Short on space? If you live in an apartment, town house or just don’t have a large section for a garden, container gardening may be the solution. It’s possible to grow veggies, flowers, herbs, fruit trees, indoor plants and shrubs in containers. In this blog post, I’ve put together some tips to help you with growing plants in pots.
What can be used as a container?
o Plastic buckets – at around a dollar, they are perhaps the most economical garden pot. These have a 9 litre capacity. Remember to drill drainage holes at the bottom beforehand (more about this below)
o Plastic pots – these come in a range of sizes. Most of ours are either 9, 18, 30 or 35 litre in size
o Plastic troughs – these are fantastic for growing bedding flowers such as begonias, marigolds and pansies in summer. This winter, I have planted Iris Reticulata, hyacinth and tete-a-tete daffodils in ours
o Outdoor cups and saucers – you can either plant directly into the teacup or put your plant into a plastic pot which sits inside the cup
o Terracotta pots – these make a stunning addition to the garden, either painted or au naturel. I planted some dwarf freesias in our large terracotta pot that my mother received for her 40th birthday many years ago
o Wine barrels – we varnished ours with polyurethane, drilled holes at the bottom and lined them with black plastic (again, with holes for drainage) before planting miniature fruit trees.
o Hanging baskets – We have these both in plastic and coconut fibre. I like to line the coconut fibre ones with black plastic (with some holes for drainage) prior to planting
It is important that your container has drainage holes to allow excess water to escape, otherwise your pot will become water-logged. It’s up to you whether you use a saucer at the bottom of your container. I tend to do so only if the holes at the bottom of the pot are enormous as the soil will escape, otherwise I find excess water tends to sit in the saucer and collect rather than drain freely onto the concrete.
The golden rule is to never use soil for growing plants in containers. It’s a good idea to use some kind of potting mixture. For fruit trees, I recommend a more expensive container mix that contains water storage crystals for moisture retention (more about this below). For other plants, it’s fine to use a cheaper potting mixture.
o Water storage crystals – as containers tend to dry out quicker than soil in the ground, you may wish to use something to help retain moisture, especially during summer. I find that a scoop of Saturaid works wonders in my hanging baskets with tomatoes over the summer months
o Slow release fertiliser – potted plants benefit from slow release fertiliser, which, depending on the brand you use, will feed them on average for six months. Don’t use granular bagged fertiliser for your containers. Use these instead for the ground
o Liquid feeding – your plants will benefit from being liquid fed every fortnight with a product such as Seasol, which is organic and made of seaweed extracts
o Weeding – weeds grow in containers too, so make sure you keep on top of them as they deprive the plant of essential nutrients
o Staking – larger plants such as fruit trees may require some form of plant support
o Repotting – don’t forget to repot your plant into a larger container if it outgrows its pot. If you are growing bulbs in containers, make sure you wait for the foliage to die down before lifting the bulbs, washing and drying them, before storing them for replanting next year
As I mentioned in my previous post, I was very busy planting spring bulbs in May. I love the dazzling display that they produce in winter and spring, brightening the garden on dreary days and providing much cheer during the coldest months of the year. I have put together some tips to ensure that you have the best and brightest display of flowers in your garden.
Over the past month, I have been busy in the garden with the following activities:
It’s been a long time since my last post, so I thought this would be the perfect time to reflect briefly on some of the more successful aspects of the summer garden. In my next post, I’ll talk about what I’ve been up to around the garden lately.
First, I must report back on the success we had with growing pumpkins over summer. Although they shouldn’t be terribly difficult to grow, we’ve never had a bumper crop and I could never quite work out why. Then I read on my gardening friend Cynthia’s blog (www.thiftykiwi.co.nz) that she lay black plastic on the ground and made holes for each plant. She had the biggest and best crop ever, so I thought I would give it a try myself. After all, I had been doing this with melons every year and found that the plastic helped keep the soil temperature consistently warm. I must say that we have never had such a successful pumpkin season. In total, we harvested around 75 pumpkins – 25 Big Chief Butternut (Kings Seeds), 25 regular Butternut and 25 other pumpkins (mainly a mixture of Blue Hubbard, Queensland Blue and Crown). From now on, I’ll definitely be rolling out the black plastic prior to planting my pumpkins and squash! We have been enjoying pumpkin in a variety of ways – in soup with parsnips from the garden (more on these below), roasted butternut stuffed with feta and as a side accompaniment to meat. The star performer was the variety Big Chief Butternut from Kings Seeds. The vines were extremely prolific and the pumpkins were enormous AND heavy! I’ll definitely be growing this outstanding variety again next season.
