Ten of the best crops to grow in containers

Tomatoes are one of the best container crops - delicious, high yielding and crop over several months.

When growing in small spaces, you want a lot from the crops you grow. You want them to give you plenty to eat, to taste amazing, and ideally to look great, too. After experimenting with over fifty different vegetable crops, here are ten I’ve found to be amongst the very best. (Herbs and fruits to follow another day).

What are yours? I’d love to hear what your favourite veg to grow in containers are in the comments at the bottom.

No.10 Tromba Squash

Tromba squash tastes like courgettes / zucchini but climbs fantastically (great for small spaces!) and has eye catching almost phallic fruits. Grow these at the front of your home to catch the eye of passers by! 

Tromba (or tromboncino) squash is a great alternative to courgettes in container - as climber it takes up much less space.
Tromba (or tromboncino) squash is a great alternative to courgettes in container – as climber it takes up much less space.

No. 9 Nasturtiums

The queen of the edible flowers – so bright and cheery in the container garden and adds flavour, zip and colour to salads. The small leaves are edible, too and the round leaf shape adds pleasing variety to salads. 

Queen of edible flowers
Nasturtiums will brighten any home


No. 8 Chillies

If you like chillies and have a sunny space, chillies are a top choice. They look great and home grown chillies have an added taste dimension. One plant can give you 50 – 100 chillies – so self sufficiency in chillies is a realistic proposition! Any you can’t eat can easily be dried for eating over winter. 

A super productive and pretty crop - as long as you have a sunny, warm spot.
A super productive and pretty crop – as long as you have a sunny, warm spot.


No. 7 Oriental greens

Asian leaves are the almost perfect crop for small spaces. They grow super fast, don’t need a lot of sun, and can be eaten in either salads or stir fries. Try Chinese cabbage (super fast growing), tatsoi (a variety of pak choi), mizuna (prolific), mustard red giant, Chinese broccoli or choy sum. Or buy a mixed pack of Asian leaves. Oh, yes, and you can grow them all year round, too. 

There ars so many fantastic fast growing, tasty oriental greens including pak choi, mibuna, mizuna, Chinese cabbage, Chinese broccoli, serifon and mustard red giant (pictured).
There ars so many fantastic fast growing, tasty oriental greens including pak choi, mibuna, mizuna, Chinese cabbage, Chinese broccoli, serifon and mustard red giant (pictured).

Number 6: Runner beans

One of the most productive crops – several kilos of beans can be grown in one pot. The orange or white flowers add beauty and the tall height of the plants add stature. For tender, tasty beans pick when small. Likes a constant water supply so grows best in a container with a water reservoir.

Runners taste best if picked small - and picking encourages them to produce more.
Runners taste best if picked small – and picking encourages them to produce more.


Number 5: Cavelo nero (Tuscan kale)

With its plumes and rich green colour this is one of the most attractive container crops. It’s so hardy it will survive the coldest of winters here in the UK. Sow in August for a supply of leaves over winter or spring for a summer harvest. The leaves can be cooked or eaten in salads – and are full of taste and vitality!

There's lots of good reasons to grow crops in your pots over winter - not least that they look so much better than bare earth. Cavelo nero is a great choice.
There’s lots of good reasons to grow crops in your pots over winter – not least that they look so much better than bare earth. Cavelo nero is a great choice.


Number 4: Bright lights chard (or rainbow chard)

With it’s mix of bright red, yellow and white stalks, this looks spectacular in a container. It grows all year round, the small leaves look beautiful in salads, and the big leaves taste delicious cooked – the stalks, in particular, taste similar to asparagus. Underrated. In London I used to grow this above the front door to brighten the street! 

Bright lights or rainbow chard - keeping picking the outer leaves and you can harvest one plant for months.
Bright lights or rainbow chard – keeping picking the outer leaves and you can harvest one plant for months.

Number 3: pea and ful medame or broad bean shoots

You can grow £4 – £5 ($6 – $8) worth of pea and bean shoots in one seed tray in just three weeks. They taste delicious and look beautiful as a garnish or even as the main ingredient of a salad or stir fry. They can be grown successfully in the tiniest space and only need an hour’s sun a day. Winner! Read how to grow them here. 

Pea shoots are fast and easy - old fruit trays like this make the perfect container.
Pea shoots are fast and easy – old fruit trays like this make the perfect container.

