Category Archives: Introduction

5 Container Gardening Lessons



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.



Looking Back at 2011


I can hardly believe it is January already. What happened to the long, quiet winter I was expecting? Once we finally did a big garden clear up (November) I was expecting to spend quiet Sunday afternoons dreaming about the year past and contemplating the growing season to come. Well, now it is a new year and with no snow in sight I am beginning to feel the need to decide and get ordering seeds!


Nonetheless I feel it would be appropriate to indulge in a little bit of reminiscing about the past 12 months, as quite a lot did happen. 2011 started with us returning to China to find our crops still surviving- amazingly- after our two week trip to Europe. The main success of our Kunming garden was definitely the two tomato plants which grew to over a metre tall each and had already set flowers by the time we had to give them away and move to London (*tear*).

Once we arrived in England we started our speculative garden before we even had a home to call our own. This resulted in all of our ‘seedlings’ growing far too big to be reasonably moved before we got around to moving them; in a car brim full of mature tomato, courgette, French bean strawberry and basil plants! That was quite the fragrant 20 mile drive into central London!


Once we had settled in our new flat and our plants had -amazingly- recovered from the move we decided we needed more gardening supplies, now without the use of a borrowed car. Our trip to our ‘local’ B&Q (on the bus, with a borrowed ‘sack truck’) was definitely a comic highlight of the summer! The decision to buy 240litres of compost instead of a more reasonable 70 or so may have seemed rash at the time (it did) but we have not had to return to the shops yet so I guess I am willing to concede that Adam was correct and it probably was worth making the extra sacrifice at the time (despite barely being able to lift the truck onto the bus and then having to try and hold it steady for 20minutes of journey through narrow winding streets and finally the extra 10 minute walk at each end of the bus journey!).

As far as the garden was concerned, on top of the main events happening outside –french beans (a big success), tomatoes (another big hit), courgettes (short lived success), strawberries (we’re hopeful for next summer!) and potatoes (umm, suspected blight)- we also grew enough basil to feed an army (of basil loving Italians), tons of mint (for mint tea and summery evenings of mojitos), a few radishes, some spinach, pea shoots, a collection of other herbs we never figured out how to eat (lemon balm, sage and marjoram) plus a couple of rosemary and bay cuttings. So, we got plenty of food!

The tomato plants survived all sorts of diseases, stresses and mis-treatment but by the end of the summer it was the courgettes who finally gave up and succumbed to a bout of powdery mildew. It was a sad day when I had to finally dispose of their dry, exhausted remains. Other minor failure stories -which I don’t want to dwell on but feel it would be unfair not to mention- included beetroot, turnips and pak choi (they just did not grow), potatoes (ok we got some spuds from them but the plants withered and were consequently less than productive) and chives (I tried to plant chive seeds three times and none ever sprouted).

I think it is only fair to call 2011 an overall success because I transformed from somebody who had only ever transplanted pot plants or killed shop bought herbs into a small time gardener with a freezer full of tomatoes and basil and a kilo or two of baby potatoes still in the kitchen! Here’s to another successful year in the garden!



The best time to plant a tree…

The best time to plant a tree…

…was 10 years ago, the second best time is now. This is our favourite Chinese proverb. We are two Europeans who have been living in China for approximately a year already. Kunming, where we live, is a really nice city with a very pleasant climate. We love cooking, baking and eating and enjoy going to the local market to buy our fresh food and grains. But we are also interested in experimenting and seeing what we can do for ourselves from our own home. This blog will follow our adventures into growing, fermenting and cooking our own food.