Growing and gardening space has always been a premium but with over 90% of the United Kingdom living in cities it has never been more valuable. No matter how large or small your plot is, it is still possible to enjoy homegrown produce on your doorstep. You do not have to have an allotment to join the grow-your-own revolution.
Containers provide a simple compact way to grow-your-own on a balcony or patio. Virtually any container will do as long as it has good drainage holes to stop waterlogging, your creative flair can really run wild. Glazed pots, vintage tins even old wellies would make fine feature containers.
So, what to grow?
There are so many edible plants to choose from, so start out with two or three, but choose things you want to eat. It’s no good growing vast quantities of something that no-one in your family likes.
Kale is an absolute must. As well as a nutritional healthy superfood, high in iron, fibre, vitamin B and C, this plant also makes a statement as an attractive ornamental. The leaves contrast beautifully if planted up next to geraniums or marigolds. Relishing cold weather it is the ideal autumn crop.
My personal favourite is ‘Redbor’ an exquisite curly purple variety. A vigorous grower, which requires virtually no maintenance, occasionally just a supporting stake. ‘Red Russian’ is ideal for harsh British winters, whilst compact ‘Starbor’ and ‘Nero di Toscana’ are excellent green-leaved alternatives. On the whole all are disease-free and suffer few pests so sow, grow, steam and eat!
Chilli peppers are definitely ‘en vogue’ and I have fallen for them hook, line and sinker. I have been enthralled with the diversity of varieties. They appreciate a long growing season so it is good to make early sowings from the end of January.
I am particularly impressed with ‘Early Jalapaneo,’ which produced over 40 chillies from one plant. ‘Purple Serrano,’ ‘Twilight Numex,’ ‘Hungarian Hot Wax,’ ‘Cayenne,’ ‘Cherry Bomb,’ and ‘Orange Wonder’ added drama to my greenhouse with their colourful displays. Apart from water and feed they basically look after themselves but do require protection from the cold so keep on a windowsill, conservatory or a greenhouse.
It is such a treat to pick veg straight from the stem and eat raw; mangetout provides the perfect crunch. My heart has been won this year with mangetout pea ‘Shiraz’ a beautiful purple variety that not only looks fabulous but has the taste to match too. A compact and heavy cropper, high in immune boosting antioxidant anthocyanin, ‘Shiraz’ adds a dash of exotic to stir fries with its vivid colour.
A generous sized pot adorned with a small willow obelisk or pea sticks will offer the necessary support to keep these delicacies upright.
Salad leaves are an ideal edible for containers as they have shallow roots. There is a huge choice of leaves available. Cut and come again lettuce such as lollo rossa, rocket, lambs lettuce, sorrel, mizuna and baby spinach are such great additions to your kitchen garden.
To ensure a continuous crop, harvest little and often, snip large leaves with sharp scissors; you cannot get any fresher and it will save you money against the high cost of pre-packed bags of supermarket leaves. Although a quick steam is sometimes required, Swiss Chard is also a fabulous pot grown leaf with beautiful rainbow coloured stalks.
Tomatoes are a kitchen garden staple. The past couple of years I have grown my tomatoes in recycled chimney pots. The long terracotta cylinders provide deep soil for roots to flourish. Place in full sun and you have an abundant crop that can be harvested into autumn. Keep watering consistently to stop skins splitting.
My most successful croppers have been ‘Costoluto Fiorentio,’ ‘Sungold,’ ‘Super Sweet 100,’ and ‘Gardener’s Delight.’ There are also some excellent trailing varieties such as ‘Tumbler’ or ‘Hundreds and Thousands,’ which are ideal for hanging baskets and produce masses of small juicy fruits.