water for 10 – 15 minutes then place somewhere warm and sunny. Keep just damp. They should germinate in 14 – 21 days. Once they reach 15cm (6”) they can be transplanted to their final growing position. They are also available as young plants from garden centres. Try ‘White Lisbon’ a good reliable, traditional spring onion or for something a little different try ‘Purplette’ a small round red onion which is good for pickling if left to mature.

Squash

The squash ‘Butterbush’ is a small, pale-skinned variety which is ideal for containers only growing to a height of 35cm (14”) and a spread of 100cm (39”). Sow them indoors in April/May; push them, on their side, 2cm (0.75”) down into John Innes Seed compost in a 7.5cm (3”) pot. Water and place in a heated propagator until they have germinated, which should take 7 – 10 days. Plant in a large container, at least 30cm (12”) in diameter, in good quality peat-free multi-purpose compost when all danger of frost has passed, about May. Gradually acclimatise the plants to being outside for 7 – 10 days. Feed with a balanced liquid fertiliser every week.

Tomatoes

They can be grown in containers if they are large enough as tomatoes have quite a large root system so will need a pot of about 45cm (18”). If using grow-bags cut the bottom out of a 30cm (12”) pot, or use the special tomato pots, place firmly into the compost, fill with good quality peat-free compost. This increases the available root area. Put one plant into a pot or 3 into a grow-bag, use good quality peat-free compost. Make sure that they are kept evenly damp as erratic watering can lead to fruits splitting. If growing the tall varieties, make sure you take out the side shoots which grow in the junction of the stem and the leaf, not doing this will lead to the tomato growing an enormous amount of foliage and very little fruit. Once the plant has produced 5 trusses nip out the growing point as it is unlikely in our British climate that it will ripen any more fruit. Once the first bottom truss has started to grow tiny tomatoes feed fortnightly with a high potash feed, such as Tomorite. Place the plant in a position where it receives as much sunlight as possible. In mid-late summer it will be necessary to remove the bottom leaves to allow as much light as possible to ripen the tomatoes; the plant no longer needs the leaves to photosynthesise it will only be required to ripen tomatoes and not grow. The small tumbling varieties, such as 'Tumbler' and 'Tumbling Tom' are ideal for growing in hanging baskets.

If you want tasty fresh herbs to quickly and cheaply add to your cooking check out the blogs: 'How to grow mint', 'How to grow magnificent micro-herbs' and 'How to plant up an herb container'.