If you’ve ever wanted to grow your own vegetables but didn’t think your garden was big enough, think again! Most vegetables can be grown easily and successfully in planters and containers on your patio or yard without the need for the tedious digging or the risk of soil pests associated with traditional open ground cultivation.

There are a number of different vegetable planters on the market which are designed with the appropriate dimensions for their intended crops. Alternatively, any large tubs or containers that you may have lying around will suffice. Choose deeper containers for growing root vegetables, whereas leaf vegetables such as spinach or salad leaves will only need shallow planters. Ensure your container has adequate drainage holes in the bottom and use fresh, good quality compost for each season. There are a number of different general purpose composts on the market which are ideally suited to growing vegetables as well as specific composts formulated for growing vegetables.

Potatoes, carrots, salads, tomatoes, bell peppers, chilli peppers, salad leaves, beans and herbs are some of the easiest vegetables to choose for container growing but ultimately, deciding which crops to grow should be entirely based on which vegetables you enjoy eating. With the exception of potatoes, all of the above are available to buy as young plants.

Potatoes are grown from seed potatoes which are simply potato tubers and these are widely available from garden centres, nurseries and specialist online gardening retailers, from early January onwards. You will need around 3-4 potatoes per 30cm diameter container, which ideally needs to be at least 18” deep. Put a small layer of compost in the bottom of the container and lay the potatoes, sprouting end upwards, on top. Cover with a layer of compost and as the foliage grows through, keep adding more compost until it reaches the top. This process of ‘earthing up’ improves the yield as more potatoes are produced off the foliage stems.

Although available to buy as plants, beans are more economically grown from seed, as they are generally unfussy when it comes to germination. This makes beans such a good choice for children when introducing them to veg gardening as they don’t need to wait too long to see results and you can plant the seeds upside down and/or sideways and they’ll still shoot upright quite happily! Broad Beans are frost hardy, whereas Runner or French Beans are not and are best sown after the risk of frost has passed in the late spring. Alternatively they can be started off indoors, in pots and planted out once the weather has turned warmer.

Carrots are also best grown from seed, which should be sown thinly, in situ. Carrot Rootfly, which can quickly devastate a crop, are attracted to the scent given off when the plants are thinned. By sowing thinly, the plants develop with sufficient room and the need for thinning is thereby removed.

Although growing from seed is relatively easy, there are a number of advantages to buying young vegetable plants. Commercially grown vegetable plants have been raised under optimum growing conditions and so are usually of a high quality. Seed germination and the raising of the tender seedling are the trickiest parts of the growing process and it is in these early days of the plant’s life cycle that it is most likely to fail. Many novice vegetable growers have quickly lost their initial enthusiasm after their seeds have failed to germinate. Another benefit of buying plants is that many people prefer to grow a small number of a variety of vegetables rather than a large number of only one or two types. If you are trying vegetable growing for the first time, it is also advisable to grow from plants for the first season in order to build your confidence. Once you have had a successful growing season, you will have gained some valuable growing experience and be more inclined to grow vegetables again, this time perhaps from seed.

Once your crops are underway, good care and maintenance is essential. Plants in containers dry out much quicker than those in the open ground, which can draw on moisture from a much wider area. It is vital to water regularly, particularly during dry spells. Allowing your crops to dry out will affect both the quantity and quality of the yield. Ensure you use a good quality, balanced general plant food or specialist vegetable feed initially followed by a high potash feed once fruiting begins to encourage a bumper harvest. Most crops appreciate being picked regularly which also encourages the plant to produce more vegetables. Regularly remove any decaying foliage to stop the spread of fungal diseases.

The main points to remember when growing vegetables in containers or limited space is to keep it simple, pick crops that you really enjoy eating, water and feed regularly and always keep an eye out for pests and diseases which could destroy all your good work. If you follow these simple guidelines, you will soon be enjoying a healthier lifestyle and experiencing the humble pleasure of growing your own food.

Author's Bio: 

Sophie Timmermans-Delves has worked in the gardening industry for over two decades and writes for the specialist website VegGrower.co.uk, on all aspects of vegetable gardening.