Harvesting the bounty

The flavour of spring - mint, chives and fava shoots to lift a stir fry.

How much can you actually get to eat from containers on two growing ladders that span six feet (2 metres)?

This week I’m sharing pictures of some of the harvests from the last two weeks and how we ate them…. I hope to highlight how even a small container garden can contribute something special to your meals every day.

How much can be grown on these two ladders?
How much can be grown on these two ladders?

Here in the UK, April is early in the growing season (traditionally known as the ‘hungry gap’). Even so, I’ve been able to pick leaves every day I’ve been at home (I’ll post a full list of harvests soon).

I mostly use the pickings as salad ingredients or to add flavour to main dishes.

Homegrown peashoots with avocado (not home grown!), make a easy, nutritious and delicious salad.
A simple salad of home grown peashoots and avocado (not home grown). Easy, nutritious, delicious.

The salads with home grown leaves are out of this world. Whenever we’re away from home, I yearn for them. You simply can’t buy salad like this.

This month (and it changes each month) I’m picking pea shoots, chives and garlic chives, oyster leaves, sorrel, fava shoots, coriander, mint, rocket, rocket flowers, and parsley. Ultra fresh, these leaves sing with flavour. I pick them minutes before eating, knowing they haven’t lost precious nutrients sitting for days in plastic bags or being shipped hundreds of miles in refrigerated trucks.

On Sunday we had this salad with fish for supper.

Here's a salad that's almost impossible buy: oyster leaves, fava shoots and pea shoots. The oyster leaves really do have an oyster flavour - goes really well with fish dishes.
A salad almost impossible to buy: oyster leaves, fava shoots and pea shoots. The oyster leaves really do have an oyster flavour – great with fish dishes.

The next evening, Monday, a simple salad with home grown rocket.

Home grown rocket has an intense flavour at this time of year - delicious with avocado and tomato (not home grown!).
Home grown rocket has an intense flavour at this time of year – delicious with avocado and tomato (not home grown).

And the following Monday, I picked chives and coriander for a salsa. Homegrown coriander has an intensity of flavour it is hard to find in shop bought.

Homegrown coriander and chives add zing to a tomato and avocado salsa.
Homegrown coriander and chives add zing to a tomato and avocado salsa.

I also used the leaves and flavours to transform simple food.  For example, yesterday, ladder grown parsley and chives, lifted plain, leftover rice into something quite delicious…

Parsley chives and rocket, used to transform leftover rice...
Parsley chives and rocket, used to transform leftover rice…
Simply adding fresh herbs can transform leftover rice into something delicious.
Simply adding fresh herbs can transform leftover rice into something delicious.

The rice dish above was inspired by this wonderful Ottolenghi recipe. I simplified it, omitting the wild rice, quinoa, pine nuts, and tarragon – even so, it was still ace.

If I didn’t grow them, I couldn’t justify buying lots of different fresh herbs for every day use. As well as being expensive, they’d go off in the fridge. But by growing them, I can pick as little or as much as we need, and eat them in any meal we choose.

I’d got as far as saying that having fresh herbs to hand can change the way you eat.

On Tuesday, I picked chives and sorrel for a tasty omelette. (Sorrel has a lemony taste that goes well with eggs and fish amongst other things).

Chives and sorrel are great in omelettes.
Chives and sorrel are great in omelettes.
Chive and sorrel omelette.
Chive and sorrel omelette.


On Thursday I picked chives, mint, sorrel and fava shoots to add flavour to a stir fry.

The flavour of spring - mint, chives and fava shoots to lift a stir fry.
The flavour of spring – mint, chives and fava shoots to lift a stir fry.

If you are new to growing – or thinking about starting – I hope this post has given you an idea of what it is achievable. It’s possible to transform a small concrete space (as long as they get three or four hours sun) into an edible container garden where you can grow something special, delicious and nutritious to pick for your meals every day.

Your turn

What are you picking from your containers at the moment? I’d love to hear in the comments.







52 thoughts on “Harvesting the bounty”

  1. Hi Mark, harvesting some purple brocoli, spinach, chard, thyme, and chives so far. Dont have the space to start seed sowing in doors so I’m waiting for the weather to warm up to sow direct into containers that will be placed into the small backyard plot that I feel need a rest this year. Dont seem to have the incentive at all due to problems I am facing at present, but I have ordered 2 tomato and a sweet pepper plant for pots and, have planted blueberries (in pots ofcourse). Thank you so much for keeping in touch, I might become enthusiastic again, will keep you posted.

