Category Archives: Healthy eating

Potatoes in a Growing Bag

Child-Friendly Gardening: How to Grow Potatoes in Containers

I must admit I feel a little sorry for the potato. This humble vegetable often gets a bad press, labelled as fattening and unhealthy. In fact, it’s often the first thing people decide to ‘cut out’ when they want to lose weight. But potatoes are one of the healthiest choices you can make – it’s only what you eat with them that can make them unhealthy! They’re an important source of fibre, and filled with vitamins such as Vitamin C and Vitamin B6. They’re also very versatile – you can use them to accompany a meal such as your Sunday roast, as a staple ingredients of affordable meals (e.g. Cottage Pie or Cornish Pasties), and nothing tastes better for lunch on a chilly day than a jacket potato.

So with so much going for the potato, why don’t people grow them more? Well firstly, if you grow them in traditional rows, they take up quite a lot of space. You may also have heard they’re tricky to grow, needing ‘earthing up’ and other such strange practices. But in reality, they’re not difficult to grow at all, and there are many ways to cultivate them that doesn’t mean giving up half your garden!

The most important thing to remember is to prevent light from getting to the potatoes as they grow. That’s why gardeners pull the soil up around the potato stems (the fabled ‘earthing up’). But growing potatoes in a container avoids the need for all that, and also saves on space too. And kids will find it much easier to get involved with growing potatoes if they’re in containers.

Simply fill your container half full with compost, place the seed potatoes in, and cover them up with a bit more compost. As the new leaves poke their way through, add more soil, little by little, until the bag is full. Keep well watered (but not soggy) and once the leaves start to droop, your potatoes are ready to be dug up. Harvested potatoes will keep for a long time by in a bag or sack – just be sure to put it in a cool, dry place that’s completely dark.

Of course, you can go out and buy a fancy potato grower, but if you want to grow potatoes on a budget, here are seven alternative containers you can make or use.

1. An old sack

You can get two or three plants into a large sack, which makes this a good option if you just want a few potatoes. Hessian or paper sacks are perfect – just make sure you’ve dusted them out inside if necessary before you plant your spuds. Naturally, you can always plant up several sacks if you want more plants.

2. A large shopping bag

Large shopping bags are also a good choice, and a great way to recycle bags that are a bit worn out. Natural materials are best, because they allow for good drainage, but even synthetic ones (like Ikea bags) are fine if you punch a few holes for the water to escape.

Potatoes Growing in an Ikea bag

Photo courtesy of Charlotte Powell at Flickr Creative Commons

3. An old compost bag

Have you ever wondered how to use up your old compost bags? Well, now you have the answer. Potatoes grow superbly in old compost bags, but again, remember to make some holes for drainage, because potatoes can rot easily if the compost is too damp.

Potatoes growing in compost bags

Photo courtesy of Emma Cooper at Flickr Creative Commons

4. A strong dustbin liner

You need quite strong dustbin liners to grow potatoes, as the thin ones can split too easily, spilling your compost everywhere. Look for heavy-duty or rubble bags, punch a few drainage holes, and away you go!

Potatoes growing in a bin liner

Photo courtesy of Nodigio at Flickr Creative Commons

5. Weed suppressant fabric

Weed suppressant fabric is superb for growing potatoes, because it allows water to drain through it but stays strong even when wet. Staple the fabric into an impromptu sack shape, making sure there are no large holes for the compost to leak out. These bags won’t last forever, but they’ll certainly do you for a couple of seasons.

6. A large cardboard box

Again, cardboard is great because it allows water to drain through easily, so your potatoes won’t be rotting away in water-logged compost. However, you may find the base gets a bit fragile after a while, so choose your location carefully and don’t move the box once it’s planted up.

7. Car tyres

You may have heard talk about growing potatoes in old car tyres, and this was certainly quite a common practice years ago. You begin by filling an old tyre with compost and planting your potatoes, then add more tyres and compost as the plants grow. It’s true you can grow potatoes well this way, but many people have concerns about the fact that chemicals could leach out from the tyres and affect your crop. Research so far has been inconclusive, but if you are considering using car tyres, think carefully before going ahead. Some of the other options above are far more natural.

So why not give growing potatoes a try? There really is nothing like digging up potatoes for a meal and eating them straight away – they taste delicious and you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’re eating home-grown produce.

Feature photo courtesy of Jeff Bryant at Flickr Creative Commons

Coming next: 10 Fabulous Ways to Save Money by Recycling in the Garden

Recycled seed containers

Growing Vegetables on a Budget: 10 Imaginative Ideas for Recycled Containers

Now you’ve collected seeds to get started on growing your own vegetables, you’ll be desperate to get going. Again, you could go to the garden centre and buy a stack of seeds trays or small pots, but this can be an expensive option. However, with a little imagination, you can find free or very low-cost options for growing your plants, which will help keep things within your budget. And as an added bonus, you won’t be contributing to the world’s plastic mountain by buying plastic pots and trays either. You don’t have to have containers that are perfectly shaped or necessarily rectangular – almost any shape will do! So here are ten free alternatives to shop-bought seed containers.

1. Food trays

Flat shallow trays are best for seeds, and ideally you need a little depth too – the very shallow ones won’t give room for the tiny roots to get properly established before you move them to larger pots (known as ‘potting on’).

If there are larger holes in the bottom, line the tray with newspaper or kitchen paper – this will stop the soil swilling out when you water, and help retain water for your thirsty seedlings. If there are no holes, punch a few with a skewer, otherwise your compost will get waterlogged and your seedlings will drown! You can also use egg boxes  or cut sections of toilet roll – great for starting individual seeds such as squash or pumpkin!

