Top Tips for Growing Food in Pots.
In the process of staying longer than our tourist visa will allow here in Italy, we have been required to rent a house. Living in the country, my dream, was not a viable option for us, as the kids go to school here in Lucca, and therefore we would require a car to commute, and trying to organise this, on top of the many other tasks with out speaking the local tongue, has proven difficult. Therefore the only real option has been to rent within the city walls (mura). Finding space, or room for a garden within the walls is almost impossible, and the couple of apartments that we found that had space, you just wouldn’t let your family live in. At first I was dishearten by this prospect, but then I thought, majority of people live within cities with a limited ability to grow food. And I’m always up for the challenge, and I really should practice what I preach.
On our travels thus far I have been inspired by many great examples of gardens and plants in pots. A few of these example are showcased in the slides below. Many of them floral, nevertheless great examples . All the required materials to get started are readily available, with a trip to either the local supermarket or hardware store. There is also a great culture of plant sales in this region of Tuscany, with pop up plant markets and many production wholesale nurseries located around Pistoia.
Here are some tips that I’ve picked up over the years, in order to maybe also help get you started. Please be aware that you won’t be able to get into small scale farming that allows you to sell your excess produce from them. However, it will provide you with fresh herbs that you will be able to add to your dishes to make them jump off the plate, and should you have any excess produce, allow you get brownie points with your cute neighbour that lives downstairs, or with the odd couple next door, when you may need them to feed your cat. Win, Win.
Most importantly for me, this project allows me to still be surrounded by plants, which I very much need.
1. LA PIGNATTA (The Pot)
First things first, what you are going to plant into? A Container. This container must have holes, and must hold soil. Pots produced for this specific purpose are readily available in hardware stores, supermarkets or even 2 dollars shops, however It is best to go and support your local Nursery. You can also, if you should wish to be creative, up cycle other containers such as yogurt tubs, polystyrene boxes, metal tins etc, This is also great way to make your house/apartment become a talking point for those on there morning stroll.
2. GLI SUOLO (The SOIL)
Your plant needs soil to grow into, unless you want to get into hydroponics, but thats just all to hard, and no one ever believes you when you say that your not growing Marajuanna. “So are your really growing just tomatoes?”
If you have ever been to one of my workshops, your will hear me constantly saying, time and time again, you are growing soil first, plants second. It is really important that you get the soil right. As like in all things in life you get what you pay for. Don’t use a cheap bag of potting mix, spend the money on a quality potting mix, preferably one that is certified organic. In many cases the cost difference is associated to the fertiliser within the product. If you do buy a cheap bag of potting mix, I guarantee that will be required to add some fertiliser. Potting mix is predominately made up of peat / coir to help absorb the moisture; Pine bark, to stop the soil from compacting; Fertiliser to help feed the plants; Sand and coal, to make the soil black, as us consumers are conditioned that soil has to be black in order for it to be any good.
3. LA PIANTA (The Plant)
Plant selection is important for pots, as some varieties do better. The great thing is that the majority of herbs grow well in pots. Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano, Mint, Parsley and Basil to name a few. I think it is best to obtain these in seedlings, rather than growing from seeds or from your own cuttings. You will only need one herb per pot, if your are going to allow them enough room to mature and reach there full potential. It is not really worth the hassle of propagating yourself, only if your super keen.
Some vegetables are also great for pots, such as Bush Beans, Chillies, Eggplants, Bush Tomatoes and even Potatoes. Theres a start.
4. CONCIMARE E ANNAFFIARE (Watering and Feeding)
In order for your plants to grow well they will require food. And like us if we eat too little we get scrawny, and if we eat too much we get fat and die. Plants are the same… So don’t over do it with the fertiliser, otherwise you will have to take action. A good quality potting mix will already have fertiliser in it, therefore no need to add to begin with. Over time this food will either be taken up by the plant or leached out when watered. Therefore it will be worthwhile have to give you pot plants another meal (fertiliser) in the future. I like to feed every season, once in Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Use this as a guide and gauge how the plant is responding. Gardening is the process of observation. You can top them up with some snacks along the way, in the way of seaweed solution, or if you can get your hands on some worm castings. This will help the plants take up the nutrients and give them that nutrient boost they need.
How much should you water your pots? Well how long is a piece of string? You will have to use your discretion. Try to harden your plants so they don’t require as much water. I like to use a technique that I call the touch test. I touch with my finger on the top of the soil, should no dirt stick to my finger it requires water. In some cases, you can place something like old carpet under the pot to retain some moisture. However this will depend on the kind of surface you are placing the pot on. I’ve yet to understand why people request saucers for the base of pots when they are being used outside. I do however recommend pot feet to raise the pot up off the surface so it won’t mark or rot, and also improves drainage.
Note: The great thing about pots is that they move. If a particular plant is not liking a location, you can move it. Should the plant die, you can move it. Should you move, you can move it! Remember to keep experimenting until you find a plant that works for the location and the pot size. Best of Luck. I’ll keep you posted on my progress here at Lucca.
Backyard Farmer tips on planting in pots;
- Pots must have drainage holes
- Large post will weight a lot and be hard to move
- Small posts dry out quickly
- Terracotta is porous, and the wind will dry them out.
- Don’t use top soil strait out of the garden. This will compact.
- Spend money on a good quality potting mix.
- Choose dwarf varieties
- Read the labels ( ps don’t believe everything you read, however use as a guide only)
- Give your plants space to grow, don’t over plant.
- As a guide Feed (fertilise) once every season.
- Use a liquid feed, for ease of application, also means you want have to stash the stink leftovers in the laundry cupboard.
- Use Seaweed in conjunction with Fertiliser. It is a soil conditioner that helps the plant take up the food.
- Water as needed.
- Use the touch test.( refer to above)