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How to grow vegetables and herbs

Container growing

Plants will grow in anything from pots to buckets -advice on how to grow organically in containers for great success!
Lettuce growing in wheelbarrow
Organic growing encourages reuse of any container which could be used to grow useful crops, such as this old wheelbarrow full of lettuce!

Plants will grow in anything - from pots to buckets - so long as there are drainage holes and the container can hold sufficient growing medium. Growing organically encourages recycling, so get creative with tins, bags and wooden trays.

You don’t need to use chemical fertilisers to encourage growth – preparing and maintaining your growing medium, and using liquid plant feeds, such as Comfrey, will help keep your veg and flowers blooming marvellous.

What to grow

Don't be afraid to mix your planting. Combining vegetables with herbs and flowers, your pot can be productive as well as beautiful. You could plant spring tulips between kale and beetroot for example.

Root vegetables such as carrots, beetroot and radish can do well in a containers - you can buy small rooted varieties such as Chantenay carrots, which don't need much space. Climbing courgettes and squash can be grown in larger containers with a climbing support, or you could try dwarf French beans which provide tasty beans on bushy, compact plants.

Growing mix

Do not stint on the quality of your growing media as your plants will be growing in a restricted environment. Find out how to make your own mix to suit different types of plants. Also for seed sowing and cuttings.

If you use a shop bought compost make sure it is peat free and organic. You can add materials to this to enhance its texture and moisture retention. Grit, for instance, improves drainage and is vital for plants that thrive in dry conditions. You own garden compost will bulk it out, making it go further.

Leafy vegetables and fruit bushes need a good source of nutrients and therefore a richer mix i.e. more homemade compost or well-rotted manure. However, shop bought organic compost on its own is good for hanging baskets as it is lighter and therefore easier to hang.

Feeding and watering

Apply compost or well-rotted manure as a top dressing at least once a year – ideally in summer, and after watering. Not only does this feed the soil, but it acts as a mulch to keep the soil moist.

Liquid feeds are essential for intensive flowering, and fruiting. Hanging baskets are notoriously hungry feeders for maximum blooming. You do not need to buy chemical concoctions, it easy to make your own. See Comfrey on how to make your own liquid feed.

How often a container needs watering depends upon the plant type, its size in relation to the container, the type of container (terracotta dries out sooner than plastic), the ability of the growing medium to retain moisture, the site (shade, full sun and wind), and the time of year. So there is no easy answer to this question! Most container plants need watering at least once every 2 days in summer, and hardly at all in winter. Good drainage at the bottom of the container will prevent drowning the roots, and at the same time using home-made garden compost in your growing medium will help the soil to conserve moisture.

Slugs, snails and other pests and diseases

Slugs and snails may be less of a problem than in open ground. However, it is best to prevent them climbing up the sides, by using a strip of grease, non-drying glue or even a band of copper. And stand the container in a dry, rough medium such as gravel. To prevent pests and disease, it is important to maintain good hygiene, checking plants regularly, removing sickly shoots or leaves. Keep a good air circulation – too hot and moist, as in a greenhouse, will encourage aphids and white flies. And as with all organic growing, grow flowers to attract beneficial insects. See Pests and Diseases.