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Easy Peasy Gardening

 

Easy Peasy Gardening is just a cute term for growing herbs and leafy vegetables in compost-filled containers, thus eliminating the time spent digging and weeding. It reduces work to a bare minimum, and is ideal for kids, working folks and anyone else who can’t face the work of normal gardening tasks.

lettuce in an easy peasy garden  Corriander in pots as part of an easy peasy garden

An Easy Peasy Garden with oriental leaves, lettuces and coriander – ideal for kids, working families and anyone else who wants to take the work out of growing salads.

 

Sea Spring Seeds' varieties suitable for Easy Peasy Gardening are identified in our seed shop by the acronym 'EPG'.The ones we recommend are both productive and easy to grow. In addition, they have the following qualities:

  • They can be grown in containers without tying, training or special handling.
  • Many are adapted to growing both outdoors (when it is warmer) and inside a tunnel, greenhouse or cold frame (when it is colder).
  • They can be direct seeded, bypassing the need for transplants.
  • They are fast growers, so there is relatively little waiting time for the first harvest.
  • Most can be harvested two or three times from a single sowing. 

Keeping an Easy Peasy Garden is a doddle: after choosing a container and filling it with compost, just sow, water, fertilise and harvest. To make things even simpler, you can put the containers on a patio table on your patio – then you won’t even have to bend over to do your jobs.

How to start and maintain an Easy Peasy Garden

  • Garden placement

Where you place your garden is essential to its success, and there are a few considerations to make when the time comes for choosing a site:

• A sunny spot, protected from the wind, is best. It is not, however, disastrous if the plants are shaded for part of the day – most of the Easy Peasy Gardening varieties are leafy crops and will do fine if they don’t get the sun all day.

• Close to a water source. Dry compost is the biggest threat to the success of the garden, so the closer the garden is to a water source, the easier it will be to keep the compost damp.

• Near the house. Though not a top priority, if the garden is close to the house, you can keep a closer eye on it and give it better care. As the saying goes, ‘Out of sight, out of mind’, and this applies to gardening as much as anything.

  • Choosing a container

There are no hard and fast rules for what makes the ideal container for Easy Peasy Gardening, and, in fact, almost anything can be used as long as it holds compost. There are, however, a few general guidelines that should be followed:

• The container must be the right depth. If it is too shallow, the compost fills up with roots and dries out too quickly; if it is too deep, then compost is wasted. We feel a container around 13–15cm deep is about right.

• It must have holes in the bottom for drainage.

• If plastic, it should be UV stabilised, otherwise it quickly deteriorates in the sun – possibly after a year.

Our current favourites are narrow, rectangular-shaped, window box type troughs that measure about 14cm deep and 13cm wide. Their narrow width makes harvesting easy, and they are deep enough for the plants to grow without drying out too quickly. They also come in different lengths, making them suitable for most garden situations. Some brands, too, come with custom-made trays in which the troughs can be put – these can be filled with water on hot, dry days to keep the compost moist (see ‘Watering the garden’ below).

various plant pots to chose from

Rectangular-shaped window box type troughs (left) are our current favourite for Easy Peasy Gardening. Pots (right) use more compost than necessary.

  • Choosing the compost

Once the containers are chosen, it is then a matter of filling them with an appropriate growing medium. Garden soil does work, but we do not recommend it since soil makes the pots heavy and contains weed seeds, creating unnecessary work. You could try using home made compost from your compost heap (provided you have one), but so far we haven’t enough experience to confidently recommend its use.

Given the shortcomings of soil and the uncertainty of home-made compost, commercially-made compost from the garden centre is probably your easiest and safest bet. Even then, there are decisions to make – because of issues concerning habitat destruction and carbon footprint we suggest avoiding peat-based composts. Instead, the best options are the ones made from composted green waste – these are lightweight, weed free and peatless. Try the so-called multipurpose mix, a jack-of-all-trades that works for Easy Peasy Gardening. Our preferred brand at the moment is New Horizon Organic Peat Free, but there are other makes that should do just as well.

  • Sowing and establishment

Properly managed, an Easy Peasy Garden can provide salads year round. It can be established both outdoors during the warmer part of the year and inside a tunnel, greenhouse or cold frame for the colder months. Seasonal differences in temperature, day length and light levels affect plant growth, and for each crop, there is a range of dates when it is best to sow (see ‘Growing each crop’ below).

To start the garden, fill each container with compost. The compost should be moist, but not too wet. Pack it down, putting in enough to come within 25mm or so of the top. Smooth out the surface, and you’re ready for sowing.

