This Spring I’ve been building on my back yard gardening ideas from last year but to make sure there’s always colour in my yard – regardless of whether the plants thrive or fail – I’ve also gone in for a bit of yard yarn bombing this growing season too.
This Summer the willow garden screens are going to support the nasturtiums I have sown in their fabric growbags in some of my upcycled air-pruning plant pots. The fabric growbags and air-pruning plant pots have been made the same way as last year.
If you’re interested in seeing how I made these upcycled air-pruning plant pots you can see the process here and here.
Keeping with the rustic woven willow theme, I’ve added a large basket planter on the outside wall of my yard, overlooking the street.
The basket frame is made from green hazel rods, carefully bent around into an oval shape and fastened with some brightly coloured crochet chains. I added some thinner willow rods that I had to hand to make the top half of the basket. I plan to finish off the weaving with some green willow rods at some later time.
I then lined the basket planter with a sliced-open empty plastic compost sack and I filled up the basket with a soil and potting compost mix. I used some soil to create weight in the base of the basket and also because the soil will help to retain water better than just potting compost alone. My old-fashioned ‘Johnny-jump-up’ violas had grown on well from sowing at the end of March and were just beginning to flower when I planted them out into the new hazel and willow basket planter on my back yard wall. I do think the violas look lovely with their little purple faces nodding in the breeze.
With so little growing space, I’ve gone further overboard with vertical gardening this year in my back yard gardening, with a new plant shelf to take more advantage of the fence area that sees plenty of light and sunshine.
This new plant shelf is now home to pots of dwarf dahlias, which are growing on well since I potted up my seedlings, and some irises that don’t seem to be growing on too well at all just yet. To secure the pots onto the shelf, I devised a strong crochet plant pot sling and crafted these in different colours to give this new growing area an instant colour splash.
As I was watering my pots yesterday, I was excited to see the first dahlia flower bud appearing on one of my plants … I will be watching and waiting – what colour will it be!
Growing green beans in Autumn has been a first for me this year. Buoyed by the success of my initial air-pruning planting experiment earlier in the Summer, I was keen to keep up my air-pruning experimenting momentum.
Here in northern England we would normally sow green beans in May and harvest them through July and August. I decided to sow my green beans in early August and see what happened.
The beans I am growing are “Primavera”, which is what we call a French bean – a long,thin and round stringless green bean. As I was growing my plants indoors, the variety I’ve chosen is a dwarf bean – the plants only grow around 2 feet high (60cm). In my earlier post I showed you how I’d sown the beans in their upcycled air-pruning plant pots and their progress up to the end of September. So, how have they fared in the last month?
On 29th September the two plants in the more successful of the two plant pots had grown to their full height and there were several promising-looking green beans on these plants. I decided to give them another week of growing time before my first ‘harvest’ on 7th October, almost exactly two months after sowing. After I’d picked my first beans, there were still several developing beans left on the plants, plus there were now a few beans growing on the plants in the second plant pot. The two plants in the second plant pot have never quite caught up with the plants in the first pot. In my earlier post I explained that light levels were the issue that made the difference between the two sets of plants. The plants have been growing in a bright, west-facing window.
If you’ve grown beans before, you’ll know that regular harvesting normally encourages more beans to grow. I kept the plants well-watered and fed with my ‘Magic Potion’ Comfrey feed and this has kept the developing beans growing well. However, since early October, a few colder nights seemed to begin impacting on the foliage and also killed off the remaining flowers. I began covering the glass of the window each night with some recycled packaging I had to hand. I noticed the green beans on the plants seemed to be growing quite slowly now, although we have had a lot of sunny and warm days in October this year.
Two weeks later, on 22 October, I ‘harvested’ the second handful of green beans, including a couple from the less successful plants in the second plant pot. I would certainly say that whilst I am pleased that at least some beans did grow on all of the plants, the plants haven’t exactly been prolific! Quite a number of small flower buds developed but then fell off before flowering properly. I don’t see these as problems with the Primavera bean plants themselves, nor the fact the plants have been indoors in air-pruning plant pots, but rather that green bean plants are not built to withstand cooler temperatures.
