Alys Fowler

Quick and easy vegetables for pots

Many vegetables grow just as well in pots as they do in the soil. Knowing exactly what to grow, when and how, that's the tricky bit. In her latest blog Alys shares all you need to know about growing quick and easy vegetables for pots. 

In some ways pots are easier than the soil, you can control the conditions in pots, move them around so that they get ideal light conditions, and ensure that they get enough food and water.

The latter is very important because if a pot dries out, particularly if it is sitting in full sun, then the roots of the plant will quickly bake which can be fatal. Watering early in the morning and late evening is best because you don’t lose any water to evaporation and the plant gets to drink its fill. Saying that if you can only water in midday, in full sun, forget all those old wives tales that you’ll burn the foliage and do it. If a plant is thirsty then all it wants is water.

Your pot needs to be as big as possible, the bigger the better because the more root run a plant has the better it can grow. 10-litre pots with a 25-30 cm diameter are the smallest pot I’d use to grow vegetables. Clearly you don’t have to stick to pots. Wine crates, fishmonger boxes, florist buckets, old drawers will all work as long as they have a minimum depth of 8 inches and you put drainage holes in the bottom.

It’s best to use peat free compost, if you can choose one formula for pots and containers; it doesn’t much matter if it says it's for growing flowers or vegetables, they are all fairly similar. A shop bought compost like this usually has about six weeks worth of food in the formula and after that you have to start feeding your plants on a regular basis.

It is worth investing in a saucer or drip tray because this will help to conserve moisture. Terracotta pots will dry out much quicker than plastic ones. Metal pots tend to heat up a lot if left in a sunny position, so bear that in mind.

As for what to grow, here are a few of my favourites for pots: 

Radishes

Aim to get the seed about 2cm apart, scatter across the top of the compost and cover up with another centimetre of soil or so. They usually take around 4-6 weeks before you are harvesting lovely crisp radishes. To make sure you have a succession to harvest, sow every two weeks.

Rocket

This is a very easy, fast growing salad crop. Scatter the seed liberally over the compost and water in. You can harvest baby leaves within 4 weeks and mature plants within 6 weeks. If you don’t thin your plants out and keep them crowded, the leaves tend to become bitter and tough. So thin as you go aiming to leave three plants or so in a 30cm pot.

Coriander

This is a lovely herb to have fresh, especially to cook with. It does best growing in partial shade, too much sun and it will bolt going straight to flower. You can grow it as a micro-herb sowing the seed very thickly and harvesting the leaves when they are very small. Or you can give the plants a little more room to mature. I am particularly fond of cooking with fresh green seed and using the roots for Thai cooking, so it’s a useful plant even if it has bolted.

Mixed lettuce

Cut and come again mixes, these are readily available and a great way to get a variety of lettuce and salad ingredients in one seed packet. Those that claim to be spicy mixes will have a lot of mustard and rocket in them and are best growing as late summer crop to harvest in autumn. Red and green salad bowl lettuces are lovely and very easy to grow. These make for very attractive pots and you can harvest within 4-6 weeks, cutting the leaves with scissors and watering well so that you get a second flush of leaves a few weeks later. After the third cut, the plants tend to become bitter and tough, particularly if you skimp on watering.