It was 9th January this year when I first launched my Roof Top Veg Plot on an unsuspecting blogosphere. It was the end of February before it was warm enough to get outside and start the reconstruction works on my rooftop. Today, in early June on a balmy afternoon, having eaten the first of the sugar-snap peas for lunch, I realise that this is what it was all about.
The garden looks a picture today. I've got curly lettuces, strong tomatoes in the growhouse and runner beans about to run wild - all in just six inches of soil. (More about soil depth later. )
On the down side Chinese leaves, onions, beet and endive lettuces have all gone to seed and the second crop of radishes have refused to bulb. However I don't think I'm alone in this. I'm just heaving out anything that seeds and replanting.
When I started reading The Square Foot Gardening books I knew that it could not possibly be true. I knew that if you could grow all veg known to man in six inches of soil and within a tight square foot cube, then farmers wouldn't bother with fields!
So what tips have I learned?
Water, Water, Water
Fortunately we have had a wet spring, but in small containers you can forget the adage, one big drench a week. In the potager I need to water everyday and often twice a day, even when it rains!
And despite the fact that I'm growing in a brand new compost mix, I'm now starting to feed weekly as well.
Think Potager - not Prairy
The real revelation came to me as I was searching the Internet for plant spacing. I came across the French potager en carré movement - and that's been revelatory. Trust the French to have been doing this for ages and to have got a bit more sophisticated than the Yanks.
I suppose that it goes without saying that in small spaces it's best to use small varieties, but it's taken me a while to twig. Also of course if you plant out two seedling, one in a big space and confine the other, the cramped cousin will grow smaller. However the titch is also more likely to crop more quickly and produce tastier, if smaller veg.
This means that choice of cultivars or varieties is much more important to me, than the average allotment grower. For example, I'm growing Paris Market 5 carrots, which are small and round as well as Annabel radishes, which are also very fast growing, as red as ruby lipstick and, yes you've guessed it, small and round. Is it a coincidence that both these varieties sound French?
Specials not Mains
Stands to reason then that with limited space I should go for special things. So I've planted four different tubs of early potatoes and I have a sneaking suspicion that they are almost ready.
I've grown a whole mélange of different salad crops and for about a month now we've been eating every lunch time salad from our garden. In fact, we have been getting at least one full and interesting bowl of salad a day, and still it's difficult to keep up!
Another tip for the intrepid potager is to eat the whole plant. My first plantings of Mizuna and Rocket (planted indoors back in January) have both gone to seed, but the flowers, as well as attracting insects, are just as delightful in salads as the leaves. Because the produce is fresh, there is far less wastage than with supermarket produce.
Size isn't Everything
My Pak Choi went to seed because I was waiting for the heads to get bigger! Another lesson learned. In a confined space they won't grow as big as on the supermarket shelf, so pick a day or two earlier - don't wait too long.
Sow, Sow and Sow Again
I've become quite a fan of succession sewing. Sometimes a sewing will not produce. For example my radishes. But I just sewed another sprinkle of seeds elsewhere and this third crop is plumping nicely. Similarly I've had excellent results with the small crinkly lettuce Salad Bowl, which I've got now in red and green and at various stages of growth.
Some of this veg crop looks as good as it tasted, but I've planted the odd companion, in order to brighten up the beds. Edible flowers like nasturtiums should look great. In other places I've chosen veg varieties which sport good flowers. For example, the runner beans are Red Emperor, which will, I hope give me and the bees an eyeful of zingy red flowers some time soon. This strategy has certainly started to attract wildlife. Despite the fact that I'm five floors up, there is generally a bee of some type buzzing around when the sun's out and I've been spotting the first ladybirds this week. I even spied a cabbage white butterfly the other day. (Now I thought that we'd be too high for them at least!)