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Gardening in containers has upsides, to compensate for any relationship-related downsides, Ben Elms writes.
My girlfriend recently broke up with me and took all the containers we grew veges in away with her. Now I’m missing that continuous supply of green goodness in my life more than I’m missing her.
— Mr Unlucky
Dear Mr Unlucky,
If you’re renting or short of space, containers are a great way to go. When you move house, you can take all your hard work with you. You can upcycle plastic buckets (HDPE) and containers, old sinks and baths, anything you can get your hands on really. You could even turn a bath into a self-watering bed, plenty of instructions from Dr Google. Check out wooden pallet beds both on the ground and vertical, they cost nothing. (Make sure your pallets are stamped with ‘‘HT’’ for heat treated, and are not ‘‘MB’’ for methyl bromide treated.)
What to fill them with? Here’s a basic recipe:
•30% sieved soil.
•60% good-quality compost. (Mushroom compost rocks.)
•5-10% biochar. In container gardens, biochar is going to be your best friend, holding on to water and nutrients and promoting a biological healthy growing medium.
•Add 1 handful of lime per 20 litre bucket.
•1 handful of rock minerals per 20 litre bucket.
You can’t go wrong with cut-and-come-again greens. These are varieties that will keep on giving you fresh greens even after you harvest them. Varieties such as rocket, mizuna, spinach, silverbeet, kale, spring onions and even celery. Don’t massacre them too low to the ground; leaving the odd leaf will allow for a quicker recovery.
Remember these containers need topping up a few times a year with fresh compost. You could also give them a feed with some liquid seaweed every couple of weeks.
Think about where you site them, they want sunshine. And don’t forget to water them as container gardens dry out super easily.
How do I stop the vege glut in February and March? I want veges every week not just at the end of the season.
— Want It-all
Dear Want It-all.
Yes, this is not easy in our southern climes as our growing season is so short. Some years it’s even shorter with random frosts and cold snaps really testing our gardening enthusiasm. Ironically, spring is when we can have the least amount of food in the garden.
It can be the previous season’s main crops that are feeding us in the spring if stored well. The likes of onions, garlic potatoes, beetroot and carrots.
Extending your season will make a huge difference, using frost cloth and mini-cloches to add heat to beds. A cold frame, tunnel house or glasshouse will really help fill that spring void.
Expose the soil to the spring sunshine or use some upcycled black plastic on top of a bed to get some heat into the bed earlier in the season. Don’t underestimate the impact that soil temperature has on growing vegetables. A few degrees extra warmth is the difference between stunted growth and rapidly growing trifids.
Take a look at what you’re growing. We tend to grow lots of main crop veges that take 3-4 months to mature, e.g., carrots, broccoli, cabbage, pumpkins, corn etc. For a more continuous supply of vegetables, you need to think shorter growing-season crops or harvest baby versions of, say, carrots and beets. This leads us to leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, bok choi and sprouting broccoli. Also consider perennial veg, such as asparagus that pop up in the spring.
The other secret to avoiding the glut is to have a continuous planting policy. Every two weeks, sow more seeds and plant more seedlings. This will even out any weather anomalies and ensure you get a more even harvest over the season.
Check out Square Metre Gardening, by Mel Bartholomew. Her easy technique of planting out a square metre at a time with a selection of different veges really lends itself to avoiding gluts.
And if you want some more vege beds later in the season, cover the area with cardboard or black plastic, weight it down with rocks and leave for six months.
If all else fails, enjoy the bounty when the glut comes and share it with friends and family.