As the season is well advanced now it is satisfying to see good growth on plants which were potted-on into generous sized Air-Pot containers earlier this year. Two plants I wanted for their striking foliage are well on the way to becoming dramatic specimens. An Agave filamentosa has formed a neat rosette of variegated spears and a Phormium is developing an interesting stripy bronze fan, both of these will be exciting shapes and colours to have around the garden, especially in winter when there is little leafiness or colour.
A little collection of potted Canna Lily have all thrown up dense thickets of stems; moving them into bigger pots has resulted in vigorous multiplying shoots and lots of blooms. Usually Canna are grown from rhizomes, but a few seed saved last year and sown in February have formed many shoots and surprisingly have flowered after just a few months.
A young olive tree started in a 1 litre Air-Pot has doubled in size since being moved into a 3 litre earlier this year and has a good sturdy shape with dark green healthy looking leaves. Another much older olive tree recently moved into an Extra-Large 38 litre Air-Pot has produced a huge number of flowers for a container grown tree. This veteran plant seems determined to produce olives this year but I fear it will soon run out of summer, so ripe olives are unlikely. Good to see it attempting to procreate though.
Another tree trying to fruit is a citrus called Yuzu, apparently this is grown in Japan where winters can be cold so perhaps ripe fruit in Scotland is possible.
A late sowing of New Zealand Spinach produced little plants which were set in a large Air-Pot in late July. By late August the plants had filled the pot and provided enough greenery for a good amount of spinach and made a paneer curry. It is continuing to grow fast and a week later is ready to pick again. This is a tender plant so it will be interesting to see how well it can grow into the cooler end of the season.
July and August is when lots of the crops in pots start to yield good pickings. The thing I am most excited about is the amount of carrots produced in one 20 litre Air-Pot (3.2kg / 7lb). The seed was sown in Spring in a shed, which meant the soil temperature was warmer and drier; once past the early vulnerable stage the pot was left outside and well watered. I did not even thin the seedlings which would have given each root room to grow bigger. They seemed to reach a useful size despite the overcrowding and best of all the carrots were absolutely perfect with no carrot root fly damage or forked roots. I have immediately followed this success with a late sowing and in future will aim for a succession of carrot pots.
The runner beans in a pot are looking good and producing pods. Many beanstalks can grow huge and require substantial supports, which is awkward in a pot and liable to blow over, so I selected a dwarf variety named Hestia which has been very well behaved reaching only 60cm in height. About a dozen plants in a large Air-Pot with a few sticks for support have been covered in pretty red and white flowers for weeks and will now give plenty of beans for the kitchen. It is easy to end up with a glut of runners and as they are not something I love enough to freeze it is quite a relief to just have a potful rather than a wigwam load.
There is so much fresh growth on the Air-Pot herbs I thought it would be good to preserve some as a herb salt, I gathered a big bowlful of mixed herbs; oregano, chives, sage, rosemary, lovage, tarragon plus some chilli, celery, lemon zest, spring onion, seaweed and garlic granules. This was all dried, ground and blended with salt to make a tasty flavour enhancer.
Once again the hydrangeas on the doorstep are a mass of pink, they are several years old and are now thriving in the 20 litre size Air-Pot. They could be potted-on into the 38 litre extra large size but they then become rather heavy to move, It is nice being able to easily shift the pots into a prominent position when they are at their best, I find the 20 litre (large) is most useful when juggling pots, the 38 litre (extra large) good as a final home. Sometimes you have to concede that a plant is just too big to contain, my banana plant grew so quickly in a series of Air-Pot containers that eventually it outgrew the extra large size and was planted outdoors in the ground, it is now over 3 metres tall and has survived a Scottish winter.
The Air-Pot garden is growing fast now we have long days and warmer temperatures. The mange tout pea Shiraz have proved to be well suited to container growing. They were easy to keep neatly trained onto their tipi and stayed at a manageable height of about 1 metre. Next I am going to try Sugar Snap peas.
The mixed pot of spinach and kale provided a long period of useful greens and was pretty enough to have prominently on display, the Red Russian kale variety has very ornamental frilly leaves. These good looking kales are something to sow now to plant out at the end of summer as they are hardy enough to grow on into the winter.