Parsnips were another successful crop, following a previous bad season with not one single parsnip having germinated! I sowed these in mid-September, after our early Swift potatoes which were planted on the shortest day were lifted. The seeds were from Egmont and they germinated incredibly well! One little tip when sowing parsnips is to use fresh seed – the fresher, the better. Apparently older seed doesn’t germinate reliably. They were ready in Mid-January, but I left them in the ground until early May and we harvested them as needed. I was flabbergasted by the size of some of our parsnips! They have the reputation for being rather bland but we find ours very flavoursome. Parsnip fries are a favourite, roasted with some sea salt. We have also been enjoying them in mum’s veggie soup and another delicious soup recipe we discovered, featuring pumpkin and parsnip, from Weight Watchers. We shared some parsnips and pumpkin with my aunt and uncle, who live across the road from us, who commented how delicious they both were.
We have also been enjoying NZ Spinach from the seeds I sowed in early summer (Kings Seeds). This is another plant which can be tricky to germinate, but once it gets growing, it simply doesn’t stop. It’s something that I like growing every year. To my knowledge, you can’t purchase plants so if you want to grow it, you’ll have to start plants from seed. One of the things that I like most about NZ Spinach is that you simply snip off what you need; there’s no need to pull out the entire plant. Mum made a pumpkin and spinach lasagne using our veggies from the garden, which was lovely. It’s also delicious steamed. NZ Spinach can be eaten raw. We have been having it every day in our green smoothie and it’s incredibly delicious.
Finally, our banana tree which was planted two years ago by an American couple called Becca and Alex who wwoofed at our place now has fruit on it! We are very excited by this development. You’re supposed to put a bag over the bananas to help them ripen. If you can use a blue bag, it’s supposed to be even better so this is what I used to cover our bananas. You can expect to harvest bananas in spring. The variety in our garden is called Misi Luki and the plant was purchased from Kings Plant Barn in Orakei.
January is one of the hottest months of the year, making work around the garden challenging on many fronts. High temperatures, little or no rainfall and dry soil make it difficult to get plants established. Fortunately, it’s a time when most gardens are well-established and by now, most gardeners are starting to see the fruits of their labour. We certainly are. This is also a time when most people are on holiday and away from their garden. It’s always a shame to see all the hard work you put in during spring go to waste when the place becomes neglected and plants die, or you return to a jungle! These are problems I have faced year after year, so I have compiled a few little checklists with some suggestions to help you out.
My tips for caring for the garden while you’re away:
Here are some tips for gardening in January:
While the garden is flourishing in high temperatures, it’s generally a quieter time than spring, so you might find yourself having a bit of spare time on your hands. Here are a few ways you could spend any extra time you have:
Happy New Year! I hope that everyone has been enjoying the festive season, as well as their summer gardens. I only took a short break of a week away at our bach this year. I initially intended to be away for two weeks but returned home early on the 23rd of December as the weather wasn’t very nice. Besides, I really wanted to be home for Christmas. After all, it’s about spending time with family!
The big news in my gardening update is that on Christmas Eve, I found out that I was placed Runner Up in the Yates Veggie Gardening Challenge for the best use of Yates products. The prize is $200 worth of Yates products! As a first-timer to the Challenge, I am very pleased with this outcome. Spring was an incredibly busy time. Blogging nearly every day, managing the garden and fitting in my training were all challenging enough, so merely participating in the competition was one of my achievements in 2018.
Over the past week, I have been in a mad rush to try and put in as many of my remaining plants as possible. I try hard to keep planting to an absolute minimum in January because temperatures usually increase considerably and there is very little rain (if any at all), making it harder to get plants off to a strong start.
