Want to grow more than salads but you’ve only got space for pots? Leanne Dempsey introduces some suitable container vegetables and offers tips for finding the right varieties.
A lack of ground space cannot stop anyone from growing vegetables. Whether you are armed with only a balcony, a greenhouse, or a few patio pots, you can grow a variety of edibles. In fact, container gardening offers certain benefits of its own. Pots can be raised off the ground for easier access. They can be moved, should the plant need a change in conditions. They can also be grouped, creating companion planting to protect against pests or direct sunlight. Containment itself not only keeps the plant in but could keep certain diseases out – or at least away from other pots. While herbs and salad leaves are great starting points, there are several other vegetables you can sow in a small space that will add to your homegrown harvest.
In theory, almost any fruit or vegetable could be cultivated in a pot. However, some thrive in pots in a way that others do not, because they have the capacity to remain in a small space. Here are just a few examples of vegetables that grow well in containers, as well as a few tips for finding those varieties that prove that small is beautiful.
5 Crops for Pots
1. Spring Cabbage
Instead of waiting for a cabbage to become the solid, ‘head’ variety that you see in the shops, you can grow cabbages in containers for harvesting the young leaves. Using scissors, carefully remove the leaves without damaging the trunk of the cabbage and offshoots. It will regrow leaves on the same stem, producing repeat harvests of tender leaves. Spring cabbage varieties grow well in pots and provide young juicy leaves. Some cabbage plants can still produce a crop of leaves the following year, so save the plants and test them out as perennials.
Try: Spring Cabbage ‘April’ for a type that has bolt resistance and can be grown in a compact space.
This cupboard staple is a treat in a container. It is like digging for treasure when the time comes to lift the plants and the soil beneath reveals golden (depending on the variety) spuds. Garden suppliers sell grow bags, pots, and wooden planters designed for growing potatoes on a patio: these bags and pots average from a quarter to a half metre in height with at least a 40-litre compost capacity. These sizes accommodate around 3 or 4 seed potatoes which grow into multiple potatoes in a single harvest. There are different varieties of potatoes for different times of the year, and the early varieties are often the fastest to reach maturity. Check with the supplier’s instructions before planting, in case the variety needs to be chitted. Beginners will benefit from containers with a flap or door at the bottom.
Try: a first early Red Duke of York or a second early Charlotte.
3. Golden Beetroot
This compact beetroot is flavoursome; it is milder and sometimes sweeter than its red relatives, and it does not stain your hands when prepared for cooking. They are like jewels in the soil, producing these sunshine yellow roots. 2 or 3 beetroots can manage in a pot as small as 20cm in diameter. Alternatively, grow this root just for the leaves. The leaves are very tasty when lightly steamed or fried. They are ready before the root and can be grown even closer together for a patio supply of healthy tasty greens.
Try: Golden Beetroot Burpees Golden (for the root and the tasty leaves)
Carrots like a fine soil that is light, sieved, and free from stones. Containers are just the ticket to manufacture a more refined environment to help them grow. Sow them an inch apart where they are destined to harvest. If possible, leave a gap at the top of your pot where the carrot heads can grow below the pot, then cover the pot with horticultural fleece to protect them from carrot fly. Alternatively, varieties like Flyaway and Resistafly have been bred to withstand these flies.
Try: Carrot Amsterdam Forcing 3 for a faster carrot, or Carrot Chantenay Red Core for baby carrots
5. Dwarf French Beans and Peas
Dwarf legumes are opportune for patios and balconies where space is low. A 30 or 40cm tub can house a dozen staked dwarf French bean vines. This smaller size of beans lends itself better to containers than, say, towering runner bean plants. Dwarf varieties of peas include Feltham First and Kelvedon Wonder, each rising to no more than half a metre in height. Admittedly, dwarf peas do not always have as long a cropping season as their taller relatives, but they are quick to start cropping because they reach their adult size quicker.
Try: Dwarf French Bean Compass, or Pea Kelvedon Wonder
3 Tips for Choosing Container Vegetables
Naturally Small Plants
Root vegetables do not take up too much room, hence their utility for small spaces. Carrots, radishes, beetroots, and turnips are suitable in containers. Other fruit and vegetables that are naturally compact include strawberries, cabbage leaves, kale, spinach, chard, chives, mint, parsley, coriander, and oregano.
Plants like potatoes, courgettes, aubergines, patty pans, patio peaches, and blueberries will manage in medium-sized pots. Blueberries need an acidic soil, however. They need extra care to ensure they continue to thrive each year in containers.
Choose Dwarf Varieties
Likewise, look for dwarf cultivars of plants that would normally be larger. Spring onions and round carrots are two such examples. French beans, peas, cucumbers, kale, and chillis all have dwarf ranges.
Five Dwarf varieties to try:
- Carrot – Rondo
- Chilli – Apache
- Kale – Dwarf Green Curled
- Spring Onion – White Lisbon
Choose Speedy Vegetables
When space is at a premium, all the edible plants need to pull their weight if there is to be a sufficient harvest. A variety of vegetable which takes 6 months to produce one round of food is not as useful as one which offers multiple harvests in that same period, or a plant which takes a month to cultivate, after which another plant can takes its place.
Crops like cabbages, dwarf kale, spinach and chard offer multiple harvests if their leaves are harvested young and the trunks of the plants are left intact. Cut-and-come-again lettuce, mizuna, and rocket also regrow. Look for strawberries that have a longer cropping period, or mix early and late varieties to provide you with berries throughout summer.