To an extent this was not an unexpected outcome to my Autumn bean growing experiment. In the past, in my eagerness to get things growing in Spring, I’ve sown bean plants too early in May and had them fail because the temperature was too low. Getting the plants to germinate seems relatively easy, but it does seem the weather needs to be warm enough during the day and night to enable the bean plants to be productive. I’m pleased to say the Parsley, Thyme and Sage herb plants that I grew from seed this Spring and that have accompanied the green bean plants on the same window ledge are continuing to flourish.
I shall try sowing some more of the Primavera dwarf green bean seeds next May and see how they do in Summer … making sure I don’t sow them before it’s warm enough of course!
With all of these green beans and green herbs, I decided to link this post to Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week, on the theme of ‘green’. Do take a look at the wonderful greens others have found for the challenge.
How well will Dwarf Green Beans grow in Autumn here in northern England? Our main growing season here is during Spring and Summer, but I’ve read a few articles about gardening people trying to extend the productive season for vegetables.
With this idea in mind and following on from my air-pruning plant pot experimenting over the Summer, I’ve decided to try out my next experiment – growing Dwarf Green Beans in Autumn.
I’d read that the particular strain of bean I have chosen to plant can germinate at temperatures as low as 7 degrees Celsius. Having said that, I intended carrying out my Autumn bean-growing experiment indoors, partly because I anticipated a better crop of beans from a warmer environment and partly because I expect the snails with which I share my back yard would find green beans irresistible!
My choice of bean is the variety “Primavera” from D.T. Brown’s seed merchants, a dwarf pencil podded French Bean. As I was looking to grow my plants indoors, I needed compact plants that would only grow to about 2 feet/60 cm in height. “Primavera” is highlighted in the catalogue as a D.T. Brown’s Choice vegetable and is expected to crop heavily in normal conditions. This variety is also advertised as being weather-resistant and having good disease resistance, so I was hopeful that I’d made a good choice.
I sowed two beans in general purpose compost in each of my air-pruning plant pots on 9th August. Just eight days later I was delighted to see the first three beans had germinated and the fourth bean germinated the following day. I kept the plants well-watered and placed them on a fairly sunny and bright west-facing window ledge.
By 12th September I noticed the first tiny beans had begun to develop on the plant furthest to the left in the photos.
By 22nd September I was amazed to count 16 beans on this first plant but sadly there were none to see on the two plants in the right-hand plant pot. I observed that although flowers were forming on the plants in the right-hand pot they did not seem to be growing properly. I decided to move the right-hand plant pot and leave a good space between the pots to allow more light to reach these so-far-unproductive bean plants. Within five days of moving this pot I spotted a couple of tiny beans beginning to develop on these plants.
The beans on the first-cropping and most productive plant have progressed well. I photographed them on 25th September and again today, 29th September. Some of the beans are starting to fill out a little now too … not long before the first few will be ready to pick!
When I checked on my bean plants today, 29th September, I noted a couple of yellow leaves. I haven’t fed the bean plants up to this point but I shall start adding some of my Comfrey “magic potion” when I water the plants now.
We had some dull, damp and misty weather earlier this month but the last week has been much sunnier with some very warm days. As temperatures cool, I shall have to see how my Autumn-grown green beans continue to grow in their air-pruning plant pots. I shall let you know.
When I put them outside in the middle of May, the plants only just reached up far enough out of their pots for me to encourage the shoots to set off on their journey up the jute and willow garden screen that I had specially constructed for this purpose.
By the end of July the plants were grown to their full height (1.8 metres/6 feet) and the first flowers appeared … pink, followed by white and then a deep maroon.
My air-pruning experience: thoughts and observations
Whilst generally I am very pleased with my air-pruning experience during this Spring and Summer, I have encountered a couple of problems with my gardening experiment that I thought I’d talk a bit about in this post.
I set three pots of plants to grow from behind my small yard wall (approx. 90cm/3 feet high) and three pots of plants to grow up over my yard gate, which is around the same height. Although these two areas are only inches apart, they have very different micro-climates.
