growing veg
Published: 1 May 2020

Want to grow your own veg but short on space or new to gardening? Then pots can yield surprisingly good results with very little know-how. Here’s everything you need to know about growing veg, including five of our favourites…

Gardening has never been more popular, with Google searches for ‘how to grow’ increasing by more than 1150 per cent since the beginning of March. It’s easy to see why too: there is nothing more comforting than planting a seed, nurturing it, and watching it grow – especially in a time of uncertainty.

The good news is that you don’t need a sprawling allotment or a big garden to grow your own crops, either. ‘Container’ gardening or crops in pots are simple and successful in any sunny spot, whether that’s a tiny patio, a balcony, or your front doorstep.

Before we take you through the care instructions and essential need-to-know per veg, the first step is to decide whether you want to grow your veg from seed or you want to buy a ‘plug’ (basically, a ready-grown starter plant from the garden centre). Growing from seed means that you can choose from a greater variety of veg and you get seeds posted to you (which is obviously helpful right now), but growing from seed does require a lot more time and effort.

Buying vegetable plug plants from a garden centre will speed up the growing process and means there’s less initial work required from you.

Now for the fun bit. Here’s everything you need to know about growing and harvesting our five favourite veggies.

 

Carrots

Carrot varieties are known as short-root or long-root and short-root types are best for pots.

Pot size: A minimum of 25cm. You need something that can hold around 10 litres of compost.

How to grow from seed: Plant your seeds from March to July, scattering them thinly over the surface of your compost (which should pretty much fill your pot). Once you have done your sprinkling, cover with a fine layer of compost.

What’s next: Once your seedlings start to appear, pull out the weaker ones, leaving one carrot seedling every couple of centimetres. This is so that the roots get a chance to establish and they don’t compete. Water sparingly.

Grub’s up: It takes about 12-16 weeks for your carrots to be ready for the table. You’ll know when they are ready as you’ll get pleasing green carrot tops (think Peter Rabbit story books) and you’ll see the little orange carrot just underneath the surface of the soil.

Varieties to try: Parmex – a short-rooted carrot that’s brilliant for growbags or containers; or Mignon, sweet and baby-sized.

Rich in: beta carotene, fibre, potassium and several antioxidants and health-boosting plant compounds.

 

Lettuce

Salad leaves are easy to grow and they’re the gift that keeps on giving. Each time you harvest your leaves, new ones will grow, which means you’ll get delicious fresh salads for weeks to come.

Pot size: Lettuces grow well in wide, shallow pots at least 6 inches deep, as their roots don’t need deep soil.

How to grow from seed: Plant seeds between March and September, sowing about 10 cm apart, and cover with a fine layer of compost.

What’s next: Spray the surface with water and keep the soil surface moist. Once the seedlings are taller and stronger, take the rose off the watering can and water directly beneath the leaves until the compost is soaked.

Grub’s up: In six weeks for loose leaf lettuces; at 10 weeks for heart lettuces. Harvest by pinching off the top leaves when plants are about 5cm high, or let the plants grow to about 15cm then cut the whole head off, leaving a 3cm stump – a new plant should re-sprout.

Varieties to try: Little Gem – classic mini cos, sweet and crunchy; Salad Bowl (red and green) – crops all summer long, pick leaves as needed,

Rich in: Water, vitamins and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium.

 

Potatoes

You don’t need a garden to enjoy a crop of homegrown potatoes, just enough space on a sunny balcony or patio for a large pot. Rather than using shop-bought potatoes, you’ll get better results planting seed potatoes from the garden centre.

Pot size: large, at least 30cm deep. Make sure there are several drainage holes in the bottom.

How to grow from seed: ‘Chit’ the seed potatoes first by placing them in an old egg box (without a lid) or similar container in a light room; shoots will start developing within a couple of weeks. When they have reached around 2.5cm in length, they’re ready for planting.

What’s next: When the time is right, half fill your pot with compost. Space two seed potatoes about 30cm apart; the side with the most sprouts should be facing upwards. Cover the potatoes with a couple of inches of compost then water. Place in a sunny spot. As the foliage grows, keep adding compost to the container to bury the stems. Keep on doing this until the pot is full. 

Grub’s up: In mid-August, the foliage will start to turn yellow, which means the crop is ready. Four seed potatoes will yield about 5lbs of potatoes.

Varieties to try: Charlotte – tasty, waxy potatoes, or Maris Peer – firm, with delicious, yellow flesh.   

Rich in: Potassium, manganese, vitamin B6, vitamin C, and fibre.

 

Beetroot

Beetroot prefer to be grown in moist, fertile soil in a sunny spot, but will also thrive in pots.

Pot size: 20cm in diameter and at least 20cm deep.

How to grow from seed: Fill your pot loosely with multi-purpose compost, then press lightly with fingertips, leaving the compost 4cm shy of the top. Sow seeds thinly across the surface and cover with 2cm of compost.

What next: To give your beets the best chance of growth and so they don’t compete for root space, you need to thin out seedlings when they’re about 2cm tall (this basically means gently digging them up and replanting them, leaving 12cm gaps between them).

Grub’s up: Around 90 days after sowing. Don’t throw the leaves away, they have bags of taste and can be cooked and eaten like spinach. 

Varieties to try: Barbietola di Chioggia – has rings of pink and white when sliced; Burpees Golden – a striking golden colour; or Alto for its sweet, long roots.

Rich in: fibre, folate (vitamin B9), manganese, potassium, iron, and vitamin C, plus several health-boosting plant compounds including inorganic nitrates, which may reduce blood pressure.

 

Tomatoes

Easy and satisfying to grow, tomatoes are happiest in big containers and will need staking (support with a stick or stake as they grow bigger). They don’t like the cold, so avoid putting them outside too early. Acclimatise seedlings before you plant them out by gradually increasing the amount of time they spend outside over two weeks

Pot size: Grow seedlings in a 7.5cm pot; after eight weeks, move into a 12.5cm pot or plant in grow bag.

How to grow from seed: When growing from seed, to give tomatoes the best chance of growth, it’s best to put them in small pots full of compost on a windowsill – roughly 5 seeds per pot. Once they start to sprout, each seedling will need to be moved into a separate pot to give its root system enough space to grow – still on your sunny windowsill.

What next: After about eight weeks or when the first ‘branch’ of flowers appears, they’ll need to be moved into a growing bag or a ten-15 litre pot. Water daily and feed with tomato fertiliser every week.

Grub’s up: July to October. Allow fruits to fully ripen on the plant before picking.

Varieties to try: Black Russian – a large, dark variety; Gardeners Delight – abundant, sweet fruit; Sungold – lots of cherry-sized fruit.

Rich in: the potent antioxidant lycopene, linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer, vitamin C, potassium, folate, and vitamin K.

Feeling inspired? Discover 8 reason to make gardening your next hobby.