  2. Cathy in New Zealand

    I moved to a new smaller home late last year and there was a back lawn ready for me to dig up – BUT – it had a problem which means for now all plants have to live in pots. I’ve a few things in but they certainly aren’t in the realm of your produce – hoping next year things will be better – the plants may have acquired the stress-I-achieved-with-the-move… I have enough of this and that for a smattering on a cracker, a sm side at dinner…more or less a garnish.

  3. Hi Mark, thank you for the email updates. For the first time in my life, I am not able to grow anything and have no idea of what the cause is. My indoor plants that I’ve had for years started dying from July last year and got worse in the winter. Seedlings and spouted shoots took over a month the get second leaves or just die so I have no nothing to plant out this season.
    I get mold from supmarket bought spices that were on my windowsill and also under the only open window in my bedroom.

    I am in northwest London.
    Does anyone have any ideas of what could be happening please?

    Thank you very much in advance.


    1. Hi Imesha, sorry to hear about you problem. It might be a mould. “Damping off” a mould that kills seedlings is common. Good air circulation and using good quality compost can help avoid it. I’m not sure what is affecting your other plants. I don’t grow much indoors (except starting tomato and chillies), but perhaps someone who does can shed more light. In the first instance you might try putting any surviving plants outside on warmer days – the air circulation and the boost of light levels will probably be good for them.

  4. Hi Mark,
    Thanks for the great article. Here in Norman, Oklahoma I’m harvesting pea shoots, chives, green onions, Swiss chard, broccoli and spinach. I have cabbages on the way soon. Also planted pepper and tomatoes recently.

  5. Gillian Damerell

    My only outdoor space is a small, very windy, north facing balcony (the fruits of living in a city flat). Gets no direct sunlight at all October to March, and even in summer it’s only in direct light after about 4pm. Even so, I’ve got some salad going – pea, chick pea, popcorn and fava bean shoots, coriander, some corn salad I planted in the autumn. I’ve also planted some ‘winter’ lettuce varieties – winter density, winter gem, winter purslane – in the hope they’ll cope better with the lack of light – and have eaten some mini-thinnings from them. I’d say I’ve had half a dozen salads out of all this over the past month.

    I also have an autumn-planted broad bean plant which is all stem-reaching-desperately-for-the-light, which I strongly suspect is not going to produce much in the way of beans! All well, worth the experiment.

    However, Mark, I wanted to thank you for your inspiring blog, because on the back of trying things out on the balcony I joined a community gardening scheme. They have some space on the local allotments subdivided into smaller strips, plus communal fruit trees and bushes, and they provide tools, seeds, advice etc. So now I have my own strip all planted up (which admittedly is definitely not *vertical* veg), and last weekend I went to a session teaching people how to make jam and was so inspired I pulled a lot of communal rhubarb and went straight home to make 6 pots of my favourite jam! I’d never have done this without getting going on the balcony first.

    1. Lovely to hear from you Gillian – and what a wonderful story. I’m motivated and inspired to read about your growing journey – and how your balcony growing has evolved out into the community. Congratulations on taking the leap and making it happen. I love broad beans so always find it hard to resist growing a few – although like you, I find the harvest is small from containers. Although I have found that fava beans have fruited in almost no sun at all – which I was impressed and surprised by. So might be worth a try in your space one year. Thanks for taking the time to write – and do please stay in touch! Mark

  6. All i’ve got so far is dwarf kale, parsley, coriander, lentil sprouts and baby salads. Hopefully some icicle radishes soon too. Everything seems cold and slow, very slow, and yesterday’s frost hasn’t helped! I have no greenhouse so have made frames for my tomato plugs with clingfilm, seems to be working. I’m in Newcastle so cold north, but my tiny garden is sheltered and south facing. Even so, I planted peas and beans about a month ago and they’re only just showing through!

    1. It sounds like you are doing great Bridie. Things are always slow to start at this time, and we are having lots of cold nights in Newcastle at the moment. It is often particularly slow to start new seeds early in the year – and the things that grow best are those that are sowed in August / September the previous year – after they come through the winter they are well established and grow well as the days get longer.

  7. Hi Mark, your posts are really inspirational!! We are fortunate to have a garden area we have dedicated to growing vegetables in raised beds and a couple of soft fruit bushes and have just got a greenhouse. Last year’s crop was very disappointing and slugs were a big problem. We are hoping for good things this year!!!! When i see what you have achieved in your containers it’s amazing!!! Do you have a slug problem? If so how do you deal with them?

