Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Top 10 Vegetables to Grow when space is limited


Vegetable seeds are outselling flowers. UK allotments have a waiting list of 100,000 people. Towns are turning their public spaces into vegetable plots. Garden centre carparks are overflowing. Growing veg has become very fashionable. The credit crunch has got us all longing for the crunch of a fresh grown carrot and everyone is walking around with dirty nails!

But we don't all have the luxury of a sizeable dedicated vegatble plot. That doesn't mean you can't grow vegs: you just need to pick them wisely. We have already written about growing vegetables in containers instead of flowers and recently reviewed a fabulous book Crop in Pots to give you some inspiration about veggie displays as attractive as flowers. Now here are some ideas on which vegetables can be grown when space is at a premium.

1. Herbs. Even if you only have a window-sill you can grow herbs in pots. They're mostly easy to tend and cost a fraction of the exorbitant amounts you pay in the supermarket. Some suggestions for getting started are Rosemary (very easy and hardy), Thyme - lots of varieties and rather decorative, Mint - as this is very invasive it is actually better confining it to a small space ( if you do have a bed to plant it in it's better to put it in a bottomless pot and plant this to be keep it contained), and Sage with its lovely velvety leaves. I have also planted Oregano in a container this year and it's doing brilliantly. One of our readers Eileen Riddiford has just posted on the Make it and Mend it Forum that she buys a pot of basil from the supermarket, so she'll have fresh basil for salads and cooking onboard when she goes sailing. "Then I take the pots home and pot them on to a bigger pot, harden them off and put them outside. Result: three or four huge basil plants in pots." Not sure if this is due to the salty sea air or Eileen's greenfingers as generally supermarket basil is not reknowned for potting on.

2. Potatoes - the received wisdom used to be that you needed a big open plot for these - but they do well in containers too. An increasingly popular method is growing them in old tyres, if you have the space. Otherwise a dustbin or a large plastic container will do. Now you can also buy potato growing sacks and custom potato barrels.

3. Carrots - these are very easy and can be grown happily in pots. If you are growing from seed and have the room, it is a good idea to do so in batches every few weeks so they crop at different times and keep you in supply.

4. Radishes - these are really easy and produce very rapid results from seed - again like carrots you may want to phase the sowing from March to July so you get a continuous supply.

5. Tomatoes - grow-bags make tomato growing very easy - even if the bags are a little ugly (which remonds me - Anne was going to design and give instructions for a grow-bag cover to pretty them up - come on Anne!). You can even grow tomatoes in hanging baskets if you get the tumbling variety - and they look very attractive mixed in with other stuff.

6. Lettuce - try Little Gems or mixed salad leaves. Again if growing from seeds. phase the sowing so you can get a continuous supply over the summer months.

7. Courgettes (zucchini) - grown from seed these re easy to sow as the seeds are large like melon seeds and germinate very quickly. As long as you keep them protected through the frosts, harden them off before planting out, and can give them plenty of sunshine they will be fine. As well as the courgettes themselves you get to enjoy the yellow flowers - which are also delicious tempura style.

6. Dwarf runner beans - compact varieties grow well in pots and also reward you with red and white flowers.

9. Rocket - fast and easy to grow and lovely nutty taste to mix in with salads or serve with cold meats

10. Peppers - you can grow chillis or sweet peppers in pots. These can also look very decorative - the brilliant ed against green leaves. Once grown you can dry chillies and use for ages.

A top tip if you have very limited sapce is to buy and share seeds with friends. You can share the seeds or grow and swap seedlings or just divvy up the vegetables.

Useful resources:
The Royal Horticultural Society great advice on selecting and growing vegetables as well as other plants - and the RHS gadens are a great source of inspiration as a well as a good place to buy plants and seeds
I Grow Veg - we love this blog by a lady who shares her learning as she goes - great advice for the novice including pest control
Buy seeds, containers, tools and helpful books
Incredible edible Todmorden - a village that aims to become self-sufficient in vegetables

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