The seeds can be sown in orderly rows, but this is an unnecessary inconvenience. Instead, evenly scatter the seed on the surface of the compost, taking care to include the edges and, for square or rectangular containers, in the corners.

lettuce seeds ready for sowing sowing lettuce seed in an easy peasy garden

Lettuce seed (left); sowing lettuce seed on compost (right).

The amount of seed you sow depends on the variety (see ‘Individual crops’ below for details). But remember, always sow a little more than necessary, as not all the seed will germinate.

After sowing, cover the seed with more compost and gently pack it down. The depth the seed should be buried depends on the size of the seed and varies according to the crop (see ‘Individual crops’, below).

When the seeds are covered over, gently water the surface of the compost. See ‘Watering’ below for techniques. After germination, thin the seedlings to their correct spacing if they are too close together.

Avoid the temptation of mixing seeds of different varieties. Every variety has its own unique germination and bolting time, and it is better to grow each one in a separate container.

Watering

Vegetables that are grown in containers need to be watered more often than those growing in the ground. The objective of watering – best done with a hosepipe or watering can – is to keep the compost damp without drowning the seeds and plants. Generally it will need to be done once a day, though this might have to be more often on sunny days in the summer.

  • Germination and seedling establishment

The crops are most vulnerable to drying out during the germinating and seedling stage. Compost dries from the top down, and extra care must be taken to ensure the surface of the compost remains moist. If the weather is cool or cloudy, or if someone is home during the day to water, there should be no problem. If no one is around and the weather is hot, you could water in the morning before leaving and in the evening when returning home. However, if the compost still dries out, you may need to shade the containers to reduce moisture loss. This is effectively done using a couple of simple techniques:

• Keep the containers in a shady spot – under a table, tree or patio umbrella will do. When the seedlings begin to emerge, move them into the sun.

• Cover individual containers with newspaper. This is just another way of shading the compost and keeping the surface moist. The newspaper can be held in place with clothes pegs so that it doesn’t blow away in the wind. After two or three days, start checking for germination, and when the first seedlings appear, take the paper off.

Newspaper clipped on top of pot to keep moisture in

Newspaper can be used to keep the compost damp during the germination phrase.

As the seeds germinate, the roots of the seedlings grow downward into the compost, searching for water.

  • Growing plants

As the seeds germinate, the roots of the seedlings grow downward into the compost, searching for water. At this stage it is less critical if the surface of the compost dries out, although the compost must still be moist around the roots.

To keep moisture levels up, put the containers in shallow trays filled with water. The compost acts as a wick, taking in the water through the drainage holes in the bottom of the container. You can often buy custom-made trays that fit specific containers, though you can also try mixing and matching odd bits to get the right combination. To give the system a little more buffer, a piece of capillary matting can be put in the bottom of the tray.

Window box container with a tray to keep the water level

Seedlings of Salad Bowl lettuce in a window box trough and using a tray for maintaining the water level of the compost.

Putting the containers on trays only works if a couple of rules are followed:

  • During rainy spells, take the containers out of the trays so that they don’t get waterlogged.
  • Use only shallow trays so that the plants don’t sit in deep water and die.

 

Fertilising

Commercial composts come ready-mixed with fertiliser, and there is enough to last two, maybe three weeks, before it is depleted. After that, extra nutrients must be added to keep the ‘garden’ going. The easiest way to supply the nutrients is as a liquid feed poured into the compost. You can choose between organic and conventional formulations, though whichever you use, try to go for one that is high in nitrogen. They are sold at all garden centres in both powder and liquid forms, and because they are concentrated, they will need to be diluted in water before they can be used. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for dilution rates and frequency of application.

 

Harvesting the crops

Harvesting the crop is payback for the investment you have put into the garden. Leafy crops can often be harvested two or more times, simply by cutting above the growing point, giving the plants a chance to produce more leaves. As a rule of thumb, cut about 1–2cm above the level of the compost. For more information on the growing point and cut-and-grow-again harvesting click here.

Red Salad Bowl lettuces leaves being harvested under a cut and come again harvest system Red Knight mizuna on its second regrowth after a cut and come again harvest 

Red Salad Bowl lettuce leaves being harvested above the growing point so the plant will produce more leaves; Red Knight mizuna regrowing after a harvest.

Leafy crops, unfortunately, do not go on forever, and at some stage the plant starts producing a flowering stem. This is called bolting, and it puts a quick stop to the productive life of the crop. Bolting is a fact of life in leafy crops, and if you want a continuous supply of leaves, new sowings must be made periodically throughout the growing season.

 

Managing individual crops

Outdoor lettuces

Lettuces are often the backbone of mixed salads, and with their range of textures and colours, they can determine a salad’s character. They are easy to grow, and with continuous sowings, outdoor crops can be harvested for six months or more. In an Easy Peasy Garden, they are cut as ‘baby’ leaves – up to 15cm tall.