    1. HI Pauline, thank you for your very kind comments!
      Yes, slugs. Always a problem. My solution is to try and stop the population get out of hand. I go out with a torch in the evening once a week and collect them all up to dispose of. I also look underneath all the pots from time to time, particularly early in the season when I have seedlings. Usually these two strategies are enough to keep the worst damage at bay.
      Best of luck for your growing this year.

      1. Concerning your slugs. My mother has a “real”garden with mostly flowers. The slugs used to be totally out of hand. But now I collect all our used coffee grounds and we put them in the flowerbeds and this year we can hardly find any slugs as of yet.

  8. Thanks for such a colourful and inspiring article Mark. I rushed off to the garden centre yesterday to buy Sorrel,Rocket and Spicy salad mix seeds.
    Would like to try the Oyster leaves, any idea where I can buy them. Also the Fava shoots are they just Fava beans ? Remember ‘sprouting’ similar years ago.
    Look forward to your next article and recipe ideas.
    Best wishes Kay 🥗

    1. Hi Kay, the only place I know you can buy Oyster plant is at Poyntzfield Herb Nursery (super place) in Scotland, although you might also get one on Ebay (It’s a native plant of Scotland, I think).
      Yes, I grow fava shoots from fava beans – I get mine from Hodmedod, but you can also get them from many continental suppliers, often sold as ful medames.

  9. Hi Mark,
    Been harvesting Basil off the windowsill a few weeks now along with wild rocket, lollo rosso, reine de glace & harvest of 4 seasons leaves. Coriander, red veined sorrel, garlic chives, greek cress & chervil ready to roll now. Do have a glasshouse/allotment which helps and a mate who is a seed merchant!! Agretti growing well now in glasshouse from planting in February. With a bit of planning you can get salads of some description all year round with a bit of luck & as you know the taste is ten times better than bought stuff. Always try to eat in season which I think is the key to growing & eating. Read somewhere that a lettuce can last up to 3 months just by cutting the leaves. Always amazed the stuff you can grow now compared to a few years ago, especially in a small apace.
    Good luck with your growing.

    1. Thanks for sharing Paul – and congratulations on all your growing successes. I completely agree that you can get salads pretty much all year round with a bit of planning. It is one crop you really can be pretty much self sufficient in in a small space.
      Best of luck with your growing this year, do keep in touch. Mark

  10. Kathy Mabey (Texas)

    This is my first go-round at vegetable container gardening. I have a lovely pot of herbs that are doing very well. I am growing a dwarf blackberry that has already put on fruit. It was a pretty good size when I purchased it. Unfortunately, my goldendoodle is enjoying the strawberries and squash blossoms. The bell pepper, tomatoes and eggplant look good, but no yield yet.

    1. Hello Kathy, best of luck with your first year – sounds like you have made a terrific start. Herbs and blackberries are both excellent container crops – and so pleased to hear you are enjoying them. Happy growing, Mark

  11. In my garden grows very easy chilli pepper and peppers, also some tomatoes but I have to take care much of plage. Also started growing “uchuva”. And actually all I grow ends very few on my table, actually I can harvest arround 3 chilli peppers weekely, which is usually used in daily cook. But peppers grow slower,, and no way with uchuva, I can harvest about one fuit each month or two.

    Regards from Bogotá.

    1. Hello Ingrid, nice to hear from you in Bogota. Glad you are enjoying your chillies (a super crop to grow in containers at home if you have enough sun). I think we call uchuva, physalis – it’s very tasty – good luck with growing that. Thanks for sharing what you are growing. Mark

  12. Hi Mark and other folks,
    I’m not harvesting anything as yet, although according to the books I should be. I planted peas last October and they are healthy and flowering, but most of the books said that I should have actual peas by March. I’m just wondering, is the growing season later up here in Yorkshire because it is slightly colder?

    1. Hi Tom, I usually sow peas in March time for peas in June / July. I tried sowing them in the autumn a couple of times but cold winters killed them. So you’ve done well to keep them going. March sounds very early for peas, even if you sowed them in October. As long as they are growing happily (and flowering now?) I am sure you will have them soon – and I’m sure a lot before I harvest my peas later this year!

      1. Hi Mark, I kept the peas alive over winter by putting in about 5/6 bamboos for the pea shoots to climb and wrapping builders’ netting around that from the top. Kept out some sunlight but it didn’t seem to harm them being protected from the snow.

