Whilst getting my haircut the other day (yes I still have some worthy of cutting) I got chatting with the barber (well she’s a skilled hairdresser actually, it’s just her skill would be wasted on my ‘scratch and go’ style hair cut). We were talking about growing veg in containers on the patio… so here’s a wee blog dedicated to that convo.
April is like a doorstep when it comes to the growing season. We stand there on the threshold of green fingered-ness filled with good intentions, and for some of us that means turning our attention towards growing some of our own food. It can stall right there for some folks as their bold ambitions become bogged down by concerns over available space but fear not, you don’t have to have the use of a local allotment or live on a smallholding to enjoy the buzz of growing your own. With a little know-how you can make use of the space right in front of you, just outside of the backdoor and quite literally on your own doorstep.
The yard, patio or paved area outside your backdoor is quite often a great place to start growing your own fruit and vegetables. It can be a place sheltered from the extremes of weather and frequently is an area that catches the sun creating the perfect microclimate for cultivating some of the less traditional outdoor produce.
The proximity to the house, and more importantly the kitchen, also make such locations ideal living larders of food where constant croppers can keep delivering edibles along with ‘cut and come again’ salads and herbs which can enhance and grace the plates of food you are producing; and what better time to start planning a productive patio than when standing on the doorstep of the growing season?
Perfect for pots
Pots make the perfect starting point for growing fruit and vegetables on your patio, in fact you can grow practically everything you can down an allotment in pots at home. That said, with space more limited in your backyard or patio it is best to focus on heavy cropping, high yielding varieties of edibles for example for staples like potatoes and carrots it’s best to use the heavy cropping salad varieties of the former and Chantenay types for the later.
Tomatoes now come in outdoor varieties that no longer need the shelter of a greenhouse and these will thrive in pots in a sunny location. Courgettes and cucumbers can be grown easily in grow bags too and some varieties genuinely do keep on cropping throughout the season.
You need not stop there though, broaden your horizons a little and it is perfectly possible to grow your own peas on the patio. When it comes to home grown vegetables fresh mange tout are an absolute must. I guarantee you that you will not taste anything as fresh when bought from a shop than a sugar snap plucked and munched on immediately from your own vines, and I suspect that is in part what was behind the development of patio pea varieties. These plants have a less vigorous growing habit and tend to be shrubbier in appearance.
In terms of fruit strawberries really do seem to benefit from being planted in pots or troughs as it lifts them away from the soil pests such as slugs, and increases the amount of light they get, helping them ripen quicker. Besides, what can be more luxurious and decadent than leaning back in your chair on a summers day to pick your own sun warmed strawberry and popping into straight into your mouth? Once more though, don’t limit yourself to the obvious as it is possible to grow other fruit such as apples, cherries, pears and plums in containers as long as you select the correct cultivars and adopt the correct growing methods. And then of course there are blueberries, bilberries, kiwi berries and even figs now that come in a compact form well suited to the patio.
Raising the bar
As you are probably beginning to realise, there are no end of fruits and vegetables that can now be grown in small spaces such as patio areas. Plants are constantly being developed to make best use of the room we have and as such there are no limitations to your growing aspirations other than the actual space you have available, and this is where imagination is key when it comes maximising your allotmenteering on your patio.
Pots make an excellent start but starting to think more vertically can significantly increase your growing space and the productivity of your patio.
For me, herbs are an essential part of the whole ‘grow your own’ concept. Fresh herbs can be the absolute making of a meal and with variety in colour, shape, taste and scent it seems perfectly sensible to locate them on your patio. They are tactile plants which need to be seen and touched; the scent alone can make a stomach rumble in anticipation of a meal. In fact the nearer they are to the kitchen the better, and the more likely you are to make maximum use of them.
Many years back I recall Geoff Hamilton suggesting using a herb table to not only lift the plants up to a level where you can easily access them, but also to keep them together and out of the way of any passing pests such as dogs. The space under the table can be used to store watering cans or spare pots.
