Vegetables and herbs you can easily grow without a garden

When I hit my 30s, I became overwhelmed by the urge to nurture, cherish and protect something as it grew and matured.

It wasn’t a new human life I wanted to create (no, thanks), but a desire to surround myself with greenery and grow my own vegetables and herbs.

I live in an inner-city rental in Hobart with a tiny, mostly paved backyard. Not only do I lack the space for regular garden beds, but as a renter I want to be able to take my hard work with me the next time I move.

Turns out, I’m not the first journalist to get the propagating bug.

About 10 years ago Indira Naidoo took a break from her news career with SBS and ABC and began growing her own food on the balcony of her Potts Point apartment in Sydney.

Her work now involves helping people start their own food gardens using whatever space they have — windowsills, rooftops, courtyards — and wherever.

Her main tip to becoming a potted-plant farmer is to “be brave”. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have a green thumb (yet).

“Even the most experienced gardener will kill things and things will die.”

Knowing that death is a part of all life, here is how you can bring some edible plants to life, with tips from Indira, horticulturalists from the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, and my own experience of failure and success.

Herbs

Parsley growing in a green pot, garden in background blurred.

Basil, thyme, oregano, parsley, coriander, rosemary, dill and mint are all possible to grow in small spaces. But if you’re not sure which herbs to pick, Indira’s advice is to start with something you like to use in cooking.

My go-to is sweet basil. Because Tassie can be a bit cold for basil, I tend to keep my pots in the sunniest spot and make sure I water them daily in summer. Sweet basil can be grown in small pots in a windowsill.

Dill, on the other hand, wilts very quickly in direct sun in a pot, so it should be given a shadier spot. And make sure it doesn’t dry out for long.

Tip: If you buy a bunch of fresh herbs from the supermarket with a bit of root on them, stick them in dirt and they’ll probably keep growing.

Tomatoes

Red tomatoes on the vine sitting on a bench
Image Smaller, bushy tomatoes are best for pots and can be grown on windowsills or outdoors.(ABC Life: Carol Rääbus)

Tomatoes, particularly the smaller varieties such as cherry tomatoes, are one of the most popular pot-grown fruits.

If you’re in the colder states, tomatoes are best planted from November onwards, and stop fruiting around autumn. If you have a tiny plastic hothouse or a really warm sunroom (or, you know, live in Queensland), they can be more of a year-round fruit.

Tip: Tomato plants need lots of sun and water. Those in pots will need to be watered most days. The tomtoms will keep coming if give them a boost of liquid seaweed fertiliser now and then.

Lettuce, spinach, kale and other leafy greens

A bunch of fresh green kale sits on a dark bench
Image Kale grows quickly and can be picked as and when needed.(ABC Life: Carol Rääbus)

Leafy greens are very handy to have growing for a fresh and healthy salad, and are good to start in pots, explains Indira.

Plant loose-leaf varieties for pots, rather than the larger round icebergs and cabbages, as they get a bit crowded in pots.

Tip: Some lettuce varieties can burn in direct sunlight, so putting them in a shadier spot is best. Take off the tops if the plant is going into flower to keep them growing leaves for longer.

Beans and peas

Green beans on a dark bench
Image Beans, beans they’re good for your soil. The more you grow, the less you’ll toil (in the supermarket).(ABC Life: Carol Rääbus)

Beans and peas don’t need much space in the ground — they just need something to grab and grow on.

I’ve grown broad beans, green beans, honey and sugar snap peas in pots with great success and minimal know-how over the years.

Tip: Beans and peas are enthusiastic and will “grab on” to anything near them as they grow, so keep them apart from tomatoes or other tallish plants as they can tangle. You can train them to grow along a balcony rail or up a wall with supports (like netting or trellis).

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