With temperatures rising, this is a good time for growing vegetables in containers. As well as being ideal for those with limited space, having an informal cluster of containers with edibles near the kitchen allows you to pop out and grab a handful of leaves and herbs whenever you fancy.
Aim for large pots so that your plants don’t dry out too quickly and are able to develop a root system. Lightweight options such as plastic can be moved around, or choose more ornamental containers such as terracotta pots – their porosity means they’ll need plenty of watering, or consider using punctuated plastic or a compost bag as a liner to help retain water. Galvanised steel, zinc, willow or wicker planters for a lovely rustic feel, or think creatively by using large olive oil cans, chimney pots, half barrels, wooden crates or wine boxes – again lined with punctured plastic. Use a good peat-free compost and mix it with soil to increase its water retention adding some slow-release fertiliser.
Just because plants are edible, doesn’t mean sacrificing aesthetics. You could design an ornamental combination of edibles in an attractive large container. Approach the design as you would a window box with a structural ‘thriller’ for height such as colourful chard or kale. As well as classic varieties such as Cavolo Nero, ‘Redbor’ kale with its vibrant purple leaves makes a stunning addition to a pot. Lemon verbena or fennel have tall upright habits. Add some ‘fillers’ such as sage thyme or red-veined sorrel. For your ‘spillers’ tuck some nasturtiums, to attract aphids, or strawberries into the corner of a planter to trail over the edge.
For those using multiple containers or wanting to grow from seed, there are lots more options. Lettuce varieties such as Webb’s Wonderful and cut and come again varieties such as green and red salad bowl are a must - just snip the leaves from the outer edges regularly. You can also sow them directly now, spreading the seeds thinly over the surface and covering very lightly with compost.
Other vegetables to grow in containers include carrots, sown in 7cm deep holes 2-3 cm apart with three seeds per hole. Prick out the weakest when they’re around 2-3cm and leave the others to mature – or harvest when they’re small and tasty. Dwarf French beans will also work well in a pot as do tomatoes. Maincrop potatoes can be chitted now and planted out around the edge of a large container about 10cm deep. When the shoots start to grow 10cm out of the compost, earth them up so that only 4cm is showing.
Keep your pots well-watered and after about three weeks, start liquid feeding them once or twice a week with dilute liquid tomato or seaweed feed.