Grow all you can eat in a few square feet

Harvest food galore from a tiny city plot with creative planting.
You need to be inventive to grow edibles in the city. This is the message from urban gardener Naomi Schillinger, who makes the most of her small Finsbury Park plot by creating herb planters from wooden pallets, using cycle wheels as a trellis for cucumber vines and hanging up kitchen colanders to grow strawberries on high. She has packed her ideas into a book, Grow All You Can Eat In Three Square Feet (DK, £14.99), which proves conclusively that you don't need an allotment or kitchen garden to produce a bumper harvest. A dim stairwell can be painted white to reflect light and shelves fixed on walls to hold a series of window box planters.

A pair of sturdy stepladders will give you double the display space and ensure every potted plant gets its share of light. Balcony railings can be put to good use by attaching long lengths of plastic guttering to hold quick crops of salad leaves, radishes and dwarf peas. The enterprising Schillinger makes planter saddlebags from heavy-duty black fabric so she can grow trailing tomatoes on both sides of her balcony.
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Saddlebags made from sturdy fabric can be hung over both sides of railings

Create crop circles
Raised beds are her response to utilising any spare patch of concrete or paved ground, and they can be decorative, too. She suggests making crop circles by sowing rings of mixed salad leaves and edible flowers such as violas, and planting tumbling tomatoes to fill in the four corners. Raised beds have many advantages — plants are easy to access and to protect from pests or frost, they warm up faster in spring so you have a longer growing season, and they provide ideal growing conditions, because you can create the dream compost mix. Schillinger's is 45 per cent topsoil, 45 per cent peat-free compost and 10 per cent coarse grit. You don't have to buy special kits, either. She suggests knocking a raised bed together from old bricks, metal sheets or scaffolding boards — call them fashionably distressed. Copper tape wrapped around the edges will also deter slugs and snails. Just be sure that the beds are deep enough — six inches for shallow-rooters such as lettuce and radish, at least a foot for deep-rooted courgettes and beetroot as well as potatoes — and that water can drain away from the base.

A small terracotta pot will show off a pepper plant a treat, but if you want decent crops from containers, consider buying a series of deep, stackable rubber trugs in different sizes and an array of bright colours that will give you an instant portable veg patch and allow you to use every corner of floor space. Visit tubtrugs.com. The largest size, 75 litres, is ideal for growing potatoes, sowing a carrot harvest or training runner beans up a wigwam.

Where else would you grow corn on the cob but in a corn oil drum? Sweetcorn plants need to be grown in a block, not a row, for good pollination, so a large drum is ideal. They grow slowly, so Schillinger suggests sowing or planting fast crops of salad leaves, parsley or beetroot in between, to use every scrap of space.
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Reclaimed oil drums, stacked together, provide the perfect place for growing herbs, chillies and tomatoes

Shade-loving berries
Most edibles thrive in warm, sunny conditions, notably tomatoes. No sunlight? No problem. You can still grow three staples: peas, runner beans and spinach, points out Schillinger. Leafy crops tend to wilt and wither in hot, bright positions, preferring cool shade, so you could also grow Swiss chard, the wide range of mustard leaves, lettuces, rocket and sorrel, which once sown, will forever flourish, adding a luscious lemony tang to soups and salads.

Shady sites also produce the best berries, including small, flavourful Alpine strawberries — which will self-seed along paths and in gravel — and easygrowing, heavy-cropping autumn raspberries. Your deliciously rewarding growing year starts here. 

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