There has been lots of potting-on to do of various perennial plants which are going to stay in containers long term. Some plants which do not need moving into bigger pots quite yet still need a bit of attention. Compost levels settle over time in any container and it is well worth taking the opportunity to top-dress. I remove any moss and mould from the surface and press down firmly around the edge, this makes space for about 5cm of fresh compost and a sprinkling of chicken manure pellets.
Before and after of a small apple tree that I grew from a pip. The second picture shows the top-dressed pot with the Air-Pot container correctly filled to near the rim.
The Bulgarian Giant leeks which were sown thinly directly into an Air-Pot in winter have now been planted out on the plot, they were considerably fatter than the grass-like scraps I have planted some years.
The greenhouse cucumber plants have gone into their final pots, I have one in a 20 litre and another in a 9 litre just to see how this affects yield and growth. I am trying the variety Carmen this year after seeing that it wins most of the top prizes at vegetable growing contests.
Now that there is more light and warmth, plants that were sown when the world seemed deep frozen are really putting on lush new growth. An experiment to try to produce a steady supply of veg from just a few pots is looking good and we have a cluster of five Air-Pot containers bursting with healthy foliage. A couple of Air-Pot potato towers have been planted with early and main crop varieties; these had an early start in a bright frost-free shed, so should be ready to harvest soon.They will then be immediately replanted with a follow on crop.
In the three large 20 litre Air-Pot containers are: a mixed planting of spinach and kale, mange tout peas clambering up canes, and early maturing carrots. The spinach and kale combo is ready for picking now and will provide a few super fresh leaves every morning, giving fruit smoothies a vitamin boost. They will crop for many weeks.
A selection of seedlings are coming along on windowsills and in the greenhouse so that when the plants currently in the large pots have finished there are plants ready to fill the gaps. Dwarf beans, tomatoes and chillies are possible replacement crops. More kale is also on hand in a small seed tray.
I have started some leeks in an Air-Pot seed tray which are very sturdy and ready to plant out into the ground. The usual advice is to plant out when the plants are about the thickness of a pencil, mine are fat Sharpie Magic Markers so clearly happy.
One litre Air-Pot propagation pots have proved useful for starting off a crate exhibition onions and some broccoli plants. I was pleased to find a plastic carrier tray free from the Ikea houseplant department that is perfect for six prop pots. A small wick made from a strip of capillary mat poked through the pot base is a very easy way to keep six pots watered from below.
If you are an optimist you might dare to hope that the coldest days of winter are past. There are certainly more daylight hours, so if you can provide a bit of warmth and protection it is time to get a few plants off to an early start. I have sown some radish, and a salad rocket named Va-va-voom, indoors in Air-Pot seed trays, and then moved them to an unheated greenhouse now they have germinated. So soon we should be eating the first salad crops of the year.
Some Air-Pot potato towers have been half filled with compost and planted with chitted tubers. I have put them in a frost-free shed and as shoots emerge earth will be added to cover them. When the pots are full and the leaves are showing above ground, they will go into a greenhouse and watering tubes made from plastic bottles installed. This will allow thorough watering right into the core of the pot. I am hoping for really useful quantities of potatoes from a small area. Plenty of water and nutrients should ensure good harvests and we will be trying for two crops, one after the other in the same pots. I have high hopes for the superb Double Strength Dalefoot Compost which forms the bulk of the potato growing medium.This is a peat-free organic product made from sheep’s wool and bracken and contains a high level of long lasting nutrients.
I have planted out some garlic on the plot that was started in one litre Air-Pot propagation pots. Protection from the worst of the winter wet and cold has produced heathy young plants, that are definitely looking much better than my usual bedraggled Autumn planted ones.
When garlic and shallots are planted in normal pots or modules the roots quickly become congested, so it was good to see the roots were nicely dispersed through the compost in the Air-Pot containers.
A very mild end of the year has meant the last of the tomatoes and chillies have only just been picked and are overlapping with some early sowing for next year. Various bulbs like shallots and tulips have been planted in pots ready to push forth; in fact some green shoots are already showing. But the main event at this time of year is sowing of onion seed. It may seem early to start onion but I have managed to get some seed from prize-winning strains of heavy onions and to stand a chance of growing into really heavy bulbs they need an early start. I don’t expect to break any records but I know the heaviest onion and leek at the last Harrogate Flower Show were grown in Air-Pot containers, so I am keen to see how big I can grow.
