Tag Archives: growing plants in containers

Autumn Green Beans

Autumn Green Beans – harvest time

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.

Primavera Dwarf Green Bean - DT Brown seed packet
Primavera Dwarf Green Bean – DT Brown seeds

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?

My first green beans ready to harvest on 7th October
My first green beans ready to harvest on 7th October

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.

The less well-grown second pot of green bean plants with their beans ready to pick
The less well-grown second pot of green bean plants with their beans ready to pick

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.

Second harvest of green beans ready to pick on 22 October
Second harvest of green beans ready to pick on 22 October

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.

Successful Sage plant and some of the green beans
Successful Sage plant and some of the green beans

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.

Flourishing Parsley and Thyme plants with fading green bean leaves
Flourishing Parsley and Thyme plants with fading green bean leaves

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.

J Peggy Taylor

Sweet Pea plants growing on a willow garden screen

Air-pruning plant pot experiment – UPDATE

Growing plants in air-pruning plant pots was a new experience for me this year so I have been watching and learning from my Sweet Peas as they have gradually progressed.

My air-pruning experiment: the project progress

My six upcycled air-pruning plant pots now complete with their newly sown Sweet Pea seeds
My six upcycled air-pruning plant pots now complete with their newly sown Sweet Pea seeds

It seems a long time since mid-April when I sowed the Sweet Pea seeds in their cosy grow bags inside my upcycled milk carton air-pruning plant pots. The seeds quickly germinated and the Sweet Pea plants were soon on their way.

Air-pruning plant pots firmly secured to the gate and the Sweet Pea plants arranged on the jute and willow garden screen
Air-pruning plant pots firmly secured to the gate and the Sweet Pea plants arranged on the jute and willow garden screen

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.

Pink, White, Maroon - Sweet Peas on the willow screen
Pink, White, Maroon – Sweet Peas flowering on the willow garden screen

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.

Air-pruning plant pots in the microclimate behind the wall
My air-pruning plant pots in the cooler, damper micro-climate behind the wall

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.

As I'd anticipated the Sweet Pea plants are mainly growing on the outside of my backyard garden screen
As I’d anticipated the Sweet Pea plants are mainly growing on the outside of my backyard garden screen

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!

Snail in Sweet Pea grow bag
Spot the snail snuggled into the Sweet Pea grow bag!

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!

Moody mollusc - my snail visitor
Moody Mollusc peering disgruntledly from under its shell

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.

Visible root growth in air pruning plant pot
Root growth in one of the air-pruning plant pots on the wooden gate
Roots in air pruning plant pots
Roots in the air pruning plant pots behind the wall

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!)

Yellowing foliage on my Sweet Peas
My Sweet Peas at the end of August – flowers but also yellowing foliage

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!

J Peggy Taylor

Firming in a Soapwort seedling

A tale of slugs and Soapwort

Growing Soapwort Saponaria officinalis is a new experience for me. I embarked on this project after I’d been crocheting in natural undyed wools during last year.

soapwort in flower by The Herb Gardener (see creative commons license below)
The Herb Gardener’s article on growing Soapwort was very useful

IMAGE: http://theherbgardener.blogspot.co.uk/2010/03/growing-soapwort-saponaria-officinalis.html [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

After some research, I decided that growing some of this pure and natural soap source for myself would be a really good idea as it is ideal for gently hand washing any projects I made in natural wool. Soapwort is so gentle I have read it has even been used to clean the Bayeux Tapestry. At approaching 1000 years old now, obviously they don’t just pop that into the automatic washing machine!

I sowed my Soapwort seeds back in October last year as I’d read that germination would be helped by overwintering them outside. Many seeds are like that – it is called ‘cold stratification’ and helps to trigger the seed into growth. It must have just about been cold enough, despite our relatively mild winter, as one seedling germinated very early in the year. It grew on alone until early April when several more seedlings put in an appearance.

Soapwort seedlings
Happy, healthy Soapwort seedlings … and they continued to grow

There were about a dozen seedlings eventually, all looking very healthy and they were gradually growing larger. I was feeling pleased with myself at managing to grow another new plant from seed. Then, one morning in late April I went out into the yard to check them, “Aargh! Oh no!” Some were gone altogether. The remains of others were lying forlornly on the top of the compost. I knew instantly. “Slugs!!”

The four-and-a-half Soapwort seedlings the slugs kindly left for me!
The four-and-a-half Soapwort seedlings the slugs kindly left for me!

For some reason I had thought that slugs would not have had a taste for Soapwort since it contains saponins – that’s the substance that enables Soapwort to form a lather, just like soap. Evidently I was wrong! I looked around for any shifty-looking slithering culprits foaming at the mouth, but none were to be found!

“Could be worse!” I thought to myself. After all, I still had four and a half seedlings left! I took the precaution of taking the pot of remaining seedlings indoors. This was around the time I had become a convert to air-pruning plant pots, so there was only one thing to do. I set to work making two more air-pruning plant pots, for my remaining Soapwort seedlings. Soapwort can be grown from seed or by division of roots, so I decided to pot up two seedlings into each air-pruning plant pot.

Potting up a Soapwort seedling
Potting up a Soapwort seedling

If you’re interested in learning more about the concept of air-pruning plants to improve plant growth and finding out how I made my upcycled plant pots from recycled milk cartons (complete with their own snug fabric growbags), do take a look at the links to see some of my previous posts on this subject.

My remaining Soapwort seedlings - now potted up into their new air-pruning plant pots
My remaining Soapwort seedlings – now potted up into their new air-pruning plant pots

After potting up my remaining Soapwort seedlings into their new air-pruning plant pots I added them to my new plant shelf, alongside my Sweet Pea seedlings in their similar pots. Having discovered that slugs do indeed find Soapwort tasty, my next task was to devise a plan to try and put more distance between the slugs and the little Soapwort plants when I put them back outside in the yard.

My crochet plant hanger in jute yarn
My crochet plant hanger in jute yarn

My solution has been to crochet a plant hanger in the same green jute yarn I have been using to construct my crochet jute and willow garden screens. I will show you more on my crochet jute plant hanger soon.

J Peggy Taylor

Making air-pruning plant pots from milk cartons - I decided to cut different-shaped vents in some of the pots

Upcycled plant pots with air-pruning in mind – Part 1

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.

Two rows of jute crochet bind the willow rods in place
Two rows of jute crochet bind the willow rods in place

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.

Making air-pruning plant pots from milk cartons - cut carefully around the milk carton's original opening, making sure you leave the handle intact
Making air-pruning plant pots from milk cartons – cut carefully around the milk carton’s original opening, making sure you leave the handle intact

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.

Making air-pruning plant pots from milk cartons - I decided to cut different-shaped vents in some of the pots
Making air-pruning plant pots from milk cartons – I decided to cut different-shaped vents in some of the pots

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.

J Peggy Taylor

Using air-pruning to improve plant growth

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.

Crocheting a willow garden screen for my back yard
Crocheting a willow garden screen – part 2

J Peggy Taylor