Best renting agent I have ever dealt with. Turnaround time for maintenance is great. Reported to Greg in the morning that my shower head was leaking, plumber there that afternoon. Thanks Greg, really approachable your professionalism. MIchael Lawson
When I hit my 30s, I became overwhelmed by the urge to nurture, cherish and protect something as it grew and matured.
It wasn't a new human life I wanted to create (no, thanks), but a desire to surround myself with greenery and grow my own vegetables and herbs.
I live in an inner-city rental in Hobart with a tiny, mostly paved backyard. Not only do I lack the space for regular garden beds, but as a renter I want to be able to take my hard work with me the next time I move.
Turns out, I'm not the first journalist to get the propagating bug.
About 10 years ago Indira Naidoo took a break from her news career with SBS and ABC and began growing her own food on the balcony of her Potts Point apartment in Sydney.
Her work now involves helping people start their own food gardens using whatever space they have — windowsills, rooftops, courtyards — and wherever.
Her main tip to becoming a potted-plant farmer is to "be brave". Don't be discouraged if you don't have a green thumb (yet).
"You will lose things," Indira says.
"Even the most experienced gardener will kill things and things will die."
Knowing that death is a part of all life, here is how you can bring some edible plants to life, with tips from Indira, horticulturalists from the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, and my own experience of failure and success.
Basil, thyme, oregano, parsley, coriander, rosemary, dill and mint are all possible to grow in small spaces. But if you're not sure which herbs to pick, Indira's advice is to start with something you like to use in cooking.
My go-to is sweet basil. Because Tassie can be a bit cold for basil, I tend to keep my pots in the sunniest spot and make sure I water them daily in summer. Sweet basil can be grown in small pots in a windowsill.
Dill, on the other hand, wilts very quickly in direct sun in a pot, so it should be given a shadier spot. And make sure it doesn't dry out for long.
Tip: If you buy a bunch of fresh herbs from the supermarket with a bit of root on them, stick them in dirt and they'll probably keep growing.
Tomatoes, particularly the smaller varieties such as cherry tomatoes, are one of the most popular pot-grown fruits.
If you're in the colder states, tomatoes are best planted from November onwards, and stop fruiting around autumn. If you have a tiny plastic hothouse or a really warm sunroom (or, you know, live in Queensland), they can be more of a year-round fruit.
Tip: Tomato plants need lots of sun and water. Those in pots will need to be watered most days. The tomtoms will keep coming if give them a boost of liquid seaweed fertiliser now and then.
Lettuce, spinach, kale and other leafy greens
Leafy greens are very handy to have growing for a fresh and healthy salad, and are good to start in pots, explains Indira.
Plant loose-leaf varieties for pots, rather than the larger round icebergs and cabbages, as they get a bit crowded in pots.
Tip: Some lettuce varieties can burn in direct sunlight, so putting them in a shadier spot is best. Take off the tops if the plant is going into flower to keep them growing leaves for longer.
Beans and peas
Beans and peas don't need much space in the ground — they just need something to grab and grow on.
I've grown broad beans, green beans, honey and sugar snap peas in pots with great success and minimal know-how over the years.
Tip: Beans and peas are enthusiastic and will "grab on" to anything near them as they grow, so keep them apart from tomatoes or other tallish plants as they can tangle. You can train them to grow along a balcony rail or up a wall with supports (like netting or trellis).
Capsicum and chillies
Varieties of peppers are very happy in little pots of dirt, as long as they get enough warmth and water.
The smaller plant varieties will be happier in pots, and your local nursery is usually the best place to see what varieties are available in your area.
I've grown chillies with success in the past, but have never grown a capsicum because they're the devil of vegetables to me. Each to their own, though.
Tip: If you live in a cooler part of Australia, you may need a mini greenhouse or a protected, very sunny and warm spot on the windowsill.
Carrots and other root vegetables
Yes, you can grow root veggies in pots. You just have to make sure there's enough room in your pot for the tubers to grow.
Harvest them when they're smaller (baby carrots for everyone!) as they can become tangled and oddly shaped if you leave them too long (franken-carrots for everyone!).
Tip: Most tuber plants, like carrots or radishes, will need to be thinned out once the seedlings have reached a certain size — otherwise you'll have crowded plants and they'll die. This can be hard to judge when you're starting, so trial and error may be needed to get your timing and sizing right.
Zucchini, squash and pumpkins
Even though pumpkins are usually grown over large paddocks, you can grow these sprawling plants from pots.
While the roots don't need heaps of space, the plants can get very large, so these probably aren't the best for a windowsill in a share house.
Tip: Zucchinis and pumpkins are prone to problems like mildew, which can be a problem if your space doesn't get a lot of air flow. And in terms of space, they will roam.
Garlic and onions
They may not look pretty, but you can grow garlic and onions in pots quite easily, particularly if you're in cooler parts of the country.
If you're in a warm spot, like Indira's balcony garden, garlic will be very hard to grow as it needs to get chilled over winter. It's still one plant Indira says she hasn't mastered.
Tip: Don't let the pots get overwatered as the bulbs can rot. My first go with garlic saw the world's tiniest bulbs — super cute but not super useful. So this is another trial-and-error plant, but good for keeping the vampires out, so they have multiple uses.
Pros of gardening in pots:
You can move them. If your tomato plant is looking a little sad, try moving it to a new spot. It might take off. And of course, you can take them all with you when moving house — a big bonus for renters.
You can keep the bugs out more easily. There are metal strips you can place around a pot that slugs and snails hate the feeling of, so you keep them right out. If a pot goes bad with mildew or a fungus, you may be able to stop it before it gets into other pots, whereas with a regular garden bed you may lose everything.
You can save on water. Pots can dry out quickly in the summer, but with a simple water meter measure you can keep track of each plant's needs and only water as and when needed, which keeps water waste to a minimum. If you're in an area with water restrictions that ban sprinklers and watering systems, hand watering is usually OK. And you might be able to reuse water from baths and the washing up if your soaps are plant-friendly.
Cons of gardening in pots:
our yields can be smaller from plants in pots than in the ground as they don't have as much room.
Your pots can get hot in the sun, which can cause root damage and dry out plants quickly. Think about where you place pots, particularly if your balcony or spot has full sun all day. Light-coloured pots are better in sunnier spots than dark-coloured pots.
You'll need to fertilise more regularly. Hungry plants can use up the goodness in a pot of dirt fairly quickly. Your plants can become root-bound in pots, restricting their growth and yields, so you'll need to rotate plants and repot longer-term ones, such as rosemary or some chillies, if you want to keep them going year after year.