The small area behind the brick wall is fairly dark and damp because it is immediately adjacent to our refuse and recycling bins. I had also previously planted my new Willow cuttings in their pots in this corner of the yard and, as they had grown on a little, they affected the light level too. The combination of these elements means this part of the yard tends to stay cooler with no direct sun.
The wooden planked gate forms the boundary to the other half of the yard. With the open yard area immediately inside the gate, this half of the yard has more air movement, plus the warmth of the sun soon warms up the wooden gate.
In the cooler, damper conditions behind the wall, it wasn’t long before the snails showed up! When I say ‘showed up’, it was mainly a case of ‘left a trail’ … not only of glistening slime, but also of half-chewed leaves – though only on one particular Sweet Pea plant. Why only one plant, I can’t be certain – but I was pleased to see at least it wasn’t all three!
One day I managed to catch up with my plant-munching visitor as it snuggled down into the evidently-too-cosy grow bag! Have you ever found yourself addressing a mollusc?! I must say, I took pity on the poor starving creature who was, of course, merely seeking an evening meal and a bed for the night! I did however remove it from the Sweet Pea pot and found it a new home elsewhere!
There was one other aspect of my Sweet Pea air-pruning plant pot experiment that I have could have been happier with and that relates to the size of the pots I chose to use. If you have grown Sweet Peas before, you will know they normally prefer to grow in quite deep soil. However, I had previously grown them successfully in a pot that was not much deeper than the air-pruning plant pots I was using this year, so that was why I had decided it was worth the experiment.
The problem I encountered was this: as the plants grew taller, the lower leaves quickly yellowed, despite regular watering and feeding. I took a close look at the root systems as far as I could observe them from the outside of the pots. The roots had grown well and exactly as expected in the air-pruning plant pots. There were only the tips of roots showing inside the closed-in areas of the pots. Where the fabric grow-bag was open to the air, the roots had not penetrated the grow-bag. I will be taking an even closer look at how the root systems have developed when the plants are finished flowering and I take them down.
The plants have reached their full height and flowered, but the yellowing of the leaves has somewhat spoiled their overall appearance on the willow screen. I definitely feel the Sweet Pea plants needed larger pots with a greater quantity of compost to supply them with sufficient nutrients and water. (Apologies for the slightly blurred image below – we had windy weather in August and it was impossible to find a time when the light and the weather allowed for better photo shooting!)
I was very pleased that the Sweet Pea plants grew to their full height, though on hindsight, given the plant pot size I had used, I would probably have been better managing the growth differently. I nipped out the main growing tips when the plants reached the top of the screen, but if I had done this a little earlier and kept the plants a little shorter, I think perhaps the issue with the dying foliage may not have been so bad.
The size of the pots has definitely been an issue I’d rethink for another time. I need either larger pots for Sweet Peas or perhaps I need to choose a smaller growing plant. Another idea I had intended for some of the Sweet Pea plants was to plant them into a wooden plant trough. But, as so often happens, time simply ran out for that idea this year. However, I may contemplate creating some troughs in either wood or woven willow for next year so I shall add it to my Winter projects list!
When I sowed my Sweet Peas in their upcycled air-pruning plant pots, way back in April this year, I wasn’t sure how well my plants would grow. I’d never experimented with air-pruning plant pots before so this was a whole new experience for me.
Despite being in somewhat smaller pots than would normally be used, the Sweet Pea plants I’d hung on my yard gate have still grown to their full height – the fully grown plants are now 175cm (69″) tall. The Sweet Peas are supported on one of the willow and jute garden screens I’d designed and created for this purpose. This project was part of my idea to expand the growing space in my back yard by vertical gardening.
I have been watching closely as the flowers have been developing on the Sweet Peas. This week I am very happy to report that my first of my Sweet Pea plants has revealed its first beautiful pink blooms 🙂
Looking at the other plants along the yard gate that are now budding, we have some creamy white flowers and some deep crimson flowers, so with the pink flowers too, that’s going to be a lovely range of colours growing together.
I sowed the Sweet Pea seeds in mid-April – two per pot – and I was delighted to see the first seedlings germinate just five days later. Gradually over the next few days each of the seeds prodded its little green shoot through the compost.