Only moderate heat is needed to get onion and leek seed germinated and once growing they can tolerate quite cool conditions, what the young plants do need is high light levels. A lot more than we have naturally during the gloomy short winter days we are experiencing, so I have dusted off a couple of fluorescent tube fittings for the plants. It is well worth rigging up a well lit sowing station and this set-up is not expensive, I had a couple of salvaged three foot long tube fittings and bought Gro-Lux T5 tubes which emit the wavelength of light needed for plant growth. A simple reflector can be made by glueing aluminium foil to hardboard then the whole contraption needs to be suspended over the seed trays. Using two chains attached to overhead hooks allows the height to be adjusted, the light should be as close to the plants as possible. A big piece of silver Mylar can be draped over the fitting (I used a survival poncho) hanging down both sides of the growing area to create a mini grow tent. A length of cord between the chains can be strung across to form a sort of “clothes-line” for the Mylar. This maintains a space between the Mylar and the light fitting. It is probably better not to have the reflective sheet directly wrapping over the back of the light just in case this causes overheating. My single 30 Watt tube generates a gentle heat which the plants enjoy, but never enclose any light fitting which generates a lot of heat.
The onion plants are getting 24 hour a day light for now, once they are well established and potted-up individually a timer will give a more natural day / night cycle. Germination in the small Air-Pot trays has been very good and I feel the roots will develop well in these for quite a while, but I know the top growers separate plants into individual pots soon after germination. So the best plants will be potted-on individually, but many others will stay hugger-mugger in their trays until they can be planted in the ground. After onions are moved-on of course a warm brightly lit space can be useful for getting a succession of seedlings off to a good start, such as Spring sowings of chillies, peppers, squashes and tomatoes.
I am pleased to see that my Christmas tree in an Extra-Large Air-Pot has survived another year and is pressing up at the glass at the back of the house keen to come inside for the Festive Season, this will be its forth year with us.
The end of the growing season seems to be extending later than I’ve ever known; after a few cool spells we have had pretty mild conditions. I still have ripe raspberries, I even have ripe outdoor tomatoes here in Scotland in mid November. In previous years I’ve known tomatoes to freeze solid in mid October. Lots of the chillies are still ripening including an accidental cross which has produced lots of attractive hot yellow pods. I saved seeds from a typical red podded piri-piri chilli plant a couple of years ago, but the plant which grew from that seed last year was a bit off type, and seed saved from that plant has now produced pods completely the wrong colour.
But it is a great grower with bigger pods than its Grandma, so I made a batch of piri-piri sauce which was excellent on chicken wings. I expect the original true Portuguese piri-piri plant crossed with some yellow podded chilli in the greenhouse such as Bulgarian Carrot. I like the very erect tall habit of the new plant, which comes from the piri-piri genes, and the big pod is much easier to de-seed than the little piri-piri ones. It will be interesting to see how the next generation turns out.
Talking of chilli seed, I did a little viability test of some saved seed, mainly to check the quality of the seed, some of which was rather old, but with an idea that I might get a few plants established extra early. I put a few seeds into folded moist paper towel, in a plastic container in the airing cupboard. After just four days the Nigel’s Outdoors chilli seeds are the first to germinate. As they have proved so keen to get growing, and they are usually about my earliest to ripen, I will get them into soil and hope for super precocious ripe pods.Thinking ahead to next year spurred me to do some Autumn planting of bulbs. After clearing most of the greenhouse plants out I planted up some of the bigger vacated pots with tulips and muscari (grape hyacinth), I look forward to these providing a bit of Spring colour.
Also, a lot of garlic cloves and shallot bulbs have been started in 1 litre Air-Pot propagation pots. Many people start these straight into the ground but I have had problems on the plot with rot over winter, so I will try starting in pots, and will move them under glass during wet spells. Eschalote Grise the prized French shallot has completely failed previously when outside through a Scottish winter, the good drainage in the pots should give these fickle French alliums a better chance.