Here is a summary of the tasks that I powered through since returning home:
What has everyone else been up to in their garden lately?
You may recall that awhile ago, I wrote a post about safety around the garden. I wanted to follow it up with a brief post about injury prevention. I see a personal trainer at the gym for an hour every week, primarily to help me with my weight loss journey. I’m also very prone to injuries, sometimes arising from the gym and running but more commonly from gardening activity because I labour so intensively and for such long periods of time, especially in spring. I thought PT would be a good idea so I could address the cause of the issues, as physio only treats the actual injury. As I have mentioned previously, I suffer from neck problems stemming from a tight trapezius and sore wrists stemming from tightness in the forearms. According to my physio Anthony at Flex Physio in Papatoetoe, both of these injuries can be attributed to gardening rather than the gym or running. Another problem I suffer from is that one of my shoulders sits lower than the other, something that was picked up by a chiropractor that I saw for awhile and also Alice, my personal trainer. We have been doing some exercises, including the farmer’s walk (walking with two heavy kettle bells in each hand, facing outwards) to try and rectify this problem.
At my last training session on Wednesday, Alice had a couple of suggestions on how to improve my posture while gardening to minimise injuries. I thought I would share them as they may be useful to others.
1. Stand up every 15 minutes or so after bending over while carrying out activities such as weeding, to avoid neck and back injury
2. Avoid carrying a weight in just one hand. It is better to carry weights evenly so it is distributed on both sides. If carrying compost or potting mix, I now make sure I fill two buckets and carry one in each hand. When I was liquid feeding the garden on Thursday, I filled two 9 L watering cans and carried them both to the area where I was working, rather than just using one can.
I’ve been very busy in the garden over the past few days! Tasks I managed to complete include:
A few days ago, I found some goat’s cheese reduced to half price at the supermarket. I bought it, knowing that I would find a delicious recipe to use it in. Failing that, we could always add it to a simple salad with green leaves, beetroot and walnuts. Then the idea of stuffing zucchini blossoms with the goat’s cheese came to me. A quick search on google for recipes confirmed that this is a very popular way of eating them. At the moment, our zucchini production is in full swing in the garden and there are tons of huge yellow flowers on the plants. I’ve never made stuffed zucchini blossoms myself, but ate them at a restaurant in the South of France once. They were delicious. In New Zealand, they’re not the kind of thing that you would commonly find in restaurants, probably only in certain very high-end ones if you’re extremely lucky and even then, only seasonally. I understand that it’s possible to find zucchini blossoms in some farmer’s markets abroad if you wanted to have a go at making them at home but I don’t think they’re available here in NZ. If you want to make these delicacies, you’ll probably have to grow your own zucchini in the garden, which is pretty easy to do. For my tips on growing zucchini, please click here.
Around midday today, I picked a dozen male flowers from our plants. I left the female flowers on the plants, as they’re the ones that produce fruit. If production isn’t a concern for you, then by all means use some of the female flowers, too. Male flowers are needed in order to pollinate the female flowers, so it’s a good idea to leave a couple in the garden so the bees can do their work or you can use them to pollinate the female flowers by hand after you’ve picked them.
Once you’ve picked the flowers, it’s not that difficult to prepare the flowers. First, I washed them in a bowl filled with water and gently patted them dry with a tea towel. I then removed the green spikes near the base and the stamen inside the blossom with a sharp knife. To get inside, you may need to gently prise open the flowers by the petals.
While I was preparing the flowers, mum prepared the ingredients for the stuffing. She mixed together 100g of goat’s cheese, some Himalayan sea salt, paprika, black pepper (mum stamped some peppercorns) and olive oil. Mum then carefully opened each blossom, inserting some of the mixture inside. We chose to bake our blossoms in the oven which is a bit healthier than frying them, but this is another method you may wish to use as it is very delicious done this way too! We baked ours at 200 degrees centigrade for 15 minutes.
The verdict? Simply divine. We’ll definitely be making these beauties again
Here's a selection of photos I took on my daily stroll around the garden. As you can see, everything is growing rapidly!