Over the past year I have learned a few things -through trial and error- about growing food with limited space. Here is a re-cap of my top five tips for container gardeners;
1. No roots; this was not immediately obvious to me but growing root vegetables like carrots is pretty space inefficient. When you have limited space you have to maximise what you grow. Root vegetables are frequently pretty cheap to buy as well so economically they are a poor choice for expensive container growing.
2. Timing is everything; crops like tomatoes can be quite productive but they can also take a long time to mature. In the end our four tomato plants gave us a bounty of cherry tomatoes which we still enjoy most days, but they also took up considerable space for the entire summer, not to mention all the hours I spent dragging watering cans out to them all summer.
3. Herbs; this is easy. Herbs are great value for money and space. Fresh herbs are expensive to buy and have a short shelf life. You can grow lots of different herbs in containers and some will even last from year to year, like rosemary or mint. Also, because the plants are small they tend to mature quickly, giving you a quick return on your space.
4. Size matters; this might be obvious to more experienced gardeners but beginners like me can still underestimate the size of mature plants when we sow the first seeds. I sowed courgettes and French beans at the same time last spring. By the end of the summer the French beans had climbed very tall, didn’t get any diseases and gave us loads of food. The courgette plants took up about three times more space and gave very little food as they got disease. The disease was certainly partially to blame for our courgette disappointment but overall the beans were just a lot more space efficient in a small area.
5. Beauty and the beast; something I probably overlooked in my first year was considering the flowers on the plants I chose to grow. The tomatoes, courgettes and beans all flowered and it really was a beautiful sight to see. In 2012 I plan to grow more plants for their beauty as well as their culinary usefulness. I think this is an important lesson for small space gardeners- yield is not the only factor, think about how happy it will make you to sit and admire a beautiful garden!
So those are my top tips after one year trying to grow my own vegetables in pots. I hope they are useful to people who are just starting out.