After moving house sixteen times, I’ve learned to adapt my gardens to all sorts of spaces – large and small. This is a handy list of plants I’ve found to grow well in containers plus the depth of soil they need.
If you have difficult soil like sand, clay or rocks; limited space or funds, then I suggest you try growing at least some of your food in containers. Pots offer loads of benefits.
“Growing your own veggies is the first step to self-sufficiency.” – Clive Blazey, The Diggers Club
In Fast Food! DIY Instant Veggie Garden: Part 1, I shared a quick way to grow in recycled polystyrene (Styrofoam) boxes.
I must confess I discovered just how productive these small space gardens could be, by accident …
Next thing, it was time to make dinner and I decided my little seedlings would have to wait till the next day to be planted! In our hot climate, I knew they’d fry outside so I gave them a little extra water and looking for a cool solution, popped them in the fridge to keep them fresh! I figured we keep veggies fresh in the fridge so why not seedlings?
It might have saved my plant babies, but you know what they say about “out of sight – out of mind”! … Next day, they were totally forgotten because they weren’t visible! By the third day I wondered what was in the newspaper in the fridge and unwrapped them, feeling a pang of guilt for my poor little seedlings still waiting for their new home. So out I went to find a place to put them in my garden.
In my haste to buy new seedlings, I hadn’t realised the garden bed needed far too much time spent on it before I could plant them. So I needed another temporary alternative! I spied the poly box and quickly filled it with my ready-to-go homemade potting mix.
Well, you can probably guess … life happened in the meantime … and that first poly box became the permanent home to a dozen very healthy lettuces and herbs by default! They were all very shallow rooted edibles that were light feeders. The herbs didn’t take up too much ‘personal space’ so it was a very efficient system for growing a high yield in a small box.
They say “old habits die hard” and in my case, although I have often intended to have a garden bed ready for seedling babies when they need planting, it isn’t always the case!
If you haven’t tried this yet, I’d encourage you to give it a go!
Edibles to Grow in Container Gardens
I’ve suggested a few crops you can easily grow in these micro gardens. What you choose to grow depends on your climate zone, weather, aspect and personal taste andt this list is by no means exhaustive!
The plants are grouped according to a variety of needs and tastes to help you ‘shop’ for your favourite combination and include the minimum depth you need for each plant.
First up: Easy to Grow Herbs*:
- Oregano (7cm/3in)
- Chives; Spring Onions; Chervil and Pot Marjoram (10cm/4in)
- Mints – Peppermint, Chocolate, Spearmint, Applemint etc (15cm/6in)
- Savoury, Nasturtium and Thyme – all varieties (15cm/6in)
- Calendula/Pot Marigold – edible flowers & leaves (15cm/6in)
- Rocket/Arugula (15-20cm/6-8in)
- Coriander/Cilantro (20cm/8in to accommodate tap root)
- Lemon Balm (20cm/8in)
- Sage and Rosemary (20cm/8in) – both must be pruned hard
- Dill and French Tarragon (25cm/10in)
- Lettuces – all varieties (10cm/4in)
- Silverbeet and Mizuna (15cm/6in)
- Rocket/Arugula (15-20cm/6-8in)
- Chard/Spinach/Warrigal greens/New Zealand spinach (20cm/8in)
These are high yield fast growing greens you harvest by snipping with scissors.
- Leaf lettuces (non-hearting) – there are varieties that grow all year round (10cm/4in)
- Tatsoi (10-15cm/4-6in)
- Rocket/Arugula; Cress; Mizuna; Chervil; Endive (15-20cm/6-8in)
- Chinese Cabbage and Chards (20cm/8in)
- Mustard greens (20-25cm/8-10in)
Shade lovers are great alternatives if you have limited sunlight such as on your balcony or verandah. These can still grow well in lightly or partially shaded areas. Growth won’t be as fast, but you’ll still enjoy a harvest.
- Lettuce – there are varieties that grow all year round and Chervil (10cm/4in)
- Asian greens – bok choy, tatsoi, pak choy etc (10-15cm/4-6in)
- Spinach and Garlic (15cm/6in)
- Leeks (20cm/8in)
Super Fast Salad Ingredients
These are quick growing crops you can get on your table in just a few weeks – great for impatient adults and children!
- Lettuce (10cm/4in)
- Rocket/Arugula and Sorrel (15cm/6in)
- Microgreens are the shoots of salad greens and herbs so will grow in even the shallowest container.
These edibles need 5-6 hrs sunlight to produce a good yield.
- Beans – dwarf/bush varieties (15cm/6in); French/runner varieties (20cm/8in). Use a tepee or other vertical structure
- Capsicum/Peppers/Chilli; Eggplant/Aubergine and Peas (20cm/8in)
- Okra and Cucumber (25cm/10in)
Tall and Skinny Flavours
These crops will grow in as little as 15-20cm depth or even shallower if the potting mix you use has all the nutrients they need for healthy growth.
- Chives (common, garlic, onion)
- Spring onions
- Bunching onions/onions
“Planting a garden with food potential is one of the most valuable things we can do.” – Isabell Shipard, Author
Grow your own lemon grass and save money. A fantastic solution for balconies and all gardens to save you buying in bulk. Give your plants regular ‘haircuts’ and just ‘chop and drop’ as mulch!
Home pharmacy herbs and plants are handy for minor aches, pains, stings, burns and everyday ailments.
- Aloe Vera and Lemon Balm (20cm/8in)
- Pineapple (30cm/12in) – these are a VERY slow growing crop that might be hard to justify if you have really limited space but the home grown flavour for pineapple lovers may be worth the wait!
Plants that Love Wet Feet
- Water Chestnuts (30cm/12in)
- Water Celery (10cm/4in)
- Beetroot (15cm/6in)
- Turnip and Onion (20cm/8in)
- Carrot (short, round and miniature varieties) and Potato (30cm/1ft)
- Sweet Potato (30cm/1ft)
- Arrowroot, Ginger, Galangal and Turmeric (30cm/1ft)
There are many mini crop varieties including deeper rooted cabbage and cauliflower that are normally ‘container challenged’! Check your seed catalogue or supplier for those suitable for your climate.
What do you grow in your container gardens?
- Starting Your Own Box Garden – this is Jackie French’s variation on my instant veggie box garden showing you how to sow densely and then thin out for transplanting.
- Cut-and-Come-Again Harvesting Technique – well illustrated guidelines on how to harvest your leafy greens to maximise your harvest.
Related: Fast Food! DIY Instant Veggie Garden: Part 1; Micro Gardening; The Benefits of Container Gardening; Getting a Small Kitchen Garden Started; Choose the Healthiest Seedlings & Tips for Growing a Garden in Pots.
© Copyright Anne Gibson, The Micro Gardener 2010-2013 – http://www.themicrogardener.com. All rights reserved.
just read that Polystyrene may leach toxic chemicals, no? http://naturalsociety.com/recycling-symbols-numbers-plastic-bottles-meaning/
DG6T, thanks for your question – I have answered this here in Part 1 in this series of articles. This should help you with more information. Cheers Anne.