    2. Hi Tom,

      Peas need a certain length of daylight to produce pods, which I found out the hard way planting them in a winter greenhouse and having them stall at the flowering stage and stay that way until the days got longer again. That plus the cold weather might be what’s slowing yours down at the moment; I’m not sure exactly how long the days need to be for them to fruit.

      1. Oh wow, thanks Jeneva and Mark. I never knew that peas had to have a certain amount of sunlight during the day, but it’s good to know that they eventually will produce.

  13. It is so good and inspiring to read what everyone is growing. We have just come out of long hot humid summer so many plants are struggling, tomatoes I just gave up on. At the moment we are harvesting and eating assorted spinach, New Guinea (aibika), Brazilian, Ceylon. The dragon beans are powering along, time to sort out seeds for the next plantings, I love having Madasca beans they are so versatile. Galangal, ginger and tumeric are all looking strong and healthy, I still have last years crop for use. Sweet potato tips, maringa leaves, curry leaves, water cress, mustard greens, various mints, parsley, sage, oregano, thyme, basil, rosemary, all go into salads or the cooking pot. Root vegetables don’t go so well here, but daikon radish thrives. Our produce comes from an aquaponics system as well as several wicking beds and tubs. As we age we find these systems both easy and productive. I do envy so many of you the colder climate plants you so enjoy.

    1. Hello Wendy, and I envy some of the warmer climate plants you can grow so well! Perhaps we should swap countries for a season or two?! That would be fun. I’ve always wanted a supply of curry leaves and turmeric!

  14. Catarina Martins

    Hi. When the sun is coming I just want to go outside and plant.
    This year I’m growing Basil, Chives and parsley on my windowsill.
    I’ve planted lettuces from a stripe of paper with seeds. Never tried before.
    And I did 2 experiences with strawberries. I’ve peeled the strawberries very thin. 1st experience; I put the peelings to dry for 2 days in a kitchen roll paper and then I took the seeds just rubbing it a bit. Then to the pot. I’m wainting. 1 month. Nothing so far 🙁
    2nd experience: Put the peelings straight to the pot with compost. Nothing so far as well.
    And I’ve already planted pumpkin seeds for the halloween

    1. Hello Catarina, thanks for sharing your strawberrry experiment – it’s not one I’ve tried before so I can’t really comment on what works and what doesn’t – but it sounds a fun one to try. Hopefully someone who has tried this will read this and offer you some tips. Do let us know how it progresses. Mark

  15. Rhubarb, rhubarb and more rhubarb! Lots to share with friends. Just picked some rosemary to go with our Easter lamb dinner and we will be having the last of last year’s redcurrant jelly made with home grown redcurrants too.

    Love the ladders! I was so cross to see someone throw a step-ladder away yesterday at the re-cycle centre. The chappie there was really sorry that he was not allowed to get it out for me. He agreed – what a waste.

  16. PS A comment about fresh Coriander…. I’m sure super-fresh Coriander is utterly fabulous for 85% of the population BUT please remember than for about 15% of us it tastes like soap. Don’t blame us – it is genetic – but please don’t chuck it in / on everything without checking with your guests.

  17. Well, yesterday we picked lots of beet spinach and chard for supper. We also cut some thyme to go into a tomato dish for breakfast today.

    It looks like we’ll have messes of (Greek) Oregano later in the season. Garlic Chives growing well.


    1. Hi Peter, thanks for sharing, chard can come back so strong and lush at this time of year – a brilliant container crop for sure – hope you enjoyed yours for supper. Glad the garlic chives are doing well – I’ve only been growing them a couple of years but already they are firm favourite.

  18. I grow most of the same things, but excited to notice oyster leaves, and fava beans sprouts, I grow pea sprouts but not those. Interested to see that fava is high in L-dopa too, so definitely a win. And I never thought of a chive and sorrel omelette, that’s definitely on the menu now! Thank you for sharing. You have always given me lots of inspiration for my little mostly concrete urban yard.

    1. Good to hear from you Francesca. YES! I highly recommend fava shoots – very easy to grow and very productive if you show them thickly AND very tasty, too. I hope all grows well in your concrete yard this year, do keep in touch, Mark

  19. Hi mark
    Thanks for sharing these great ideas. I will try the sorrel and chive omelette as I have both at the moment. Also parsley which is great in a container too. Spaghetti, garlic, parsley, olive oil and Parmesan with any one of your salads – yum 😊

    1. Hello Lesley, I love simple dishes like that – spaghetti, parsley, garlic and olive oil – so easy to make and so delicious. Thank you for reminding me about it – I have lots of parsley at the moment and that will be super way to use some of it. Mark


