Last year I tried to grow mange-tout peas in one of our raised beds and it was a complete washout. There really wasn’t enough room to grow the number of plants needed for a decent crop of peas, and the dreaded snails had their fill of the tender leaves before they really had a chance to get established. From half a dozen plants, I must have managed to harvest twelve or so mange-touts.
Then this year, I had a lightbulb moment – thanks to watching Alys Fowler in her BBC TV series The Edible Garden. She suggested growing pea plants for their shoots, rather than for peas. Plant peas close together in a container (six inches of compost is plenty), then put them in a reasonably snail-free environment. When the plants are a few inches high, just cut off the tops, from the tendrils down to below the first set of leaves below them. Eat cold in salads. Yum, yum.
I’ve started this blog because of the glazed expression I notice in people’s eyes whenever I talk about my latest obsession: growing vegetables in containers. So I thought, why not create a blog, which will be read by random people on the Internet who are actually interested in the subject?
This is my second year of container vegetable growing, and I’ve learned massive amounts (and made plenty of mistakes as well). It all started back in late 2007, when I joined a local community allotment project. For various reasons which I won’t go into, I’m not volunteering at the project any more, and I decided not to get a private allotment either. (Logistically speaking, allotments are a pretty tricky thing when you don’t drive or have a bike, and don’t want to buy a whole new set of tools for said allotment, or a lockable shed to keep them in…)
So that left one option: grow stuff in my back garden. It’s a tiny, triangular patch with a couple of raised beds and paving everywhere else. This means that allotment-style rows of onions, potatoes etc. are out of the question. But it’s big enough – with the addition of things like shelving and hanging baskets, plus a “table” made from an old door – to house quite a few containers. And there’s a little paved patch in our front garden, which gets a lot of sun and is hence ideal for container growing. Plus it also gets fewer snails than the back garden, which is why I’ve put runner beans there rather than in the back. (If you don’t want to use slug pellets, then the easiest way to prevent snail damage is to grow your stuff where the snails aren’t so prevalent. None of the so called “eco friendly” ways to banish snails have ever worked for me. Beer in a saucer? Nah. The snails in my back garden just go “cheers, mate!”, drink the beer and *then* chomp on my pak choi. Smear of Vaseline around the outside of your pots? Doesn’t work – I think our snails must use parachutes.) At one stage, I even erected a small “tent” (made from a very fine gauge net curtain and some bamboo canes) around a particularly sensitive container crop. This did actually work, but it was a huge faff dismantling and re-erecting the tent every time you wanted to pick a couple of leaves. Sometimes it just isn’t worth it.