Container Gardening/ Growing in Containers

Container Gardening

Last week I acquired these 4 smashing big tubs perfect for container gardening, that were lying in the back garden collecting rainwater from a job I was working on, with the owners permission of course, and I ended up spending the rest of the day dreaming about what I was going to grow in them.

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Container gardening is the perfect solution for people who have limited space for example a small sun gathering balcony, a paved or stoned patio or even just a couple of hanging baskets. Containers for growing can consist of anything from a baked bean can to the most expensive decorative pots. Anything that is the correct size, depth and made of a suitable material and also something that contained a safe/non toxic content that wont contaminate the plants. e.g stay away from paint buckets or anything that might have contained chemicals, let common sense prevail. No matter what you decide to grow your vegetables in, the same rules apply to all containers.

Firstly it is important to make sure that the container is clean and free from any soil or residue if the container had been used to grow in before as it may still be harboring plant diseases that can transfer to the new years growth. When I clean out plastic containers I use a pot scouring pad as I don’t want to scrape away at the smooth surface of the tub, but when I am cleaning a terracotta pot or something that wont scratch I use a small wire brush that I keep in my shed as this roughs up the residue and makes it easy to clean off. Its also common practice to submerge the containers within a bleach solution usually 1 part bleach to 10 parts water for around 10 minutes to further kill bacteria where possible.

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Secondly and importantly is the issue of drainage in your containers. Some purpose bought plant pots come with drainage holes already within the base some don’t, and its important to check. The best method for putting drainage holes in plastic containers is to drill holes and I find that wood drill bits work best, avoid banging nails into the base as this can often lead to the pot splitting. If you are using a metal container then drill holes using a steel drill bit or place on top of a piece of timber and bang nails through with a hammer the wider the better. If you find at first that the water is not freely draining away from the container elevate it and drill more holes until the soil is no longer sodden. It is also a good idea to put a layer or gravel, stones or some people often use broken terracotta pots for this job and it works perfectly at the bottom of the container as this will aid drainage. Here’s a quick tip when picking up a bag of gravel or stones for drainage don’t lift the ones outdoors in the garden part of the DIY store as these are often decorative stones, go to the builders yard and pick up a bag of aggregate and give it a good wash, same job at a fraction of the price.

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When growing in a very porous medium or for example a wooden barrel type planter something that is prone to rot over time, then it is often an idea to line the planter with a plastic membrane to reduce water loss.

Thirdly the growing medium used for container gardening is different from that you would use in a raised bed or directly in the ground. Whilst it is important to have good drainage in your container it is also important to make sure to keep the soil moist. The best soil for this purpose is to use John Innes No 3 – “a richer mixture for final re-potting of gross feeding vegetable plants and for mature foliage plants and shrubs in interior planters or outdoor containers.” This is a loam based compost which means that is is heavier than peat free compost and has a higher percentage of sand that helps it to maintain its moisture. It will also stay moist longer than multipurpose compost.

Depending on the size of the container it might be rather expensive to fill them with bought in compost. If you are intending on growing salad vegetables then the container doesn’t need to be very deep, if you are using an overly deep container it is possible to fill up some of the space that the soil would use with objects like bricks or stones that will not absorb moisture.

container gardening
Growing in tubs

Some other benefits of container gardening is that it is much easier to maintain and weed compared to the same plant grown in the ground. Also due to their portable nature they are vital for some plants and trees that will need to be taken indoors to protect from frost in the winter. The tubs that we are using are great for us at the moment as we still have half our plot under construction. We do have a polytunnel on the way but we are holding of ordering it until we can work the ground below to a level we are happy with and until we will have the free time to erect it as we have no where to store it. We also have a few more raised beds to build when the materials become available to us so the ability to be able to move our veg around where it suits without disturbing its growing is a real bonus.

Why not go have a look in the garage or look in the recycling bin and instead of looking at something as garbage, why not think what can I grow in this???

Container gardening
Prepared Ground

Alliums, Garlic, Onions and Shallotts – How to Grow

Alliums Garlic, Onions, Shallots

While the rest of the UK enjoys varied wintry conditions from the heavy snowfall up North to the bitterly freezing mornings that my sister in London likes nothing more than to complain about, we here in Belfast are practically having a heat wave. Tomorrow, 22nd January its predicted a high of 13° and were only 1 week off from being smack bang in the middle of winter. This is worrying for the months ahead. You may have read our post about taking a risk with the weather and started our broad beans early and we were going to compare them compared to the ones we are going to sow in the Spring. Well that’s not going to be happening now, and its all due to the weather, but maybe not in the way you or I thought it might have panned out. I went to refill the bird feeders at the plot yesterday after work and noticed that the broad beans had been destroyed. The plants had essentially been topped and tailed and the roots had been dug up and eaten. Look at the size of the wholes that the culprit dug.