Number 2: tomatoes

Tomatoes are one of the most productive crops you can grow in containers – 5kg (10 lbs) – off one plant is common. Each plant crops for a long period, giving you fresh tomatoes over several months. And last but not least, home grown tomatoes are a taste sensation! Do you have a favourite variety for containers? 

Few things taste as good as a home grown tomato. Grow them in good soil in a good sized pot and they are hugely productive, too.
Few things taste as good as a home grown tomato. Grow them in good soil in a good sized pot and they are hugely productive, too.

Number 1: mixed salads

Salads are the ultimate crop for small spaces: fast growing, productive and bursting with flavour. Pop outside and pick one five minutes before lunch – it doesn’t get fresher than that! You don’t need much space (or even sun!) to be self sufficient in salads. I grew over 14 kg (30lb) -equivalent to 140 supermarket packs – in one year on my small balcony.

You can be self sufficient in salads with just a few pots like this. The secret is to keep sowing them in seed trays so that you always have a supply of baby plants to move into your containers when the old plants get tough or bitter.
You can be self sufficient in salads with just a few pots like this. The secret is to keep sowing them in seed trays so that you always have a supply of baby plants to move into your containers when the old plants get tough or bitter.



95 thoughts on “Ten of the best crops to grow in containers”

  1. Two of my favorites are herbs and tomatoes. I grow them on my deck so they are close to the kitchen.

    My favorite cherry tomatoes are Whippersnapper tomatoes!

  2. Hi Mark, having given up my allotment at the end of last summer but still wanting to grow my own food, I am so pleased to have found you and your site. I can’t wait to get started with some containers.
    Thank you for such great information – and inspiration. Sue

  3. Hi, I’m a college student doing a vertical gardening project. I loved your article and I was just wondering do you have any gardening advice for a beginner?

    1. Hi Flo, I put together a guide for beginners – just subscribe (it’s free – just enter your email on the homepage) and you’ll receive a copy. You can unsubscribe at any time, of course. Hope the vertical gardening project is going well. Mark

  4. I’m enjoying reading your posts. I’m a primary teacher in London and wondered if you have suggestions for the best crops to plant with children, bearing in mind the difficulties of watering during holiday periods.

    1. Hi Dorothy, the quick growing crops like pea shoots are excellent for kids. Also (weirdly) many love to nibble on sorrel. And some of the other full flavoured salads like landcress. You can’t go far wrong with peas in pods and strawberries which will ripen before the summer holidays as long as you carefully choose the right varieties. Kids love harvesting potatoes – and you could probably grow first early potatoes if you start them early in the season inside. Or you could get apples (ripen autumn term) or Chilean guava (ripen autumn). Kids also love picking and smelling herbs like mint, rosemary and lavender. Tom Moggach of https://www.cityleaf.co.uk/ sometimes run training courses for primary school teachers – well worth checking out if you can.

  5. Thanks for all the info a good article . I’m inspired to start sprouting again.It’s the darn little flies that put me off, usually more in the summer. Anne

  6. I’d love to grow veg but am worried about the containers I’m using. Can I use plastic containers to grow veg in or do I need to check these are treated first at all?

    1. Hi Jasmine, it is personal choice but many people grow food in plastic containers – it is light and strong and does the job. It’s important to avoid any plastic containers that might have contained toxic chemicals (eg paint). And it is also worth knowing that there many different types of plastics, some that leach chemicals more than others. It is worth googling this to help you identify the safest plastics to grow in. Good luck!

    2. You can also use polystyrene containers the type fishmongers use, l get mine from my local sushi restaurant. I you want them to look pretty, you can make a box around them in pallet wood HT treated.

      1. Have you researched the safety of growing in polystyrene Martin? I’m not an expert on it, but when I last looked into it, I think I remember seeing some research suggesting that it contained chemicals you probably don’t want in food.

  7. Can all of these be grown in Phoenix, Arizona, which is hellish HOT in summer. We are expecting 99 degrees on Friday and it will be just past the middle of April.
    Thanks, Christie.

    1. Best to ask local growers what grows well in your local climate Christie. Where I grow is much cooler – but I’d suggest the chillies, kale and tomatoes are a good place for you to start. Most of the salads listed (like pea shoots) do better in cooler temps – maybe better suited for your spring or autumn. Very good luck!

  8. The secret is to keep sowing them in seed trays so that you always have a supply of baby plants to move into your containers when the old plants get tough or bitter.

