Container gardening update

So my back garden is now baked solid with its clay soil, and all my vegetable crops are in containers or my 120cm-squared (four foot square) raised bed. Here’s an update on how it’s all going!

My goal is to be self-sufficient although that’s not likely this year since I struggled to buy many of the seeds I wanted to grow, couldn’t buy many containers to put it all in, and the soil here was too poor to plant most things straight into the ground (waterlogged clay that goes solid in summer).

So far this year I’ve managed to start the following plants from seed:

Spaghetti squash x2

Courgette x6 (2 surviving currently)

Purple sprouting broccoli (one square foot of broccoli)

Tomatoes (tumbling Tom variety) x4

Peas (one square foot of peas)

Onions (from bulbs) (four x 1 square foot in the raised bed, plus a container of bad clay soil).

Lavender (one propagator full)

Echinacea x8

Sunflower x2

Results so far are as follows:

The vegetables:

The spaghetti squashes are probably the hardest to grow and definitely the least resilient. They insist on growing really tall and curly, they refuse to stay attached to the poles I fixed them to. One of them has a stem which has split open in two places when I tried to re-attach it to the pole again. I don’t see it surviving to the end of the week. How these plants survive in the wild is anybody’s guess. Maybe they’re a very cultivated hybrid.

The first batch of courgettes died immediately when planted out in early May. I now know they have to stay indoors longer and be put out later. The second batch of two courgettes were planted out yesterday into the raised bed, 60cm apart (as per the instructions on the packet) and seem to be doing fine so far despite being smaller and younger when I planted them out than the first batch were.

The first batch of purple-sprouting broccoli was in mint condition when I put it out a month ago. Since then, it established itself with some difficulty. Then a bird ate it and now it has no leaves but it still seems to be alive. I don’t know if they will grow back. The second batch of broccoli went out yesterday. I need to get some netting or something to keep birds away.

The tomatoes have been easy to grow. No special treatment. They just sat on my kitchen windowsill forever until it was warm enough to plant them out. They are now happily sitting in containers and two of them have tiny green fruits developing while all of them have yellow flowers. The main issue with them was ensuring they were in big enough pots to grow as much as they liked.

The peas were also easy. This is my second year growing dwarf peas and I know this time that they need to be picked when the pods are small.

The onions are all doing great. The ones in the good soil in the raised bed are about 5 inches taller than the ones in the container full of bad clay soil. So that’s busted the myth that onions prefer bad soil. But it also proves that they can grow in waterlogged clay soil with no major issues they’re just a little smaller.

The fruit plants:

The blueberry bush is flowering in its container. I don’t think we’ll get fruit this year but I may be surprised. I bought the plant in December and kept it indoors until April. You can’t change the container or re-plant a blueberry bush in May and it was a bit of a mission to get it outside in time for the end of April, due to my hyperemesis gravidarum being in full swing in April and through May. I think we were saved a bit by the cold May this year.

The blackberry bush is also happy in a container. I’m thinking of keeping it in a container even if we can make the necessary soil adjustments, just because blackberry bushes can be quite invasive (the brambles at my old house in York produced incredible berries that made great jam but OMG they grew fast and suddenly were everywhere, which seemed to offend my mother-in-law who tried to rip them out).

The two dwarf cherry trees I bought last March are still happy in their pots. They are living at the front of the house for the time being until I can plant them somewhere permanent. They are self-fertile but I think they enjoy each other’s company.

The Flowering Herbs

In an amazing surprise, I went to weed the cherry tree containers yesterday and discovered some chamomile growing in there. I’ve tried to uproot it and re-plant it in its own pot, but I think a good amount of the root snapped off so time will tell whether the chamomile will re-root or not. I’m really pleased about finding it because it must have seeded from the chamomile I grew last year, which I was sad about leaving in a hedgerow to mark a rabbit grave.

In another surprise, my echinacea has sprouted, and a second seed sprouted in the same pot, so I carefully re-planted that in its own pot about three weeks ago and it’s established itself really well since then. Both echinacea plants are thriving and I can’t wait to see the flowers. Echinacea is THE hardest plant to grow from seed in the UK/Ireland. I have two more pots with seeds in on the windowsill in the downstairs bathroom but I am not expecting them to sprout since I planted them over a month ago. We’ll see.

And my lavender, also notoriously difficult (but not echinacea-hard) to grow from seed, was finally ready to move outside today. It’s actually looking like lavender, now (very tiny lavender) which is so exciting! I learned this week that lavender won’t flower until its second year, which may explain why it’s so expensive to buy flowering lavender plants in the shops.

Only one of my two sunflowers has sprouted but it’s thriving and I moved it into a bigger pot two days ago. I’m hoping we can harvest and store the seeds as they’re one of my favourite sources of protein.

So that’s my gardening update, how is yours coming along? Let me know in the comments!

First harvest of the summer

unripe blackberries
Unripe blackberries… these have got 2 or 3 days to go before they’ll be ripe.

ripe blackberries
Ripe blackberries… totally different to blackcurrants (but everyone thinks they’re the same thing), blackberries grow wild on brambles; I love having them in my garden.

I just had a stressful 4-day visit from the housework police in-laws (mother-in-law’s line of questioning included such gems as “why don’t you knock a wall down between your toilet and your kitchen?” and “why did you do an archaeology degree?” and “can I rip out all the brambles, you don’t want those brambles!” oh, and my favorite, “you might die before [my husband/her son]; I know plenty of people who got cancer and died in their 30s”), despite that, I am feeling like a goddamn domestic goddess…Perhaps a lesser known one, such as the goddess of drinking tea, or the goddess of sitting in the house on sunny days watching re-runs of I Love Lucy instead of hitting my daily word count.

I don’t know, anyway, I went out to collect some of this year’s harvest from all those plants I keep trying to grow, and this was the results:

blackberries
Blackberries, potatoes and baby carrots.

 

As you can see, the blackberry crop is doing extremely well. The carrots are very small because I basically emptied an entire packet of carrot seeds into a container and sprinkled soil over the top. Yesterday I plucked out about 1 in 2 of them and, of the ones I pulled out, I moved most of them to two new containers of soil (the ones the dead peas were in) and the ones that wouldn’t fit anywhere were in this picture, I topped and tailed them, then cooked and ate them. The potatoes were originally Red Roosters and Charlottes, but some of them cross-bred so now I have brown potatoes with red spots. I only lifted as many potatoes as I wanted for one meal, so there’s tons more tatties in the garden.

I’m getting another planter this week in the hope of planting mizuna (leafy greens) this week and I’m considering starting some cabbages or Brussels sprouts maybe for over winter; these are the last two weeks to plant them until next year.

Things which were unsuccessful: Peas – I totally overestimated how much sunshine they needed and they shriveled and died even in the non-stop cloud we’ve had, I didn’t know to water them extra. Coriander (cilantro) – I keep buying packs of cori seeds and they keep turning out to be parsley. Weird. Leafy plants – Any leafy plants (including zucchini/marrows) seem to get ravaged by creepy crawlies, even though I keep doing everything I can about them. The only thing with leaves that survived was 3 of the 4 sunflowers I planted, but it’s not time to pick the seeds yet, so I will show you next month. Sweetcorn didn’t even try to grow, it never even sprouted.  I’m considering cloches for next year’s leafy plants.

Next year, I want a blueberry bush and a cherry tree to move us closer to being self-sufficient, especially since fruit is so expensive.