Emma Cullen’s top tips on turning sad-looking patios into flourishing kitchen gardens…
Do you have a tiny area of unused concrete masquerading as a patio? You may not feel lucky to have that square foot of grubby grey paving, but you are. Your patio may be small and bare, but it has the potential to become a veritable goldmine of fresh food.
Just like when you grow plants inside or on a windowsill, you’ll need to cultivate your patio-dwelling fruit and vegetables in containers. You’ll be happy to know that they don’t really mind what container you pop them in as long as you give them enough space. That’s the key to successfully nurturing produce in small spaces – don’t overcrowd it in a bid to fit more in.
If your patio gets quite a lot of sunlight, try growing your own spuds. This can be done using old potatoes sprouting in your cupboard, or specially produced tubers which you can purchase. The container will need to be about the size of a small dustbin: make sure it’s got holes in it to let out the moisture, and that the container itself is dark so as not to let light onto the growing taters below the surface.
Fill up the container with compost and place the potatoes or tubers on top with sprouts facing upwards. Space them out so they have plenty of room to grow and keep the soil moist at all times, but not wet. The foliage will start to flourish – keep topping up the soil as it grows upwards. The potatoes will be ready to dig up when the leaves start to turn yellow. Please don’t eat any green ones though, as these are poisonous.
Tomatoes and courgettes
You can happily grow a successful tomato plant in one of those reusable supermarket bags you can pick up for 10p, or straight from a grow bag. Courgettes can also be grown in a container about 30cm wide. Use soil that is specially designed for pots, as it will retain water and is full of nutrients. Be wary of over or under-watering your plant – because it’s in a confined space, it won’t get any moisture from the ground (as it would if planted in a garden) so you’re the one in control here.
You’ll need about six inches of compost in a container and a bag of mixed salad seeds. Simply scatter the seeds over the top and then cover with a thin layer of the compost and water. It won’t be long before you have a fully grown salad, which you can cut about three times before you’ll need to replant.
You don’t need an orchard to grow apples – all that’s required is a tree in a pot. Best of all, the UK’s very own Cox’s apples are one of the best for small spaces. Whatever type of tree you choose, you’ll need a variety that self-pollinates in order to get any apples. Limiting the space in which you’re growing your little apple tree will actually encourage it to produce more fruit and will stop the tree from getting too big. It’s also worth mixing water-retaining crystals into the compost to avoid dry spells. You can grow oranges and lemons like this too, but they will need to be brought inside during the harsh winter months.
There are so many things you can use as a patio container: use your imagination. But here are a few to get you started…