It’s astonishing what you can grow in a small area
Growing in raised beds and on patios
Urban gardeners are tight for space – but they can do a lot with patios and small raised beds – its amazing how much food you can grow in a small area and we’d like to share some ideas with you.
Even if you have no garden but just a patio or even a balcony it’s amazing what you can grow in containers.
When we lived in Guildford before moving to the nursery 3 years ago I had very little space in the garden – the things that grew best in the flower border were spinach and chard and I had one little patch of Sorrel which I discovered that if you kept cutting it it would stay vegetative and just produce leaves – I must have kept it like that for 4 years.
However we did well with growing baby leaves in tubs plus outdoor tomatoes in tubs and grow bags. The important thing is to keep the fertility up, grow them closely together to smother the weeds and to make sure you get the highest yield from the small bit of ground at your disposal.
People are frequently using raised beds which as well as looking attractive make it easy to build real fertility and get a good yield out of a small space. Raised beds mean that you can effectively start from scratch – however soil is expensive – it will take 1000 litres to fill 2 raised beds of 1.2 x 2.4 metres to a depth of 150mm – or 1 bed to a depth of 300mm which you will need for growing roots or potatoes. At a cost of £100 per 1000 litres that’s a fair old few carrots.
To put this into context let’s look at what you might grow in a raised bed 1.2m by 4.8m (or 2 1.2 x 2.4m). The diagram was created with a rather nifty plant planning programme called GrowVeg. If you like the look of it you can sign up for a free trial here
My own view is that with a small space like that you are best off trying to grow things that have a good yield and make a difference to your cooking rather than grow carrots, cabbages and other things that are difficult to grow and take up a lot of space. Having said that I’ve put in a few broad beans because I like them and some Broccoli because although you don’t get a massive yield from them, they’re very welcome when there’s not much else around.
As you can see I’m a bit of a cut and come again fanatic. If you keep picking the runners they’ll produce more and the salad leaves and chard can be very productive – the first year we were in the glasshouses we did continue to cut from the same plants for nearly a year. Like sorrel, if you keep cutting them back they’ll stay vegetative and productive.
As we go on through the year I’ve replaced some of the salad mix with some of the chinese leaves, mizuna and red mustard to give it a more wintry feel. These also form the backbone of the stir fry mix that when we’re producing commercially get mixed with chard and cavolo nero (italian black kale) to provide a good mix for stirfry or steaming.
If you can keep the leaves under cloches during the winter they’ll keep growing – you won’t get much growth in December and January but once the days start drawing out and you get into February growth will start to kick in again.
What yield can I expect from a raised bed?
3 rows of runners should give you 15 kilos
2 courgette plants should produce about 60 fruit
3 rows of broadbeans will produce about 10kg of beans
2 broccoli plants will produce about 1 kilo each
3 rows of chard will give you about 4kg
The salad mix will keep on producing the equivalent of 15 lettuces every 10 weeks. Pick the outside leaves and let the internal ones carry on developing. You can grow a mix of radicchio, endive, lettuce, rocket, purslane, lambs lettuce as well as baby spinach and chinese leaves like mizuna and red mustard.
Alternatively plant out small cos lettuces – little gem or romaine at 1 x 4 inch centres. Cut alternate ones as they heart up but leave the stumps in the ground in summer as they’ll regrow.
Commercially we grow all of these plants in modules and plant out when they’re ready. This gives them a head start (as long as you keep them watered). You can either propagate on a window sill or in a greenhouse – a real asset if you’re serious about food production.
I’ve not talked about tomatoes or cucumbers here – as I would suggest that you grow them in pots against a south facing wall. You will however need to keep them well watered in the summer. Which Magazine believes you can get 2.7 kilos per plant from a courgette, 10 kilos from a tomato plant and a whopping 18 kilos from a cucumber. You can also grow peppers like this – they’re dead easy and come in many forms. You can even buy some from us through plants4presents.
We grow lots and lots of rows of different leaves in the glasshouse which lets us produce a continually varied range of salad and stir fry mixes. Here’s a photo of what they look like.