Brisbane Local Food

Growing local

Growing veges in small containers for whatever reason

BLF seems to get a huge range of people interested in growing veges, herbs, etc. The great majority of people have a suburban context where the garden size is very manageable, and most things can be grown in garden beds, front, back, side and even verge gardens. We have some great examples among our members of just what can be achieved with a half decent soil and a bit of good old fashioned hard work. The garden visits are a great way to get about and see what can be achieved, and we can learn so much from these visits. They provide ideas, inspiration, knowledge as well as good company from like minded people of all ages and situations.

One of the first garden visits I went to was at Roman Spur's family's inner city flat / apartment. Here there was very little space for a garden. What space there was, was used to great effect, but the lack of space didn't stop them from expanding the garden to use concreted areas to grow as well. Roman devised the use of polystyrene containers to grow plants that don't need a huge depth of soil to flourish, but also cut the bottom out of a second and even third tier of container to allow for deeper rooted plants to be grown as well. He also used the idea of wicking beds to enable a more efficient use of water.

Now I am not suggesting that Roman "invented" these ideas, but he successfully adopted other people's ideas to be able to garden in his particular housing situation at that time.

Another garden visit I went to, (albeit with another gardening group), was at a rented property in Woodridge, where a refugee family were staying. I can't remember the nationality, (Burmese, I think) but that is immaterial. The family had moved around a few times since arriving in Brisbane, and the way of dealing with the constant upset of moving house and not being able to have a garden that they could take with them, as well as not having a lot of income meant that they needed to devise a way of growing what they could for their needs as well as not having too permanent a system of growing that they couldn't "uproot" and move on if needed.

The guy demonstrated his way of growing, which was to grow everything in sacks (free), The soil used was a lasagne of (as well as I can remember),  home made compost (free), tree leaves from the area (free), some garden soil (free) but very limited or collected from the roadside, and collected manures (whatever he could get). These layers were around 75 - 100 mm thick and piled up until it nearly reached the top of the sack.

He grew a good range of produce and it all looked very healthy. They didn't waste anything, everything was recycled and I had to admire his ingenuity and resourcefulness. Obviously they could move the sacks and veges with them when/ if they needed to.

I have used the knowledge from my many garden visits and although I live on 5+ acres, my soil is poor and I grow some of my produce in sacks, polystyrene boxes, and PVC tubes.  

In the sacks I lasagne garden soil (very sandy), horse manure, and home made or bought mushroom compost. The polystyrene boxes are also filled with a similar mix, some are wicking beds, some not, all are single storey.

The PVC tubes idea I got from Tino on a Gardening Australia episode (not a lot of originality from me). These I use to grow mainly carrots over winter, some leeks, turnips, beetroot, and parsnips. I use only a good quality potting mix in the tubes, although sometimes I add horse manure in the last third of the growing time to try to "fatten up" the crop. If I use manure early on it will create forking of the roots, so I leave it until late when the roots have been formed and maybe a bit of extra nutrition is needed.

As you can see I use old tyres to hold up the tubes, or I use a plastic drum (a better idea). Any watering from the top teaches out of the tyres, but the drums can retain any excess water and "wick it" back up to the plants.     

These carrots were a mid winter planting, they are all straight, I planted 2 min per tube.

 Please note the length of the roots of all the veges, the only criticism I have is that I need to get more nutrition to the roots to fatten the plants up.

I don't grow in these over summer as the temperatures are too hot. Anyone suggest what I could grow over summer?

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Comment by Dave Riley on October 20, 2017 at 12:13

The only containers I grow stuff in are milk crates covered with weed mat. It works extremely well despite my lazy penchant for container neglect.
As for spinach -- the only 'spinach' like leaf substitute I grow -- and prefer -- is Warrigal Greens(T. tetragonioides).

“Studies have shown that soluble oxalate levels in T. tetragonioides can range from 1.5 per cent in leaves of older plants to 12 per cent in leaves of young plants.
“However, these levels are comparable to those reported in some varieties of spinach including those grown commercially. Yet people consume spinach on a daily basis.

Also over Summer -- indeed all year -- Okinawa Spinach and Longevity Spinach -- but these have a very different leaf. Both are notoriously healthy.

Then there is Brazil Spinach-- but I am not a fan. Nor do I like Malabar. The other green that likes the heart is Ethiopian Spinach/Kale which is seriously tasty.

Comment by Dave Riley on October 20, 2017 at 10:51

I find the Italian greens -- radicchio and endive -- do better than the lettuces over Summer. They're not supposed to but if grown in shade you should get cut-and-come-again harvests.

In Kenya  there is a significant urban farming movement utilizing sacks .

Comment by Susan on October 19, 2017 at 18:39

Hi Roger, did you mean in the tubes or just in general?  Spring onions doe well for me all year round, tromboncinos (instead of zucchini's) Capsicum, eggplant and various cherry tomatoes do amazing for me over summer.  I find I can still have lettuce but utilise shade cloth over them to dilute the amount of sunlight they receive. Pak choi for a vegetable green does great as well.  I have a malabar spinach that I find is a great spinach alternative (better than silverbeet as it doesn't have that irony taste) but you do need to cook it and it really goes nuts in summer.  Hope this helps.

Comment by Roger Clark on October 17, 2017 at 6:23

Thanks Elaine,

I will try out some of these and report back. I guess all may depend on what sort of weather we get this summer. If it's like the last couple of summers I will need to cover the plants up with shade cloth. I  guess it's worth a try. I have an old swimming pool cover which I will cut up and cover some of the above ground beds to protect all the critters from the harshest sunny days. I wonder how it would go if I cut holes/slits for plants. It might work, but it would be much better if I were to get sugar cane or some other type of living mulch. Still these days I am always trying to use what I already have on hand. 

Comment by Andrew Cumberland on October 16, 2017 at 22:43

Great post Roger.  I'm sure there are a lot of members in apartments who could use a lot of these ideas. 

Comment by Elaine de Saxe on October 16, 2017 at 14:42

Members of the cucurbit and solanum families do well in summer except for large-fruited tomatoes.

Hibiscus family too eg Aibika and Okra.

Sweet Potatoes love the heat!

Non-conventional greens such as Ceylon spinach.

Conventional lettuce if grown in part-shade and picked whole before they bolt to seed.

Ditto 'Asian greens' which are cabbage-family and need sheltering from white cabbage butterfly and grown quickly before they too bolt to seed.

Also Snake Beans tho personally they are too dry, I prefer the flat Italian-style climbing beans. Tho they can get hit with bean fly a bit, giving them plenty of minerals, compost and hoping for keen microbes, they should be fairly hardy even coming into the real hot time. I have some seeds here I can share with you of a very tasty enthusiastic climbing bean. Tho Purple King and Blue Lake do well too if you have those on hand.

There's a winged bean, harder to come by but they do well in the hot weather. The beans themselves do not keep well and need to be used the same day they are picked; the texture of the bean is soft unlike the European beans which are crunchy.

I suggest 30 to 50 percent shadecloth over the plants in the hottest periods unless you have natural shade.

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