Northern gardeners will be seeing signs of growth now that the winter is nearly over. With some forward planning the Air-Pot containers which were full of summer crops all those months ago can be useful during this quiet time .
I have some iris, tulips and muscari bulbs coming to life which will give some colour, and little Walking Onions which will be good for salads. These onions (a.k.a. Egytptian or Tree Onions) produce small bulblets similar to little onion sets high on the flower stalk. These can be planted in the Autumn to provide a big pot full of Spring green onions. Elephant Garlic is another edible bulb which I have in Air-Pot containers. The 1 litre Prop Pots are perfect to get them off to a good start prior to planting out on the plot as the roots do not get congested, as they do in a conventional pot.
Christmas trees in pots stand a good chance of surviving until next festive season if they are well watered. Surprisingly conifer roots are actively growing now and many Christmas Trees sold in pots have had their roots hacked about, so watering and feeding will be crucial until they have recovered. My tree is now in an Extra Large Air-Pot and has been our Christmas companion for four years.
Potatoes can be planted now if you are prepared to protect shoots from frost. Three tubers in a 50 litre Air-Pot Potato Tower can produce several kilograms of extra early potatoes in a greenhouse. This year as an experiment one Potato Tower has been wrapped with sturdy bubble wrap to create an individual mini greenhouse and to ward off hard frosts which might penetrate the soil.
The tomatoes and peppers have all done well in Air-Pot containers but are now nearly all finished. Maskotka is an early ripening sprawling type of cherry tomato which looked good on the patio as well as providing good eating.
The yellow piripiri was the most productive of the chilli varieties, it is an accidental cross between a red piripiri and some unknown father.
A batch of hot sauce made from a mix of peppers and chillies has just gone into bottles and is tasting good. This sauce is a Sriracha style, which means it was fermented with lots of garlic, and the heat is down to family friendly levels; a warming condiment for the winter ahead.
Raspberry plants do not generally grow well in pots long term, but some Autumn fruiting canes which are temporarily in an Air-Pot container have provided quite a few bonus berries. It might even be possible to keep them fruiting for longer by moving into the greenhouse. Now the tomatoes are cleared out there are a few things which might extend their cropping season by coming under cover.
Colder weather is threatening some of the more tender plants such as the lemon grass, which was grown from seed this year. It has formed a good clump in an Air-Pot and is big enough to provide some leaves for flavouring curries. To get the tender inner stems which are the most flavoursome it needs to continue growing into next year. So the pot will be moved into frost-free quarters for the winter.
A pot full of Garlic Chives is dividing and flowering well after being rescued from an overgrown veg patch. Most alliums seem to thrive in the free draining conditions provided by an Air-Pot. Garlic Chives can actually bulk up to the size of baby leeks when they are happy, so potentially they can be more than just a garnish, and be used in stir-fries or as a filling for dumplings.
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.