Some people think that to be a successful vegetable gardener you need a big garden, but this is simply not true. Even if you have just one square metre of space you can grow a worthwhile crop. Have you considered the balcony? Or the steps outside the back door? Or even the roof of your shed? I’m going to demonstrate here how easily you can set up your first-ever vegetable plot in a very small space and at very small expense. If you know someone who is an aspiring gardener, but needs convincing, here is an ideal Christmas gift for them!
For the purposes of this exercise I’m going to assume that you have no “real“ garden space, such as a raised bed, or a border or a lawn which you could dig up, so the first thing you would need is a set of containers. Let’s assume that you have only about one square metre of space. You probably therefore need about four to six decent-sized containers. Get a few big ones, not lots of small ones. If you can afford it, buy good-quality ones like these from Stewarts:
If you are short of cash you could use cheap ones from your local “Poundshop” or you could even improvise. Lots of shops and restaurants are happy to give away used containers like this one, which was formerly used to hold “Chinese marinade” at my local butcher’s shop. Don’t be shy: go and ask for them!
Then you need some “growing medium” – preferably compost. I don’t recommend using garden soil, because it is heavy and gets compacted too easily. General-purpose commercial compost is OK. You don’t need anything very fancy. Again, shop around for a good price. Garden Centres are often not the best place to buy compost (although they sometimes offer attractive bulk-buy deals). A small nursery that makes its own compost is the best place to go, but if you don’t have one nearby, you can probably get what you need from a supermarket or discount store. The amount you need of course depends on the size of the containers you plan to use, but one 75-litre bag will probably be enough.
Then you need some seeds. Yes, you could buy seedlings or plug-plants from a Garden Centre, or via mail order, but this can be an expensive option. A packet of seeds will give you dozens or even hundreds of plants, for the price of about 6 plug-plants. Good vegetables to grow in containers include Radishes, Carrots, Beetroot, Lettuce, Tomatoes and miniature Cucumbers.
Make sure you choose suitable varieties though. Some Tomato plants for instance (the ones described as “indeterminate”) grow to about 8 feet tall, whereas the “Bush” or “determinate” types are much smaller. My favourite is “Maskotka”.
Similarly, some Carrots grow to be enormous, but ones like “Parmex” or this “Paris Market 5 – Atlas” type produce small round roots eminently well-suited for growing in containers.
Herbs are also a good choice – especially Basil, Chives, and Thyme, but I wouldn’t recommend Coriander for a beginner: it tends to bolt very readily, which could be discouraging for a beginner! Those 3 items – container, compost, seeds – are your essentials, but it you want to add a bit extra I suggest these: a small watering-can with a fine rose and a small trowel, or perhaps a “Widger” like this:
The Widger is simply a small (15cm) piece of stainless steel which can be used for lifting small seedlings and for general “cultivation” – in other words scratching the surface of your growing medium to aerate it and remove weeds etc. I use mine a lot and wouldn’t be without it these days. They are widely available (e.g. on Amazon) and cost about £1.50 or £2.00). Of course, you could probably manage just as well with an old table-knife…
So, a kit like this will be will enable you to set up shop and start growing veg. Of course, if the kit is genuinely to be a Christmas present, you will have to dissuade the recipient from sowing their seeds too early. You will have to convince them that it makes sense to wait until the weather warms up and the days get longer – which may be difficult if they are fired-up with enthusiasm! (P.S. My Birthday is in March, which is a really good time for receiving gardening-related presents.) 🙂