Alliums, Garlic, Onions and Shallots
Prepared Bed



My guess is that it was a squirrel, we asked our followers on twitter and some of their suggestions came back pheasant, pigeons or even moles. Well I can thankfully say we haven’t got any moles in Ireland. I think St Patrick got rid of them all or was that the snakes? Maybe the snakes ate all the moles and then Paddy gave them all the boot. While Grey Squirrels don’t actually hibernate, during cold spells they are much less active often sleeping for long periods of time to preserve energy at times when food is scarce. The weather has been that mild that im sure who ever did eat the beans were glad of the feed and for that I cant begrudge them. Also I should have used protection over the bed the beans were placed in, its a steep learning curve.

Havnt spent the past few weekends working ive been missing the plot terribly, so much to do and prepare and before you know it the Spring will be here. I was able to get up briefly for an hour last weekend and turnover the bed I plan to put my Alliums Garlic, Onions, Shallots in and to dig in some well rotted manure. I plan to plant my bulbs in around 2 – 3 weeks when the manure has worked its magic. In the mean time ive started the garlic in sets as I like to get some roots established on them before I place them in the ground. Last year the garlic was attacked by black birds who kept pulling up the bulbs then not eating anything. Garlic and onions are strong tasting vegetables and I learnt this week that it can be a good idea to leave them out of your compost heap, as essentially its going to be broken down by being eaten by worms and worms don’t like the strong taste of these alliums.

Varietys of Alliums Garlic, Onions, Shallots that we are Growing This Year.

Garlic – Were only growing the one variety of Garlic this year same as last, Casablanca. Garlic loves to be grown in a sunny position with good drainage. Damp bulbs can often be prone to rot. Garlic is sold in bulbs, do not grow garlic that you buy from a supermarket as it wont be treated for resistance to disease. Simply break up the garlic into separate cloves, there is no need to remove the skin like when preparing it for cooking. The clove needs to be in the soil with the tips facing upwards and just showing above the surface. Then its important to firm around the soil around the clove and water well. A covering of chicken wire to deter birds from pulling the bulbs is a good idea. Garlic is a hardy plant and if well watered and not competing with weeds will often do well and produce bountiful and tasty crops.Garlic Bulbs2016-01-21 19.00.57

Onions – We’ve decided to grow the same white and red onions as last year as we had such a successful crop and the taste was delicious. Our whites are Stuttgarter and our reds are Red Pearl F1. Onions are probably the most commonly used vegetable used in my kitchen, in fact I dont know many recipes that dont start with chopping an onion. (Everyone should learn the proper easy way to chop an onion,quick, easy and efficient and leave the tears dripping down ur face, oh and a good sharp knife). The ground is prepared the same as the garlic in fact they will be sharing a bed. They are also planted similarly with just the tips of the bulb showing and being firmely bedded in and well watered.

Shallots – We didn’t grow shallots last year so we picked the variety’s were growing this year from the advice of other bloggers based on their success. The white shallots are Jermor and were going to be growing a red shallot variety Red Sun. Which are planted and treated the same as garlic and onions.

Something to remember onions are prone to onion fly and a good deterrent to this when the weather heats up a bit is mint. Goes great with some summer bbq lamb and also a great excuse to have a mojito or 4. Ummm mojitos.

onion box

Alliums, Garlic, Onions and Shallots
Onion Haul

Protecting Vegetables from Frost – Our methods

Protecting Vegetables from Frost

Protecting Vegetables from Frost


Here are a few methods we employ for Protecting Vegetables from Frost. A few people over the holidays said to me “I see the daffodils have sprung early this year, when can I expect my first box of veg” or “you must be loving all this warm weather, up the allotment”, and the simple fact of the matter is that were not loving it at all.

When the temperature drops below zero degrees, the water molecules which make up a vast majority of the structure of a lot of vegetables, with some types of lettuce known to contain up to 96 % water molecules, tomatoes up to 94% and cabbages up to 93%, freeze which will cause damage to and eventually kill the plants. Its not hard to tell when a plant is suffering from frost damage, the plants often go limp and have blackening leaves and will eventually wither and die. When you have vegetables in the ground and the temperature is dropping, this could could do some serious damage to your produce. But if like us, at the moment the only thing we have in the ground as I type, are broad beans (Aquadulce Claudia) which is highly regarded as being the premier over wintering broad bean, and our strawberries which are a mixture of variety’s all pretty hardy when it comes to bad weather, then the frost can be one of your greatest weed killing allies. If you have ever dug over an allotment by hand you will know that it is lots and lots of fun. My knees never feel better than when they are bent next to a raised bed for hours, as I sting the hands of myself trying to work out what is a weed and what is not. Over winter the frost does all this for you, by freezing the water molecules and slowly killing of the plants and root system.
This is not the only reason why allotmenteers love a good long hardy frost, it also does wonders keeping the pest problem under control. Every wondered where all the insects go in the winter, well it really is fascinating some create their own antifreeze, some go into a state of suspended animation and hibernate the winter, but in truth a lot of them die, and this is important for keeping pest numbers down. So there u have it, two of us growers favorite things to complain about, weeds and insects and the frost is taking them on, for free, while were all lying in our beds.

