Ringing Endorsement from Martin Walker of S’martyPlants – Growing Trends!

There is no doubt that enthusiasm towards growing food crops is seeing a hearty revival, although personally I feel it has always been popular just not in mainstream media. Research on the psychological benefits of gardening has led to an appreciation that cultivation can ease stress and engage the mind with the bonus of an attractive and tasty outcome. This is not without frustration though as many would be recruits find it difficult if not impossible to allocate space in their garden and let’s face it the chances of securing an allotment are about as likely as a winning the lottery.

I have been involved in gardening all my life and recent retirement has provided me with an opportunity to indulge myself in my passion, no, lets be more ambitious, start a new career that concentrates on all those things work prevented me from doing!

As a keen gardener I have always tinkered and changed my garden around, trying new plants, having little flurries of focus on particular groups but there has always been one big frustration ‘Space’. 

I know you are thinking that all professional gardeners have huge plots, not this one; it has been a constant frustration trying to find a property with a large plot and not stray too far away from my family. Ever the optimist I am determined to develop my interest albeit on a small scale. The challenge then is how to make use of every available space to grow and produce plants.

I have always enjoyed searching periodicals and gardening journals for new ideas and to increase my knowledge, more recently exploring approaches to small space gardening I stumbled across developments from over the ‘Pond’. The American’s have an uncanny way of thinking up names for new techniques, ‘Square Foot Gardening’ or ‘Cube Foot Gardening’, a term used to describe raised bed or intensive contained gardening. Generally it involves creating raised beds on your existing plot, enriching the soil to support intensive cropping where plants are grown closer together in a more carefully prepared soil. Ground preparation is essential and although the crops tend to be smaller they mature faster, which means that there is the opportunity to grow a number of crops in succession throughout the season.

So what has this to do with my aspirations, well the space I have available is on hard standing, my patio to be specific. I have perused the many and varied types of planters, considering style, build quality, capacity and of course price. It is a minefield out there with hundreds to choose from, so I needed to apply further criteria mobility, flexibility and watering.

My search led me to a relatively new approach that goes by the name of ‘Instaplanta’, is this just another raised bed system? Well, let me tell you that it is not just a box you fill with compost, nor is it unattractive. The system is ingenious in that it is a wooden container in which you have a number of lined basket inserts. Principally developed to target the School and Care Home market where flexibility is important. The ‘Instaplanta’ utilises planting pods made of plastic coated weld-mesh, lined with a geotextile to stop the compost falling out. Two handles make the 30cmx 30cm cube easy to lift out and to work on. The wooden planter is very robust and the baskets sit on slatted wood rails allowing air movement around the base of the pods. The company also offer a watering tank system which is similar to those used in office planters. The tank is positioned inside the pod before filling with compost, a small tube at soil level makes filling the tank quite easy, good if you spend time away from home. For the Schools and Care Home market there are small workstations and wheeled transporters to move the planting pods inside a classroom or under a shelter when the weather is poor.

I have two planters each with six baskets which allows me to grow small quantities of crops next to one another with minimum disturbance.  As space is at a premium in my garden I can’t accommodate a workstation so I made a small seat out of decking offcuts which fits neatly between my planters and doubles as a work shelf.

The compost I use is my own mix, why? Well composts from garden centres can be variable and I know what the compost should feel and look like so I mix a combination of compost, grow bag and John Innes no 1, add a little vermiculite (pearlite will do) just to help water and nutrient retention and keep the compost aerated. You could use compost straight from the bag if you are happy with its quality. Basically you are providing something for the roots to grow in. I also add a handful of organic food pellets, ‘Slug Gone’ or the like are perfect. This will give a base reserve of nutrient but due to the crops being grown quickly and in a small space they will need supplementary feeding.

Whether sowing direct or planting pot grown crops the pods are easy to handle and refill, in addition, crops that mature quickly can be harvested without disturbing their neighbours.

Watering will be the most important issue, particularly through a warm dry period, but a few minutes every morning is all that is needed.

I am looking forward to experimenting with this system and feel that it will allow me to produce modest crops of the vegetables I like, maybe not self-sufficient but a real treat. The only word of advice I would give is to grow crops that fit the scale of the planters, Brussels sprouts, and Pumpkins are out, but there is an increasing range of mini veg available to try. Start with salads and short rooted carrots, turnips and dwarf beans.

Martin Walker S’marty Plants.

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