  9. This year I was able to grow different potato tubers in a galvanized bucket. Harvest turned out a lot more than I expected. Good to grow vegetables in a galvanized bucket. Here it is written about the galvanized bucket http://apromera.com/ It seems to me that this method of growing vegetables is very effective.

  10. Hi Mark
    I am trying to grow strawberries and capsicum in a vertical bag with 80 planting holes, is it possible?

    Waiting for your reply.

    Best regards

        1. Strawberries can do well in Vertical planters, I’ve not tried chillies so I’m not sure but if they get warmth and sun they should be OK I would have thought. Hard to say how many chillies / tomatoes you should put in without seeing it, 80 does sound a lot – you can usually grow strawberries quite close together but most chillies do best with more space. It might be a case of experimenting to see what works and what doesn’t. Or contacting the manufacturers? They should be able to recommend the right numbers / spacing for their product.

          1. Hi Mark,
            Have you ever grown pepino melon in a shade net while in containers, if so how were they? And is it advisable?
            Best regards.


    1. Yes it is more than possible. I used a 55 gallon plastic blue barrel, cut 90 slots, 9 rows vertical and ten slots on each row, with 8 plants around the top. I planted 2 strawberry plants in each 4 inch slot, opened up with a cylinder of wood that is the same shape of a sparkling apple cider bottle. It has a 3.25 diameter body. That gave me 188 plants in the Garden Tower from the 55 gal barrel. It has a 4 inch false bottom supported by 4, 3 inch diameter tubes. The false bottom is the top cut from the top of the barrel. Then, 3 weep holes are cut 3 inches from the bottom to create a water resivoir that wicks up into the soil to keep it moist. I also added 2 more features, a 6 inch tube for compost in the center drilled with holes for worms to migrate in and out. The last feature is 3 pieces of pvc placed 2 inches from the center 6 inch tube with 1/8 inch holes that are used to add water evenly spaced three tubes that go down to the false bottom and are melted, and squeezed off with a vice so no water escapes freely, but small holes release water evenly.
      I also made a 5 gallon container with 10 holes around the outside and that leaves 5 spaces for plants around the top edge. It also has a 6 inch center composting tube with a 1.5 inch water reservoir created by drilling 3 holes 1.5 inches from the bottom. I did not place pvc pipes in the 5 gallon bucket since I left 1 inch of area at the top to put water at the top to soak down into the reservoir at the bottom. There are other ways to make self watering garden planters and all are found on youtube.
      Enjoy the gardening in small spaces, it creates life !!!

  11. Tomatoes and radish are my favorite crops to grow in pots. I just love to see them grow fast.

    My sister also loves planting carrots near the swimming pool. I love seeing them arranged and have great green leaves. It gives extra feel while swimming. And when grow mature, carrot is my favorite juice which my mom loves to prep… Just awesome. Nothing gives more delight to a home grown yummies!

  12. Great little article Mark.
    I’ve got two different varieties of tumbler tomatoes (3x Vilma and 2x Terenzo) in separate 7.5cm pots at the moment that need to be planted on asap. I’m just wondering if I can eventually repot them together in a 30cm pot (keeping the two varieties separate, so 2 in one pot, 3 in another).

    Have you had any experience with tumbler tomatoes?

    I’ve been trying to search the worldwideweb to see if they can be planted together or whether a 30cm pot would be too small and their roots would crowd each other, but I’ve had no luck so far.


    1. Hi Sarah, I haven’t grown those particular varieties before, and tomatoes do vary a lot – some would be small enough that you could put two or three plants in a 30cm pot – as long as you fed and watered them a lot. Usually, I’d only put one tomato in a pot that size, it will be easier to look after and it will probably produce as many if not more tomatoes.

  13. Thank you Mark for such a brilliant site, I have just found it. We live about a mile from the Wash in the middle of the very flat and very windy marsh. We had given up this year after years of trying to grow veg on our plot. Containers could be the answer, we can move them to shelter and hopefully they won’t be so badly affected by the wind. We have high hedges but then we lose sun, you can’t win sometimes. Containers are good for our backs too, the other reason we were giving up. Your site has inspired us to try again this year, thanks again, your garden looks amazing!

  14. I have rows of guttering on a fence which I tried to grow lettuce in last year with poor results, way too much sun. Now I’m not sure what to grow in their place. Shallow growers in full sun. Any suggestions?

    1. Just found this great site and read your comment, Pete, about guttering. We have grown strawberries like this, with good results, just make sure they don’t dry out.