    Hi Mark,
    Superb article.I loved reading it again and again. Thank you so much for sharing.
    Now coming back to what I am growing,
    I have plenty of greens. Coriander has come out so well. As you said no comparison to what we buy from outside. Flavour is something unique.
    I have Amaranthus,fresh Spinach,Mint and Fenugreek which is more than enough. I share it with neighbours too.
    Coming to veggies, I have long purple Brinjal flowering- 8 pots, Cabbage -10 pots,Tommattoes -8 pots, Cauliflower – 10 pots ( all are 45 days old) . I have Creeper Beans flowering, 2 plants of Ridge gourd , 2 plants of Cucumber and finally 4 plants of Bitter gourd and last but not the least some Chillies too.
    All these are on my Terrace measuring around 450 sq ft. All are in grow bags/pots.
    Looking forward for your updates from time to time with delight.
    South India.

    1. It is lovely to hear from you in Mysore, Gurusprasad. I was lucky enough to visit your beautiful city about twenty five years ago – and the wonderful smell of sandalwood still lingers in my memory. It really sounds like you have a lot of great flavours growing in your containers – I bet you have some delicious food at home. You’ve also reminded me that I must sow some fenugreek / methi – so easy to grow, and with such a unique flavour. Thank you for getting in touch and happy growing, Mark


        Hello Mark,
        Thanks for your inspiring and very motivational reply. So happy to hear about your fond memories of Mysore way back couple of decades. Great.
        Truely, it has its own history heritage and culture. I would be very glad to be your host next time when you visit India.
        My plants enjoyed a good rain for the last two days.
        Looking forward for your delightful article.
        Thanks n regards,

  21. Great article It is amazing what can be grown in a small space when you make use of the vertical metres! We have about 18 different salad and herbs going in our small urban permaculture garden and haven’t bought green salads for a few years now – that’s all year round, even in the snow. Here is what we are currently harvesting; rainbow chard, chives, winter savoury, ransomes, fennel fronds, perpetual spinach, curly parsley, dandelion leaves, magnolia flowers, giant red mustard, frilled green mustard, romaine, red lettuce, red chicory, watercress, endive, a pink and green lettuce (don’t know the name) tatsoi, bok choi, frilly green lettuce, broadbean leaves, chickweed, pea-shoots, sorrel, various mint, alexanders, nettles, callo Nero, kale…. I think that’s about it… I might have missed off a couple of things. My front garden is small but south facing back garden is small courtyard making max use of east/west light with green roofs. I can’t get through a day without a massive garden salad: sweet, spicy, lemony, nutty, the perfume of fennel – every mouthful a taste bomb as my daughter (10) calls it.

    1. You are growing a wonderful mix Penney – it is very inspiring what you are achieving in your front garden. I’m loving how you are mixing in wild plants like chickweed and dandelion with the other salad crops. I’m always discovering new flowers that are edible… but I never knew magnolia were – is this correct, can you eat them? They are so beautiful, they certainly look edible! Thank you for sharing what you are growing, it’s a fantastic achievement and really highlights what is possible. Mark

  22. Overwintered Rocket; P arsley and lots of Chives; the Sweet Cicily is coming up -I can smell the aniseedy perfume when I brush against it (lovely with fennel, or traditionally with rhubarb); Sage (flowering – should it be flowering?!); Overwintered Chard and Kale has gone bonkers and I’m eating it and the flowers/seeds of the Kale like purple sprouting broccoli; ransoms – lots ! (will make a “garden pie” at the end of the month with all these greens to finish them off); mint-lovely and fresh and going in a Quinoa bowl with greens for supper tonight !

    1. Hello Margaret, thank you for sharing what you are growing – sounds like a wonderful mix. I’m also a big fan of the flower heads of kale – we have some of those (not on the ladder) that we’ve been enjoying a lot in recent weeks. Are you growing the sweet cicily in a container? That’s one I’ve not tried yet – although I love the other aniseedy herbs like chervil and tarragon. Hope you enjoyed your quinoa bowl – sounds very tasty! Mark

  23. Goodness – this is so inspiring! Your containers look small & manageable, and the ladders are brilliant. Did you make the ladders, and the small boxes that fit in them so well? I am trying to figure out if I can attempt to replicate this where I live.
    Thank you!

    1. Hello Lisa, thank you for you kind comments! Great question about the ladders. I did make them (from old scaffold boards) but you can also buy similar ladders for growing. The small boxes are made out of ladder slats – and the buckets are from the Co-op. Hope that helps, Mark

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