Why bother growing on a patio?
Even the luckiest homeowners don't usually have much of a patio. So why should you bother growing there when there isn't much space? The are in fact several reasons. Food that has been homegrown is completely organic, and there is a great difference in taste. You can move your plants round, unlike if you planted them in a garden. You can also have greater versatility of produce, as you can cater for different soil types and water levels when planting in pots. In short, you can have a wide variety of foods which taste wonderful and have no harmful pesticides. The rewards are great and the level of effort does not have to be very high.
What to Plant In
Not everything has to be planted in a plain terracotta pot. Cut holes in a bag of compost lying on the floor, and plant seeds straight into the compost. Place a handful of pebbles in the bottom of old wellington boots and fill them with compost to make a fun new plant pot. Painted tyres are an economical and pretty way to display your plants.
What Tools Do I Need?
Only simple tools are needed for the proper upkeep of a patio garden. A trowel is essential for planting, and a small fork or rake will come in useful. After use, tools should be washed in hot, soapy water and dried very well so they don't rust; sharpen any blades and oil them well. When growing plants in containers on a patio you do not need large tools, but secateurs, trowels and knives need to be kept sharp. If you treat your tools well then they will not need to be replaced for some time.
How to Care for Seedlings
Seeds can germinate in any container filled with compost if the conditions are right, but it is best to choose a suitable pot. Shallow pots and seedtrays suit seeds with small roots. Keep your seedlings warm but not too hot, as this will cause the water to evaporate and your plants to wilt. If your seedlings are somewhere humid, remove them from this place a few hours each day so that your baby plants do not get fungal infections. Putting your seedlings in the dark will make them grow quickly, but as soon as shoots appear from your seeds, put them into the light to ensure the stems grow strong.
What to Plant and When
What to Do in Spring
Between March and April, you should plant out broccoli, French beans, runner beans, sweetcorn, tomatoes, beetroot, carrots, spring onion and lettuce. Other plants can also be planted in Spring, but these are the ones that will thrive best. Plant the seed indoors and care for the seedlings as described above, then plant them outside in large containers as soon as you are sure the frosts have passed.
What to Do in Summer
In the summer, June to August, you should plant spinach, courgettes, carrots, chicory, turnips, peas, bell peppers and marrow. Berries like gooseberries or redcurrants also grow very well in summer. You can also plant any of the Spring vegetables in early summer to harvest in early Autumn, but make sure they are not in full sun as they are too delicate to survive the heat. When these seedlings are about 15cm tall, plant them out and water them in the early morning or late evening to ensure they get as much water as possible before it evaporates.
What to Do in Autumn
Plant Jerusalem artichokes, rhubarb, horseradish and garlic in Autumn, before November to ensure they are not damaged by the frosts. Briefly cleaning your patio, cutting off any bits of plants that have died back, and putting compost all round your plants are also all jobs you should do in Autumn as well, to keep your patio garden clean and growing well.
What to Do in Winter
In Winter, wash all your pots in hot soapy water. You can disinfect them if you like, but this is not strictly necessary. You need to do this because when planting in a garden, any bits of dead plants or rotting matter will go back into the soil, but in a container it will simply sit in the soil. Sweep your patio well and prepare to re-plant in the Spring. Stack up your pots and keep them clean until you use them again.
Harvest all your vegetables when they are a good size and the colour is bright. You can find more information on the seed packets you use. Be aware that any food you harvest will probably not last as long as shop-bought, but it will be must tastier.
As long as you care for your patio garden, it will keep providing you with wonderful produce all year round. I hope you enjoy your own little vegetable garden and the food it gives you. Please tell me how it went in the comments!