    2. Try growing microgreens indoors. Snow peas and wheat grass are good to research and grow. They are both very nutritious and exciting to grow and eat regularly. Make a schedule to plant and when to eat the freshly grown sprouts.

  15. My favourite tomato for pots is the ever dependable Gardener’s Delight. I’ve also had better success growing carrots in pots than in the ground and Romanesco or Striata D’Italia courgette have grown better for me in pots – with lots of lovely manure and plenty of water.

  16. Hi, this may seem like an odd question as I don’t know if you’d call it garden related. However, I collect cacti and lately have been thinking about trying to grow my own in a greenhouse (next summer most likely) just wondering if you think it’s a plausible thing to do in the UK?

    1. From what I understand you can grow quite a lot of cacti and succulents in a cold greenhouse, but some are too tender. A good source of expertise is the British Cactus and Succulent Society and you can join to get access to your local branch. They are on Facebook too as are other relevant specialist groups.

  17. Thank you for such an interesting list. I have grown my own veg for over 50 years but now find the bending difficult and am going to experiment with containers this year. I have previously had great success with bluberries . Will try some of your suggestions. Do you recommend any supplier for plantlets – seed packets seem very wasteful when one only needs a few.

    1. Are you in the UK Helen? Community plant sales are usually the best value and most enjoyable places to get plants if you can find one. If you are in London, for example, Hawkwood nursery do excellent ones. I haven’t bought from any of the online suppliers so can’t really recommend one, sorry. Most seeds (root crops being a common exception) do last many years if kept cool and dry, however – my five year old tomato seeds have all germinated fine this year, for example.

    2. When growing snow peas they can be purchased for cooking and grow just fine as microgreens, just as beans can be sprouted and wheat and more,,,have fun.

  18. I have a small balcony and I grew Scotch Bonnet chillis, tomatoes and a variety of herbs with some success last summer.

    I had a problem with aphids on my chilli plant which affected the leaves. I tried soapy water but to no avail. Is there a natural way of stopping them?

    1. The easiest (and one of the most effective) is rubbing your fingers gently along the stem to squish them. This will help keep the population under control – and hopefully some ladybirds or their larvae will move in soon to polish off the rest!

  19. I have 3 balconies, but sunlight does not fall directly as the shadow of the next building falls over my 1st floor apartment. But they are sufficiently bright bcos of natural sunlight.
    what kind of plants – flowers, fruits, vegetables, greens- grow well in these shady balconies?

    1. You’ll probably want to stick to the leafy herbs and veg – mint, pea shoots, rocket, etc – experiment and find what does best for you. There’s a post here with more ideas: http://www.verticalveg.org.uk/what-you-can-grow-in-shady-spaces/ Luckily there is a good choice now of leaves in seed catalogues – you can grow some pretty coloured ones eg purple orach to add colour and beauty to your container garden. Also some frilly leaves like mustard frills and chervil. Good luck! Do let me know how it goes.

  20. Hi Mark – I am looking forward to this – you’ve already let me know that cavolo nero is good in pots, that’s brilliant. Many thanks and I wish you a successful 2015.
    Chris B

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  24. Hi There
    I have started growing courgettes on my second floor balcony a little inland from the sea. They have flowered but the flowers are dropping off and not producing courgettes. Do they need bees? There are non up here, I have feathered them thinking this might help….any suggestions please? Many thanks

  25. Very interesting and informative webste. My hubby has taken over the gardening and everything is in containers. You have inspired me to sort out the back garden which could be so productive again. I think we are going to be over run with plants as everything he is planting is coming up and I think our front will run out if space!! So I think some digging and weeding after the rain would be in order and think if the calories I will burn. It’s a no brained! Thanks for your site. I was originally looking for answers to the question whether you can grow horizontal courgettes vertically. I think it’s probably suck it and see!

  26. I love to cultivate tomatoes at home.But the problem is that we live in apartments and the association won’t allow us to grow plants in pots. As we don’t have enough land to cultivate them we grow small plants in very small pots. Can anyone please tell me whether the tomatoes will grow in very small containers. My friend suggested me about cherry tomatoes,but i am not able to find them in markets and also in seed shops so please guide me how can i cultivate them.Thank you.