2. Large plastic milk containers

The largest-sized plastic milk containers also work well as seed trays. Use a very sharp knife (e.g. a craft knife), to divide the container in half vertically, then lay each half on its side to make a container – two for the price of one, but be careful when you’re cutting!

3. Cereal boxes

You’re not going to have your seeds in their initial containers for very long, so biodegradable containers are a great choice. A large cereal box with one side removed makes a superb seeds tray. However, it won’t be very stable once it’s wet, so you may want to place it somewhere where it doesn’t matter when water runs out of it, such as on a plastic kitchen tray.

4. Juice containers

Cardboard juice containers also make good seed trays, and they’ve got the added advantage of having a waterproof lining and being relatively stable. Remove one side and lay the container down, before filling with compost and sowing your seeds.

5. Used food tins

Many food tins nowadays have ring-pulls to open, which means you don’t have sharp jagged edges around the top like the tins when I was younger. Remove the label and rinse the can out well, then punch a few holes in the bottom – try using a bradawl or even a stout nail and hammer for this. Again, they won’t last forever, but they’ll do very nicely for a while.

6. Newspaper origami

If you’re a bit creative, have a look online for instruction for making origami boxes, and make some out of newspaper, Again, they won’t be very stable, and won’t last forever, but they’ll certainly do the job for the amount of time you’ll need them.

7. Newspaper pots

It’s also possible to make small pots out of newspaper. These are superb, because they’ll hold their shape reasonably well when they’re wet, but biodegrade easily. In fact, you can just pop the whole pot and seedling straight into the ground when it’s time, so the roots won’t be disturbed, which can slow the growth of your plants. You could use an expensive wooden ‘mould’, but why not try a cheaper option? Check out this great tutorial on Garden Betty.

8. Fabric or canvas bags

You can buy canvas bags or sacks for growing vegetables, but they’re not really a cheap option. However, if you’ve got some old shopping bags you don’t need (Lidl or Ikea bags are great), you can use these to plant vegetables. These are especially good to plant potatoes, but you can grow all sorts in them with a little imagination!

9. Stone sinks or trays

You may be lucky enough to have an old stone sink or tray laying around that you don’t need – buying a new one is definitely not very affordable! Make sure it has a drainage hole – a plug hole will need to be covered with a piece of broken pottery or something similar, so you don’t lose too much soil when watering. A layer of gravel in the bottom will also help with drainage.

10. Use your imagination!

It’s probably true that you can grow vegetables in almost any container, providing it’s deep enough to allow good root growth for the crop in question. Try wooden satsuma crates, an old wheelbarrow, shoes and boots with holes in, or an old washing up bowl. Once you start imagining, there’ll be no stopping you!

Check on the internet for growing instructions for the crops you want to grow. You can start lots of them indoors, such as on a sunny windowsill, if you don’t have a greenhouse. And if you do sow some seeds in an ‘alternative container’, do let us know in the comments!

Coming next: How to Grow Your Own Potatoes on a Budget

Photo courtesy of Sharon McGriff-Payne at Flickr Creative Commons

Tomatoes showing seeds

Six Simple Ways to Get Vegetable Seeds For Free

So now you’ve made the decision to ‘grow-your-own’ food, and you’re ready to get started. But you might be in for a bit of a shock! If you head to the garden centre and buy a handful of seed packets, you’ll probably wince when see the total at the check-out. Although it’s an easy way to get started, it’s certainly not the cheapest. So here are six simple ways to get seeds and plants, either for free or at a very low cost, which will help any budget-conscious gardener.

1. Share seed packets with friends

Packet usually contain quite a lot of seeds, sometimes too much for the average family, especially if you’re short of space. With some crops, such as salad leaves, lettuces or radishes, you can save seeds for sowing later (known as ‘succession sowing’ so you have an ongoing supply of your crop), but often there’s just too many to use. So why not get together with some friends and share the cost of your seeds. You could even agree to take on growing a couple of vegetables each and then swap plants when they’ve grown a bit. And it’s always good to work with others for a little moral support.



Growing Your Own Food Made Easy

Do you love the idea of growing your own fruit and vegetables but don’t know where to start? Maybe you’re on a tight budget, so you think you can’t afford to ‘grow your own’? Or are your kids not keen to eat anything that hints of a vegetable? We all know we should be eating plenty of fruit and vegetables but buying them can be expensive, so my posts for the next few weeks will be about growing fruit and vegetables on a budget.

It’s surprisingly easy to grow your own food, even if you’ve only got a very small space or cash is limited. With a little ingenuity, you can find lots of ways to find seeds and plants for free (or very little!), avoid spending a fortune on pots and seed trays, and spending hours each day digging and weeding. And kids really love the idea of ‘growing your own’, which means it’s more likely they’ll try eating something new – which has to be good news, doesn’t it?


Fabulous families child carrying cucumbers

Helping Your Child Grow Food for Packed Lunches

Children love gardening, so there’s no better way to harness this love than to help them to grow food for their packed lunches. They are far more likely to eat what’s in their lunchbox if they’ve had a hand in nurturing it, so growing fruit and vegetables together will be a real winner.

Do I need a garden?

You don’t need acres of space to grow food for a healthy packed lunch. Even if you only have a windowsill, you can still grow your own food. Sprouting seeds, such as mung beans, can be ‘grown’ in a glass jar. Or add a fun touch by growing traditional mustard and cress in decorated egg shells or little containers. You can grow delicious items in pots or Grow-bags on a small balcony, but if you are lucky enough to have a garden or allotment, you have an even greater choice.