If you have got plants in the ground that are susceptible to damage from frost and you think they might need a helping hand through the winter then there are a few ways of preventing the plants from seeing the worst of the cold.

Mulch – Mulch is a term that describes any layer of material that is placed on top of soil, many people believe that mulch is purely and organic material but the same term can be applied to any material (e.g plastic sheeting, PVC) that provides the following benefits. Mulch provides a lay of material between the sun and the soil. If the soil cannot receive sunlight then anything will find it difficult to grow in those circumstances, so it is a good method of reducing weed growth. As with light the mulch also traps heat and moisture allowing the soil to stay warmer and might allow for early germination and improved soil nutrient quality. Common examples of mulch often include tree bark, hay, grass clippings which will decay over time and help top improve the soil quality, through to PVC sheeting or recycles rubber pellets from old tyres which will not improve the soil.

Protecting Vegetables from Frost
Covered Beds

Horticultural Fleece –One of the most modern and now common ways of protecting vegetables from frost is the use of horticultural fleece. This doesn’t take much explaining, its basically a vegetables way of putting on a jumper or wrapping itself in a duvet. The fleece can be applied directly over the vegetables and weighted down, or it can be applied the same way as you would put bird netting or chicken wire over a frame.

Covering –This is probably the simplest way of protecting vegetables from frost. Some plants can simply be protected by placing a vessel over them e.g. a plastic bottle which will act as a mini greenhouse or a flower pot, anything that will increase the temperature and keep the frost off.

It may be worth experimenting with different methods of Protecting Vegetables from Frost, to find the best that work for you in your position.

Whilst we have been fairly lucky with the rain here in Belfast other parts of Northern Ireland and the rest of the Uk have been totally destroyed with the torrential rain, many people lost their homes, businesses, farms and livestock. Our sympathy and good wishes go out to anyone whose lives have been affected by any of the floods, and we hope that this is the year that the World tackles global warming and realizes that we just cant keep going on living the way we are.



One of if not the most popular vegetable grown and consumed throughout Ireland and the UK. The unofficial National Vegetable of Ireland and the star of dishes stretching from chip vans to fine dining restaurants.

Whilst some people ask “why bother growing potatoes” when they are so readily available and inexpensive. True, they do take up a fair bit of room when planted, but it is possible to grow them, successful in containers and pots. Last year we were only working half the plot so we planted a large crop of spuds as they are really good at breaking up the ground with their roots leaving the ground good for the following years planting. Also growing your own, means that you get to choose what characteristics you want from your potato, either a delicious waxy first early salad potato like the Arran Pilot or a main crop roasting potato like the Golden Wonder or Kerrs Pink.


Potato Drills


The easiest way to grow your own potatoes is to purchase bags of seed potatoes. These seed potatoes are grown specifically to be virus resistant. Different variety’s of potatoes develop at different stages of the growing season. All of the variety’s of potatoes will go into the ground on the same day, traditionally on St Patricks Day on the emerald isle but this year as it falls on a Thursday it will be the weekend before or after.

First Earlies – On a typical growing season it usually takes around 10 – 12 weeks from planting to harvesting, and often when the plants stop flowering is a good indicator that the crop is ready. Popular UK variety’s of first earlies include Arran Pilot, Pentland Javelin which is what we have chosen to plant this year, or Duke of York which is a great all round new potato.


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Pentland javelline


Second Earlies – Again on a typical growing season second earlier will usually take between 13 – 15 weeks from planting to harvesting. First and Second early crops grow well in containers or pots and this is the approach we are going for this year as we still have a few structures to go into our plot. It also means that we can move them about when needed and we can try and cram them in every available spot. Popular second early variety’s include, Charlotte which is the variety we have chosen as we had great success with the previous year, Kestrel and Ratte.


Charlotte Potatoes
Charlotte Potatoes


Maincrops – Maincrop potatoes prefer being grown directly into the ground. They will need more space and the tubers often grow much larger then early variety’s. These are normally ready to harvest around 20 weeks after planting, Some of the more popular variety s include, Maris Piper which we will be purchasing in the near future, King Edward and Desiree.

Chitting – About 5 – 6 weeks before I plan to plant out my spuds im going to start the chitting process. This basically means standing the potatoes on their end with any eyes facing upwards on a tray, or anything that will keep them elevated and dry egg, boxes and seed trays are often used for this purpose. The chitting potatoes need to be left in a dry well lit and cool area, windowsills are ideal. Some people suggest that chitting doesnt benefit the growing process, but were going to do it anyway as nothing says Spring is coming that a windowsill full of seed potatoes.

When we come to planting our own potatoes were going to show you how to prepare the ground and look at some differing techniques for growing your spuds and how to care for them along the way.