    1. Hi, it’s probably possible, it depends a bit on how small a small pot you’re talking about! The smaller pot you use, the more you’ll have to feed and water carefully to get any worthwhile number of tomatoes. Cherry Cascade is quite a small variety or you could get in touch with a company like Plants of Distinction who sell a wide range of tomato plants and can probably recommend a variety. You want to make sure you get something that produces a small plant as well as small tomatoes – some cherry tomatoes actually grow on pretty bib plants!

      1. As for seeds: just find a variety you like the taste of in the supermarket and take the seeds out, dry on kitchen paper and then seed out, that’s what I do. Simples. Good luck!

        1. That is one way – and it can be fun to experiment. If anyone decides to try this you need to know that many varieties in the shops are hybrids – this means that although the seeds should grow, it is likely that the resulting fruits will not be the same as the ones you started with! It won’t do any harm though and you may get a very successful harvest – just be warned that its also possible you may not.

          1. Wow! I love this article. I live in USA, In Texas and I’ve been trying to grow some tomatoes in pots on my porch. It’s very difficult to grow plants anywhere but the shaded porch, because it gets upwards to 106f here. I always enjoyed the gardens in London (cousin has house in country side with animals). You guys have much nicer weather there. It’s too hot here to grow anything, and little to no rain ever!

    2. I’ve done tumbling toms this year in gallon water bottles with the top cut off.thry have donr ok but not as well as the ones in a ‘normal’ sized pot that I would use normally. The yellow toms seem to have done better this year in all varieties.

    3. Hi Rajitha. Last year I grew Tumbler in very small hanging basket sitting on a small pot. Flavour very good, amazing amount and worth trying. You can buy young plants on internet, I think it’s Totally Tomatoes, good luck

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  28. Hi we grow tumbling toms every year but a few years ago we decided to grow potatoes in pots without much luck! We got blight which then spread to the toms so had to get rid of the lot. If you are planning to plant tomatoes in a small area put some marigold plants near to them it keeps the bugs away. Carrots if planted higher up dont seem to have problems with white fly either.

    1. If your patio gets no sun at all it’s tricky – I’d try pea shoots and fava bean shoots first and see how they go. If it gets 3 or 4 hours sun then you have a much wider choice – most of the leafy salads, herbs and vegetables (chard, kale) will usually grow OK. Also woodland fruits like blueberry, cranberry, blackberry can do OK. I will write a post on this topic soon.

  29. Hi Mark,
    Love all the info on your site – glad to have found it!
    I’ve a great little garden going the past two years on my balcony, but have NO luck growing tomatoes. The plants grow, product fruit, but then the fruit never fully ripens – they turn into hard little red tomatoes with no taste and eventually fall off the vine and rot.
    The plants have plenty of sun and water, but seem to be missing something. I fertilize with bio fertilizer, but wonder if I need to pep up the soil somehow or fertilize differently.
    Any ideas? I am already considering no tomatoes again this year; has been such a disaster and they take up a lot of room.

    1. Hi Julie, my apologies, I thought I’d replied to your question a while ago – but I think I must have just been thinking about it! Its a tricky one – and I’m not a tomato expert but there are a few possibilities. Are you growing any other sun loving plants – eg chillies or aubergines – that are also doing well? I ask because my first thoughts when I read your comment is sun – and tomatoes do like quite a lot, certainly more than most leafy and root veg. Do you know how many hours they get? They are hungry plants and therefore compost and fertiliser are important. You can grow them in old compost but I find its best to save old compost for other crops and grow tomatoes in new compost. And I’m not sure what is in your bio fertiliser but you need a balanced feed that is high in K (potassium) – a tomato feed is ideal. Another possibility is that the variety you are growing is better adapted to commercial green houses than outside – Real Seeds have a nice selection of tomatoes that are well adapted to outdoor UK weather and are worth a try. I’m not sure if this helps solve the problem but hopefully I’ve given you a few ideas. I’d also check out Nick Chenhall’s tomato growing website, that’s a great place to learn about tomatoes!

    2. I’ve had really great crops from growing tumbler tomatoes in hanging baskets on the east side of my house, and in planters in a sunny spot in the yard. I’ve also been told by several sources tomatoes like extra magnesium (just have a bath with epsom salt, and use some of the bathwater to water your tomatoes).

  30. Hi there, I don’t seem to have a lot of success growing lettuces and courgettes/ squashes in containers. What kind of soil/ compost do you use and how often do you feed? My lettuces either stay very small or become leggy, and my courgettes don’t produce enough for the space they take up. Thanks a million!