After two weeks my Sweet Pea seedlings were all growing on well. I wanted to give the seedlings time to grow large enough to enable me to thread them onto the jute and willow garden screens I was creating as plant supports. So, for a little longer the seedlings resided on a specially-created plant shelf in an east-facing window – giving them plenty of light without too much strong sun.
In mid-May, a month after sowing, my growing Sweet Pea plants were ready for their outdoor adventure. I chose this particular time as we were enjoying a little burst of early Summer, so I knew the plants would be fine outdoors. I attached the air-pruning plant pots to the jute and willow garden screen – I’d designed the plant pots with this in mind. Now that the Sweet Pea plants were safely outdoors I gave them a good watering and added some of my ‘magic growing potion’ to give them a good start.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been watching over my little Sweet Pea plants. I spotted a suspicious-looking snail on a plant pot one morning so transported it to another location, far-removed from my Sweet Peas! I’ve also been regularly pinching out the side shoots that grow quite prolifically on Sweet Peas. Side shoots will be wonderful later when the plants have fully grown and are ready to flower, but for now they are taking up energy that I’d prefer to see grow into the main plant stem.
My only exception to this lately, is with one of the plants that seems to have acquired its own sneaky slimy friend! As various parts of that plant have been eaten already, I’ve decided to let nature take its course and see whether any of the evidently-too-tasty shoots actually survive!
Today, I also took a closer look at how the roots are progressing in their air-pruning plant pots. There is some evidence of root growth inside the remaining plastic parts of the milk carton, though none to see where the grow bag is exposed to the air through the large holes. Using air-pruning plant pots is a new experiment for me, so I am observing how plant growth is impacted with this method of growing.
The Sweet Pea plants are certainly growing on well – I think they seem to grow perceptibly each day. This morning, as I checked the plants growing on the willow screen on my backyard gate, I see they have now reached about half way up. The plants measured 24 inches high (that’s about 60 cms)!
There’s more heavy rain forecast for tomorrow. After that I shall feed the Sweet Peas some more ‘magic potion’. I shall make this year’s batch of new ‘potion’ soon and then I’ll share the secret 🙂
In the process of making my milk carton plant pots I’d cut off a scoop shape from the top of each carton. I discovered one of these mini plastic scoops made an ideal assistant for filling the plant pots with compost. I filled the pots quite close to the top with compost but left enough space to accommodate sufficient watering.
I generally plant seeds into ready-watered compost, so the next job was to carefully water the compost in the fabric grow-bag. As I was adding the water, I was also watching to see how the water soaked through the compost and out into the fabric grow-bag. When I’d prepared the air-pruning plant pots I hadn’t made drainage holes in the base of the pots as I felt there was plenty of opportunity for evaporation through the sides of these smaller-sized air-pruning pots. I’d left about 2.5cm /1 inch intact around the bottom of the plant pots too, to catch the water if I did happen to water them too enthusiastically!
Now it was time to sow the Sweet Pea seeds. Sweet Pea seeds are quite large, as seeds go, so for this task I used my ‘old pen’ dibber to make the holes in the compost about 1.5cm / half inch deep. I decided to sow two Sweet Peas in each pot. Then after sowing the seeds I used the dibber to cover them over with compost before adding a final drop of water to help the seeds on their way.
And that was the seed-sowing done. The only remaining task I had was finding a suitable indoor home for my plant pots … time to build a new shelf …
I’m pleased to say that all of the Sweet Peas have now germinated and the seedlings are looking healthy.
The next stage was to create some breathable fabric grow-bags to fit into the air-pruning plant pots … the whole idea is to allow air to reach the plant’s roots. In the video where I originally saw the air-pruning idea, they had made use of recycled woven polypropylene shopping bags. As with the containers, I needed something much smaller. And, as before too, I really wanted to use upcycled materials.
My solution for this part of the project was to use some of my sons’ old and worn jogging pants from my upcycling ragbag. The legs of these old cotton pants were just the thing to fit in my air-pruning plant pots.
I measured and cut off the required length, using one of the prepared milk cartons as a guide. This gave me a fabric tube which I closed at one end by simply tying a piece of cotton string around it. And that was it done! I had one simple and upcycled grow-bag ready to insert into its air-pruning plant pot.