Which types: Use both leafy and cos lettuces. Both are excellent, and the cos types won’t form heads when grown close together.

Sowing depth: Lettuce seed are small, with about 1000 seeds per gram. Given their size, they should be sowed quite shallowly – about 3 to 6mm deep is about right.

Sowing temperature: Optimum is 18 - 21ºC, though seeds will germinate well below optimum. Avoid temperatures above 25ºC.

Sowing dates:

  • For early crops: Sow seed under cover from mid-February to mid-March, using compost-filled troughs or pots – these are then transferred outside when the seedlings are established and the weather warms up.
  • For main crops: Sow seed outside from late March to late July.
  • For late crops: Sow seed outside from early to mid-August sowings made outside, though the plants may need to be put under cover if the weather turns cold.

 What to do: Broadcast the seed quite densely.

Distance between plants: After they emerge, thin out the seedlings to leave about 2 to 4cm between each one.

Harvesting: Harvest when the plants are 10 to 15cm tall, leaving a 1 to 2cm stump to regrow.

Watering: Keep the compost moist at all times by placing the containers in trays – this maintains a resevoir of water that will see the plants through dry spells.

Fertilising: Feed the plants with liquid fertiliser about 2 or 3 weeks after sowing. Fertilise again at least once after the first harvest, though it is difficult to say when exactly is the best time: this depends on the growth rate of the plants, intensity of the rainfall and frequency of watering.

Problems: Lettuces are afflicted by thermodormancy and downy mildew. For more information on these and other problems click here.

Red Salad Bowl lettuce in an easy peasy garden

Red Salad Bowl lettuce ready for cutting in an Easy Peasy Garden.

 

Oriental leaves and mustards

As members of the brassica family, oriental leaves and mustards are quick to germinate and produce a crop. They can be grown outdoors from summer to autumn, and undercover through the winter.

Which types: Chinese cabbage, komatsuna, mizuna, mustard, pak choi, and tatsoi.

Sowing depth: 5 to 6mm

Sowing temperatures: Wide range, from 10 to 30ºC

Sowing dates: 

  • For very early crops: sow in March and April undercover, leaving the crop there for its duration. The plants may bolt prematurely from such an early sowing, but decent harvests are still possible before this happens.
  • For early crops: Sow in May undercover, then put the containers outdoors when the weather turns warm – from the beginning of June is about right. As with the very early crops, plants may bolt prematurely, but decent harvests are still possible.
  • For main crops: Sow outdoors from June to August, and keep outdoors. Later sowings may need to go undercover if the weather turns cold in the autumn.
  • For overwintering crops: Sow undercover in the first half of September and keep there for the duration of the crop.

What to do: Broadcast the seed quite densely in compost filled troughs or pots.

Distance between plants: After they emerge, thin out the seedlings to leave about 2 to 4cm between each one.

Harvesting: Harvest when the plants are 10 to 15cm tall, leaving a 1 to 2cm stump to regrow.

Watering: Keep the compost from drying out by watering the containers from above with a hosepipe or watering can. For extra protection, the containers can be placed in shallow trays filled with water – this maintains a reservoir of moisture that will last for days.

Fertilising: Outdoor crops will need to be fertilised with a liquid feed two to three weeks after sowing. This may provide enough nutrients to see the crop through, but keep an eye on the slower bolting varieties – they go on producing for a longer time and may need an extra application.

Crops grown undercover during the winter can be fertilised less frequently than those grown outdoors in the summer and autumn. Therefore, use a light hand, and avoid the temptation to over fertilise – not only is it a waste of nutrients, but you could also contribute to an accumulation of nitrates in the plants.

Growing advice: Outdoor crops are subject to flea beetle and caterpillar attacks. Cover the plants with either fleece or environmesh to protect them.

  mizuna growing  

Young leaves of Broadleaved Mizuna in an Easy Peasy Garden.

Coriander and dill

Though these annual herbs are normally associated with ethnic cooking, their strong flavours also add a distinctive note to salads of any kind. They are, alas, quite quick to bolt, so sow a little and often throughout the growing season.

Sowing dates: March to September.

Sowing depth: 12mm deep.

What to do: Broadcast the seed quickly thickly.

Distance between plants: 2–3cm apart.

Harvesting: Harvest when plants are between 8–15cm tall. Cut above the growing tips to allow regrowth – this should be about 1–2cm above the height of the compost.

Growing advice: Even after the plants bolt, individual leaves can be picked from the flowering stem to extend the harvest.

Coriander in an easy peasy garden

Coriander var. Santos in an Easy Peasy Garden ready for its first cut.

 

 

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