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Pots and plots: garden guide part 2

February 7, 2010

So have I convinced anyone to throw some dirt in an old yogurt container, steal a stick of rosemary from the concrete islands on Blenheim road, and have perfectly roasted rosemary and garlic potatoes come winter time (we in the South are enjoying a very mild summer if that gives any northies some comfort)? Oh what, you missed that bit? Hmmm.

Pot planting (the legal variety)

Now I know that’s not rosemary, people, but since it’s summer in the South, I thought I’d get you kick started on chives, which can be grown easily on the windowsill in large 1L yogurt containers that have had holes poked in the bottom. Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s what you’ll need to start you off

1x 1L  Yogurt container or something similar (or, golly gosh, a pot, if you want to buy one)
Enough potting mix to fill it
Some sort of bowl, or a takeaway container, to shove under the container (to act as a drip catcher)
a packet of chives or garlic chives seeds, or seedlings

Poke about 5 holes in the bottom of your yogurt container with a small sharp knife. If planting seedlings, fill halfway with potting mix and shove your seedlings in, then fill it up as much as you can without pressing down on the soil. Otherwise, fill with potting mix almost to the very top, sprinkle two pinches of seed in the centre of the dirt, and sprinkle over some potting mix to just cover the seeds. Place the container on your plate. Sprinkle a little water over the soil, and then fill the bowl or takeaway container with water, and leave in the warmest part of the house that receives ample amounts of sun (usually a windowsill). Replenish the drip catcher whenever it gets empty. Should germinate (which means the seed sprouts out of the soil) in under 2 weeks. Let grow at least 6 inches long before snipping.

Chives are fantastic because once you’ve snipped them, they will keen regrowing for ages. This is why they’re great for the beginner gardener. After a while they’ll start to grow stalky flowers, and these are edible too (not really after they’ve been pollinated though), and gorgeous as a decoration for salads and stuff. Chives have a mild oniony flavour that makes them perfect for pretty much anything savoury, especially in potato salads, scrambled eggs or stir fries. Their roots don’t grow long so are fine for containers all year around, so long as night temperatures don’t get below 5 degrees. They like warmth which make them best for growing in summer or spring, and some sun and regular watering. Garlic chives are the same but have flat leaves and taste mildly garlicky. They are better cooked a little rather than used raw like normal chives.

Most other herbs will suit the same method of planting. Flat parsley, basil, sage, oregano, mint, lemon balm and thyme all do at least. Once they sort of take over the pot/container though they are best transplanted directly into the soil or into a larger container if you want them to keep growing.

Planting from cuttings

So you’re not a fan of chives huh? Or were you simply hooked by the idea of fresh rosemary? You should be, as rosemary is frost hardy (won’t die in a frost), tolerates relatively dry, poor soil, and does not really need much taking care of (it doesn’t tend to get attacked by many insects. Its lovely smell confuses pests and the eventual flowers attract bees. So if you ever find a rosemary bush, snip a twig off at a 45 degree angle, put into water immediately, and then stick in a pot of moist soil. Or let sit in a container of water (just the last inch or so immersed in water) until it establishes roots, then plant into soil. You want to keep up the watering while it’s establishing its roots, but once it starts growing off shoots, take it easy on the watering front. Eventually you want to transplant it into a bigger pot if you’re going to actually use it in things.

See how I’ve covered the soil a little with grass clippings? That will keep the soil protected from sun damage and keep it moist for longer, and provide some nutrients for the plant as the stuff breaks down. It also limits the amount of soil available for weeds to plant themselves. This covering of the soil is called mulching, and it is one of the keys to lazy gardening! If you’re doing this in a little plot, it will also encourage earthworms to aerate your soil, which is great for further root development for all your plants.

Vegetables in pots

Generally vegetables are best grown into the ground. Sure they can be started in pots, but they’ll want to move outside to really flourish. However, if you have no garden space, here are my favourite 4 things to grow in pots:

Lettuces and salad leaves

Pretty much any lettuces can be grown in pots, as they have very shallow roots. Keep well watered and out of full sun as they will wilt otherwise. Plant a maximum of 2-4 per 20cm wide pot.

Radishes (in pots longer than 20cm)

They’re super easy to grow and sprout really quickly. Plant at least 10cm apart.

Spinach

They have slightly longer roots than lettuces but still work okay in pots. Follow the same guidelines as for lettuces.

Spring onions

Soo much better than buying spring onions, which are difficult to fit in the fridge and always go off before you use them all. These are a great way to add oniony flavour with splashes of green. If grown inside keep in a sunny area.

Also, the following can be grown in large containers with good potting mix: beetroot, capsicum (indoors), courgettes, cucumbers, beans, leeks, shallots, silverbeet (Swiss chard), snow peas, strawberries and tomatoes (miniature ones like cherry tomatoes).

General guidelines for planting in pots

Water from the bottom by filling up your drip catcher regularly, to avoid water spilling over the sides in case you overwater. Also this encourages the roots to grow as they reach towards the moist parts of the soil at the bottom.

Keep pots warm. Most plants like warmth.

If you’ve done everything else well (watering etc) and the plant is bigger than its pot and it starts to look unhappy, chances are it needs a bigger pot.

Use potting mix, unless the seed packet says the plant tolerates poor soil. Langtons compost also works but you will need to use some liquid fertiliser to encourage growth once the plants have sprouted.

Once the plants are somewhat established, add some grass clippings or dead leaves to the surface of the soil to protect soil nutrients and to keep moisture locked in for longer.

Next up: starting a plot!

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