    1. Hi Anna, From the symptoms you describe, my first thought is that they may not be getting enough sun. Do you know how many hours sun a day they get? If not, it would be worth observing the space to find out.

      1. Sun is an issue alright… I’d say they get 3-5 hours a day, IF the sun is shining and depending on the month. I always thought lettuces didn’t need that much sun? Also they’re doing well in the raised beds, just not in the containers. As for the courgettes, I’ve always found it hard to get them to produce enough. I found Buckingham pretty good for growing in containers but they stopped producing very early in the season despite sunny position and sufficient (organic) feed. It’s a mystery.

        1. Courgettes are sun loving beasts – they may produce a few fruits in less sun but usually need at least half a day full sun to crop well. 3- 5 hours is marginal. The lettuces are more of a riddle. Leggy seedlings is normally a sign that they are not getting enough light. Are you growing other plants successfully in the same place? Is the sun they do get full and direct – or is it for example dappled sun coming through trees? It does sound to me like a sun / light issue, but its possible it could be one of several other things eg watering, feeding or the quality of the compost. If you can give me more info in an email (including where you are growing, the compost you are using and how / if you are feeding your crops), together with a photo of the space if possible, I can try to help you get to the bottom of this.

  31. Excellent article. For the first time in my gardening history I’m completely limited to containers this year. I’m so glad to have found this space.

  32. Just the ideas I needed. I will give feedback next year when I have some of these growing, What I like about these pages is the simplicity, the lack of spurious choice, just the right amount of information to get one started. Excellent.

  33. Great posts! These are also some good suggestions for container gardens…I have a balcony garden on the 4th floor, and my chilies have just started to produce, so happy! I also had runner beans, but they never flowered – I’m guessing it was just too windy for them? Radishes, peas, and onions also have worked out great for me! 🙂 Keep up the cool site!

    1. Congratulations on your chillies! And thanks for sharing your other successful crops. Not quite sure why your runner beans didn’t flower, it may have been that they didn’t like the wind. They can sometimes be a bit temperamental about setting fruit – but they’re a great container crop when they do.

  34. hi mark, just wondering if you have any advice on fruit, berries etc and if you can recommend any for pots – tanks sarah

    1. Hi Sarah, I’m working with the London Orchard Project on producing a fruit guide aimed at container growers at the moment 🙂 Hopefully it’ll be ready in the autumn. Two of my favourite fruits for containers are strawberries (particularly the everlasting types) and blueberries. But many other fruits (eg figs, apples, plums) will do fine in (fairly large) containers – although it may take a few years until they are productive. I’d recommend going to a specialist fruit nursery as its important to get a variety that is suitable for pots – and specialists will be best placed to advise you. Are you in the UK? If so, two mail order places I’ve found very helpful are Cool Temperate and Ken Muir. Hope that helps.

  35. Hi Mark, I love your work. I used to container garden on a narrow roof in North London which had walls along the longer sides so the direct sun light levels were limited and they also make the space a rather draughty tunnel but still it was my and various insects’ urban retreat . Runner beans did great, as did dwarf French purple beans, wall baskets tomatoes (I think they where the “hundreds and thousands”? , prolififc crop of tiny sweet fruit), nasturtiums, potatoes,herbs-sage, thyme, rosemary, Thai basil, dill, borage. I also had poached egg plants and various marigolds and calendula. Broad beans and rocket weren’t very successful for me, the blackbirds always got there first. Apart from perennial herbs all were grown from seeds. What tasty memories I have from that period… :-). Looking forward to more news and tips from you and greetings to all vertical and horizontal gardeners!

  36. Great blog Mark. I was wondering if the Tromba Squash need additional support? I’ve put some straight in the soil, but no green shoots yet. I was also wondering what crops you’d recommend for a north facing balcony?

    1. Hi Bex, the tromba will need something to climb up – strings or a trellis or similar. Plants for a north facing balcony – depends really on how much sun it gets. But assuming its not very sunny I’d start off with leafy veg – kale, chard, rocket, lettuce and all the oriental leaves like pak choi and mizuna and see how they do. Also herbs like mint, chives, parsley, lovage will do well. And perhaps try a few spring onions, carrots, snap peas and French or Runner beans in the sunniest bits.

  37. HI Mark,i have about 10 green boxes readt to plant into.I have aquired some compost from local authority it looks full of lumps of twigs etc what should I add to it to grow toms ,squash etc in?