If a herb table isn’t your thing then why not create a herb theatre? This is a simple adaptation of the types of Auricula displays I’ve seen when visiting garden shows and it works great with pots of herbs.
But don’t stop there, why not go completely vertical? Space is at a premium in my back garden plot and I’m always trying to make the most of any space I have and this has in past sent me vertically. Being able to exploit the vertical dimension in a garden can significantly increase the amount of growing space you have available, and if you are careful in the selecting the plants you intend to grow, ensuring they are suitable for vertical growth, then you can markedly increase the productivity of your patio.
By using an old pallet and some weed suppressant matting you can create a sequence of planting pockets that can be filled with plug plants initially in the horizontal position. Once the roots have established themselves then the pallet can be raised vertically. However if you don’t have the space to have a prone pallet on your patio for a few weeks then try an over the door shoe storage hanger. Daft as it may seem these really do work well as pocket planters and they can be hung on a fence or a shed door and as long as you think carefully about the plants you put in the pockets (with ones that are likely to trail such as peas or strawberries going in the lower pockets, and uprights like lettuce or parsley going further up) then it’s quite possible to grow a variety of veg, herbs and fruit in your vertical space. In fact add a few companion plants like marigolds and it can create quite an interesting feature on your patio.
And if that’s not enough then why not replace your hanging baskets with tumbling tomatoes or better still a living salad ball? By lining two wire hanging baskets with moss, filling them with compost and wiring them together you will create a planting ball ideal for cut and come again salad crops.
As you can see there are huge number of ways in which you can convert your patio into a productive space providing fruit and vegetables for the kitchen, but what do you need in terms of tools and materials, and are there any extra considerations beyond those when growing in a plot or allotment? First of all make sure you have good quality peat free compost for using with your pots, pallets and planters. You won’t need any spades or forks but a good trowel is a must, along with a good supply of canes for supporting any of the taller plants like your tomatoes.
Pot grown plants do dry out quicker than those planted in open soil so a watering can is essential and it’s well worth investing in a water butt to harvest some rain water if you don’t already have one. Finally a good organic fertiliser will help as productive plants tend to be hungry plants.
In terms of ongoing maintenance, always check the plants for any signs of pests, keep the pots weed free and keep a good eye on watering to make sure nothing dries out. Other than that it really is a case of sitting back and enjoying the fruits, and vegetables, of your labours!
Perfect for patios
|Potato||‘Charlotte’, ‘Anya’, ‘Rocket’||Be sure to chit them first before planting|
|Carrot||‘Supreme Chantenay Red Cored’||Use a pot at least 8 inch deep|
|Shallot||‘Longor’||Will produce up to 10 shallots per seed bulb|
|Pea||‘Bingo’ , ‘Shiraz’|
|Bean||‘Kenyan Bean’, ‘Purple Teepee’||These will need a wigwam cane support system for them to climb up on|
|Courgette||‘Supremo’, ‘Venus’||Both have a compact growing habit making them ideal for areas with restricted room.|
|Cucumber||‘Marketmore’, ‘Tokyo Slicer’||A good amount of well rotted organic matter will help these plants flourish|
|Lettuce||Any “cut and come again” mix of reds and oak leaf lettuce|
|Tomato – tumbling||‘Tumbler’, ‘Tumbling Tom Red’|
|Tomato – pots||‘Balconi Red’, ‘Silvery Fir Tree’|
|Strawberry||‘Aromel’, ‘Mara de Bois’||Most strawberries grow well in containers but these perpetual varieties are particularly useful|
|Blueberry||‘Northsky’, ‘Chippewa’ and ‘Northcountry’||Most cultivars will grow well in pots, but half-high blueberry varieties such as these do very well|
|Fig||‘Brown Turkey’, ‘Brunswick’|
|Plum||‘Blue Tit’, ‘Opal’, ‘Victoria’||Self fertile|
|Cherry||‘Stella’, ‘Sunburst’||Self fertile|
|Apple||‘Pixie’, ‘Sunset’||Needs a pollinator|