For me it’s been a tough year to find time for my allotment but on the other hand I’ve been growing loads of greens and herbs at home. Whether you’re a busy person or short of space, growing edibles in containers is an efficient way to garden. Place your pots on a balcony or the patio outside your kitchen door and you can have a steady and convenient supply of salad leaves throughout the summer and autumn. Bring them into a greenhouse or conservatory and you can continue the harvest throughout the cooler months.
August in some parts of the world is still the height of summer but for us on the Isle of Man, it’s usually the beginning of Autumn. As I sit writing I actually have a heater on under my desk! Before long, the rest of the northern hemisphere will be feeling the cold and those who grow their own veggies might be digging under the remnants of the garden and thinking about preparing the soil for next year.
There are still loads of vegetables that can be grown in these cooler days though and many of them can be grown in containers. Any vegetable that will grow in shady areas or that thrives in cooler climates will burst into fruition between September and early November. Fruition is a bit of a misleading word though since any plants that fruit or flower will need to wait for next year’s sunshine.
Autumn sown vegetables from seed will tend to be green and leafy and used either in salads or stir-fries. Think lettuces, Asian greens, and cool climate herbs and leaves. Many seed sown herbs will need a bit too much time to produce greens so another way to extend the season is to grow from plug plants. I’ve grown the cilantro (coriander) in the below tub from such plugs – I found a tray of them on sale for 35p at a local gardening centre and planted them a few weeks ago.
You can also encourage new growth on non-woody perennial herbs by cutting them back hard. Herbs like Peppermint, Lemon Balm, Lovage, Welsh Onions, and Chives will begin producing new shoots and leaves that will last you throughout the days leading up to the first frost. Bring them indoors if you’d like to further extend their season.
You’re aiming to harvest the below veggies in their immature state for some of the larger plants such as Chinese Cabbage and Kailaan. Sowing instructions for all of them is to fill a pot or container with multipurpose compost (or your own mix) to a depth of at least six inches and press it down firmly. Sprinkle the seeds on relatively thinly then cover with a layer of compost – the rule of thumb with seeds is to cover them with a depth of soil that is twice the thickness of the seed itself. To keep the moisture in, consider mulching the top with a thin layer of fine gravel (stones should be less than 10mm in diameter). Water well and every day thereafter. Even if it rains you’ll still need to check your pots to see if they’re moist enough.
A tip on container gardening – keep your pots near buildings to keep them warmer and to reduce the risk of cold and frost damage. Also, most of the veggies mentioned below are green and leafy and very attractive to slugs and snails. When grown in a container it’s easier to combat these pests organically by ringing the pot with copper or using other barriers to keep them out.
Direct sowing in the garden: follow the instructions on the back of the seed packet. Use horticultural fleece to keep your greens from being damaged by early frosts.
Also known as Rocket
This peppery leaf is easy to grow and can be used in all manner of dishes ranging from salads to rice to pizza toppings. It grows long tap roots and can grow as a perennial if it isn’t killed by frost.
The green tops of beetroot
Though it can take considerably longer for the actual root to develop, you can expect to have beetroot greens ready for picking in as little as a month. The leaves are similar in taste but earthier than Swiss Chard.
A mild flavoured crisp vegetable that can be used both raw and cooked. Though each plant needs about a foot to mature into full size, you can grow ‘baby’ leaves in pots and containers.
Also known as Coriander
Cilantro is a popular herb used in both Asian and Latin American dishes including soups, salads, and ethnic savoury dishes. Though growing the leaves from seed can take up to ten weeks, you can also purchase plant plugs to shorten the growing time. This tip applies to many leafy annual herbs so have a look around your garden centre for ideas!
Thick fleshy cabbage flavoured leaves that can be used in stir fries, salads, and other dishes that call for cabbage leaves and greens. When grown in containers you must use the plants in their ‘baby’ state. In open ground they need just over a foot to mature to full size.
This hardy green can take a long time to establish but it is perennial and grows well in containers and in situ. Though the leaves can get a bit tough later in the winter, it can stand all the way through to spring making it a handy green to have in the garden.
I often see winter varieties recommended for Autumn sowing but it’s probably fine to use any types when sowing in late August to September. With winter varieties, harvest when in a ‘baby’ state for fresh salads. I also generally buy varieties that are marketed as Cut-and-Come again varieties but have had luck with ‘All the Year Round’ lettuce as well.
An Asian vegetable with a peppery, mustardy flavour. It’s used in stir fries but is more commonly uncooked and used in salads or as toppings for savoury dishes.
Similar to Mibuna, this Japanese green resembles Arugula (Rocket) and is used predominantly in salads and uncooked dishes.
Hot and peppery, use Mustard Greens in salads, stir-fries, and other dishes that need a little heat. Keep in mind that while the baby leaves are tender and flavourful, more mature leaves can be bitter.
This category is for two items – mixed Oriental/Asian greens as sold in seed packets and all the other fantastic green leafy veggies that hail from Asia. Oriental Greens are used in stir-fries, salads, savoury dishes, or simply steamed and used as a side dish. You can find dozens of varieties available both online and in your local gardening centre.
Make sure to protect these from slugs and snails! When grown in the garden, mine generally always have a few holes in the leaves when it comes time to harvest them. Though they need a bit of space to mature fully, you’ll be able to get decent sized baby Pak Choi if you give them around four inches of space. So thin the baby plants around a few to use as ‘baby’ greens then let the last ones grow on in size.
Juicy and peppery, radishes are a relatively trouble-free vegetable that loves cooler conditions. If you grow them in the heat of summer you shouldn’t be too surprised if your radishes to go to seed and/or become woody. Autumn and Spring conditions are perfect for these tasty and colourful little root veggies.
Like Radishes, Spinach doesn’t much care for hot conditions. Turn your back on it in the summer and you can expect it to bolt! It’s a perfect vegetable for growing in Autumn though so make sure to sow loads.
Another spicy green that’s fantastic in both salads and soups, Winter Cress is a hardier cousin of Water Cress. Sow the seed in late summer and Autumn and pick leaves from November to early spring. After that, the leaves go bitter.