    1. Hi Kathleen
      Local authority compost varies quite a bit – sometimes it is excellent and can even be used neat without any additives. In other places it can either be too strong or can be unbalanced in nutrients, resulting in poor growth. Unfortunately the only way to really find out is try it or to find someone else locally who has grown in the same compost. If there’s any chance the compost came from North London, then you will probably be fine and can grow in it neat. If you got it from elsewhere, then you could possibly try it neat in a couple of containers, and then mix it 50:50 with a soil based compost (B&Q do a peat free one) or a multipurpose compost like New Horizon. You might also grow in neat New Horizon compost as a control in one box to see how it compares. One thing about council composts is that they are generally too rich and too lumpy for starting seeds. Does this help at all?

  38. Hi Mark – this is a timely find – as I was just thinking about planting food in my pots, which get a lot of sunlight all year round.
    However, I have been neglecting te soil and feel that i should top up the nutriants. Is there a general food that I can use for all the plants?
    My second question is – can I link some of your blogs to my website – I have a section on Health and a section on Home. The work I do is helping people to live an authentic life. This all fits in well with my philosophy.
    Well done with what you are doing

    1. Hi Jennifer, the best general food for plants I know is worm compost – its rich in the major nutrients and contains many trace elements, too. However, it does take 6 – 12 months to make if starting from scratch. In the meantime, you could get a general purpose organic fertiliser with balanced NPK and mix some of that in. Liquid seaweed is a also good general purpose feed, rich in trace elements but only limited supplies of NPK. One product I’m currently trying is ‘Sea Mungus’ – this is a mix of chicken manure, worm compost and seaweed – so it sounds like it should be quite well balanced. Quickcrop sell it in the UK if you want to give it a go.
      And yes, please feel free to link from your website. Many thanks! Mark (PS NPK, if you haven’t heard of it stands for Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium – the essential elements that plants need to grow).

  39. Hello Mark! Fantastic post! I never realised many of these crops could be grown in pots… What would be a fantastic addition to this post would be what container sizes are required for the above crops? I imagine courgette needs a decent sized container but I might be wrong…. I love sourcing containers from what I find around so if you can offer suggestions from terracotta pots to wine crates etc this would be wonderful.
    Thanks, Claire

    1. Hi Claire, great question! The crops that will most benefit from big pots (30 – 50 litre) on the list are the squash, tomatoes and runner beans. These all need lots of food and water to crop well and this is easier to give in big containers. Chard, cavelo nero and chillies will do fine in medium sized pots (15 – 20 litres). The Asian leaves and salad leaves will mostly crop fine in your average window box sized trough (around six inches deep), and pea and bean shoots only need a seed tray. Hope that helps?

  40. Something I’ve found very easy to grow is rucola/rocket. You can just leave them alone and they will grow and grow, produce seeds, sow themselves out, and then grow some more.

    I have another question: my outside salads aren’t doing too well. They are not growing very strong, and the leaves just tend to lie down and then decompose. I have one inside which is doing much better, unfortunately it’s also a lot less tasty. Now my balcony is very windy, I guess that doesn’t help, but maybe I also water them too much/little? I try to water the soil without wetting the plants too much, but when they lie on the ground that’s not really feasible. Or do they need more nutrition? They do get a lot of light, so I think I can rule that one out.

    1. Hi Sarah, it could be one of several reasons – most of which I think you’ve identified. As you guessed, most plants do not like wind and it has been unusually windy (in Newcastle at least) these past few weeks… The salads I’ve protected from the wind with improvised cloches (hoops covered in plastic) have grown about four times as fast as those that are not protected. So trying some sort of cloche could be interesting to see what affect it has (take it off on hot, sunny days, though, as plants can fry inside). Or it could be about nutrition – are you using new compost? If you’re using old compost, you need to add fertiliser before using it again. Chicken manure pellets are high in nitrogen which is needed for leaf growth – so these are a good fertiliser for salads. To find out if you’re are overwatering put your finger into the soil a couple of inches – it should feel damp like a rung out flannel, not soggy. Another sign of overwartering is green algae on top of the soil round the plants. Plants do drink more water in wind so underwatering is indeed another possibility – but if they are in reasonable size pots and you are watering on most days this shouldn’t be a problem. Again, feel the soil with your finger a few inches down and if it feels dry this could be the problem. Hopefully this info will help you get the bottom of what’s going on?

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