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Broccoli and Carrot Containers
BROCCOLI is so good for you (and me!) and it is really quite easy to grow in a container so that makes it an even better bet! You can do all sorts of things in the kitchen with this tasty vegetable – it’s a member of the cabbage family that is choc full of the good vitamins we all need. And then, when it comes to container CARROTS– well they are easy to grow, healthy and tasty too, and just as versatile in the kitchen ... and the best news is that these two vegetables make great companion plants, so if you have the space, grow them together or at least close together.
Now when it comes to growing anything in a container, there are a few set rules that are easy to abide by and in this case not worth breaking – unless you have lots of time and patience and need to begin again. So let’s get going and growing and start, alphabetically, with Broccoli.
Broccoli grows best in cool weather, in well-draining well composted soil with at least 6 hours of sunshine daily. Good watering that ensures moist soil with lots of organic matter makes the requirements list for growing Broccoli a short one.
• For one plant, choose a plastic container (you can always plant in a pretty surrounding pot if you want to) at least 12 inches diameter and around 15 – 20 inches deep. Make sure they have drainage holes and use shards at the bottom of the pot to stop soil compacting and so blocking them.
• Broccoli needs space to grow so only plant one seedling per pot. If you happen to have a raised bed that you consider a ‘container’ ... and I am lucky as I do have the space for one, then plant your seedlings at least 15-20 inches apart.
• Your soil must be rich and fertile – broccoli will not do well in stony, sandy or clay soils, it’s another vegetable that does not want wet feet.
• There are many ways to achieve the right soil mix you want and I guess gardeners get to rely on their favourites. I always add a handful of bone meal to my vegetable containers and either use a good measure of slow-release organic plant food fertiliser I buy from the garden centre, or I may also use a liquid nitrogen-rich food. I always have an earthworm or two in my containers and use organic mulches like bark chips anyway. It keeps the soil cool and moist too.
• Water and feed regularly (weekly to ten day cycles), ensure the soil is well watered – let it drain out, make sure it remains moist and you will see your broccoli respond by quick and generous growth.
• Check your plant daily and when you see a flower head starts to form in the centre, then watch that it does not begin to spread or swell or bolt. If it does, cut it off (don’t tear or break) and wait a while. Your plant is likely to grow some side shoots in the axils of the leaves. If your broccoli buds are tightly closed and dark green when you harvest, then they will be at their best. I must say here that my broccoli plants, while great to grow and eat have never grown as big as those I can buy at the supermarket. I guess it is because I am a part-time broccoli gardener and not a professional market gardener. I was disappointed with my first crop, I thought I had done something wrong, but no, I hadn't, just eat what you grow, you will love it anyway.
• Another caution is to make sure your seedlings are healthy to start with and that your soil is fertile and drainage is good. Broccoli may be a cool season crop, but it doesn’t grow well if temperatures drop below 50F. If your broccoli plants form only tiny and unusable heads, this is called ‘buttoning’ and is usually the result of poor root stock, unhealthy seedlings, temperatures that are too low or dry and heavy soil.
• As with other brassicas like cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and kohlrabi, change the soil annually and do not grow the same crop in the same pot – this will help avoid poorer yields and pests. Plan ahead and grow something else in your ex-broccoli pot. If it’s the pot you need, then clean the pot with vinegar water and change the soil completely.
• Broccoli yields two crops per year so growing it in a planter (or container) is worth a try, but don’t let our plants go to flower or you will lose the good value of your broccoli head; you do not want to eat mushy tasteless ‘stuff.’
• There are many varieties of Broccoli, ask your nurseryman for advice as to which ones you would choose for your area. I usually grow Fiesta, and have had good success with them, they look like the broccoli you know – but there are others, so why not be more adventurous than I have been, grow other varieties.
CARROTS are also good for you and me and also easy to grow in pots and containers. Have you seen carrot seeds? They are the tiniest you can imagine, kind of like pinheads only black. I smiled when I first saw them, especially when I realised that all it took was one to produce a fine carrot. Anyway. If you choose to grow your own, you are in line for a real treat and a taste sensation – no sugar or cinnamon will be needed in food preparation that I can tell you for certain.
• Choose a colourful tub trug you can get in any hardware store, and drill around 10 drainage holes in the bottom – or choose a square plastic pot, these are easy to handle and move about if you need to follow the sun for instance.
• Your soil does not have to be rich, so use a combination of general potting soil, some horticultural sand and some organic compost 1 to 1 to 2 parts. Do not use builder’s sand – it is not the same, it has other 'additives' and your gardening will suffer.
• Pot up your tub, start as usual with stones or crocks at the base to help with drainage, then halfway up I add a handful of bone meal, then to the top with the rest of the soil up to about two inches below the top of the pot.
• Use a pencil or your finger to draw lines from one side to the other (see this is why a square pot is easier) and about-nearly an inch deep. These are called drills. Into here you sprinkle your carrot seeds sparingly. Because they are so small, mix them with some sand which will help disperse them more evenly and you can see where you have sown them.
• Gently close them up with the surrounding compost and water using a rose as you do not want to splash so that you displace your seeds. If you are using seedlings bought from the nursery, plant them leaving at least an inch in between plantlets. Water well as soon as you have done this.
• The green feathery carrot tops are pretty anyway, but I have grown marigolds around the edge of my pot OR miniature sweet peas to spill over the side – looks great while I am waiting for my carrots to grow.
• When your seeds have grown to about 2 and a 1/2 inches high, thin them out, leaving a space of an inch plus between them. I use the ‘thinnings’ immediately by adding them to a fresh green salad. Yum.
• Place your tub in a sunny spot, keep them well watered and check drainage all the time, it has to be good. Catch the water in a saucer and use it elsewhere in your container garden.
• There are many different kinds of carrots you can grow so check which ones suit your zone or region or season. Want to be different? See if the variety called ‘Rainbow Mix’ is available for you – then you can grow purple, yellow, orange and white carrots. Only got a window box available? Try ‘Paris Market' They are small round carrots and worth a try too.
• Wait for around 2 and a 1/2 months to harvest, but your carrots will speak to you … when the orange tops begin to show it’s time to pull them.
What do you want your container garden to do?
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