In order to maximise the use of the jogging pant material I had available, I did resort to a little bit of sewing to create some of the tubes, but they all ended up roughly the same shape and size. The fabric grow-bags were then carefully inserted into each of the air-pruning plant pots.
I had made the tubes long enough so that they would amply overlap the top of the plant pots. My thinking here was that this would prevent the grow-bag from sinking down inside of the pot. To assist further with securing the grow-bags in position I made two small holes in the overlapping part of the grow-bag at either side of the milk carton’s handle using my stitch ripper.
I took another piece of string and threaded this as a doubled length through one hole, behind the carton handle and back out through the second hole. I removed the yarn needle and tied the ends of the string together firmly in a knot. I then created a string loop by threading the knot back through the loop at the other side of the handle to finish it off. As well as helping to secure the grow-bag in place, I thought the string loop might be useful when it comes to fixing the plant pot in place in my back yard.
My upcycled air-pruning plant pots are now fitted with their upcycled grow-bags and ready to be filled with compost. I’ll show you more on my air-pruning plant pots project very soon.
I was so inspired by the air-pruning video I shared with you a few days ago that I immediately decided to try out this seemingly magic method of improving plant growth. I already had imminent plans for sowing some Sweet Pea seeds as I am planning on training several Sweet Pea plants to grow up and through the crochet jute and willow garden screen that I have also been working on recently. The willow garden screen project is my experimental version of location-specific vertical gardening.
As my back yard is only very small I needed to develop some air-pruning pots that would be more size-appropriate than the 5 gallon buckets they used in the video. But I also wanted some containers that would reasonably accommodate the Sweet Pea plants. I have grown Sweet Peas in my yard in the past using moderately-sized containers and with a bit of care they successfully reached their full six-foot height.
A further consideration was that I need to be able to attach some of the plant pots to the back of my yard gate, so lightweight containers with ‘attach-ability’ were additional factors to bear in mind. And, as I frequently do, my preference was to use upcycled materials for this project too.
The solution to my air-pruning plant container conundrum is … four-pint milk cartons! These milk cartons satisfy all of my requirements – lightweight, with built-in handles for ‘attach-ability’, moderately-sized and easily re-designed for their new purpose … and upcycled.
Fortunately, I had a number of these milk cartons readily available as I had saved them ‘just-in-case-I-need-some’ – I’ve made milk cartons into standard-type plant pots on previous occasions. But this time my design plan was rather different.
I began by making a large planting hole at the top of each carton by cutting around the original milk carton’s opening. You can see I have cut high above the carton handle to leave the whole handle intact. Around the sides and front of the carton I dipped down a little lower with the scissors to make a reasonably-sized opening to give accessibility.
Next I pondered on the best way to ventilate the sides of the cartons to provide the air-pruning effect. The air-pruning video showed circles cut out of the sides of the 5 gallon drums. I emulated this on the first carton, cutting out relatively large holes all around it.
However, I then wondered if different shaped holes would be more or less effective at air-pruning. To test out my curiosity, I have decided to make different shaped holes in some of the cartons. Two cartons have circles, two have wide vertically-oriented ovals and the remaining two have a series of narrower vertical vents. It will be interesting to see if the different-shaped vents in the containers make any difference to the plant growth.
Watch out soon for Part 2 of my upcycled air-pruning plant pots project in which I will show you how I made the fabric grow-bags to fit inside the pots.
If you’ve ever grown plants in pots you’ve probably dealt with that stage when a plant has become pot-bound and has stopped growing. When we remove the plant from its pot we see roots have grown round and round the inside of the pot. Our normal response is then to simply pot the plant into a larger pot. But apparently dealing with our plants in this way does not help them to develop the most healthy root systems.
Although I’ve been growing plants in containers for years I’d never heard of “air-pruning” them to improve their growth and yield … until I happened to come across this fascinating video a few days ago.
I am so impressed by this method of improving plant growth that I’ve already started a new experiment to see if it will work for me. I’m using the Sweet Peas that I’m preparing for the new crochet jute and willow garden screen project I’ve talked about in a couple of my previous posts. I’ll post more about my Sweet Peas “air pruning” experiment very soon.