Growing Your Own in a Rental Home

Last year was a time of change for my family and I, we packed up and moved across the sea from Shetland and landed in Inverness. Due to a change in circumstance we had to move off the island which involved sadness and excitement rolled into one. 

Climate in Shetland is a huge issue when it comes to growing your own as the strong wind and cold temperature makes it a big challenge to gardeners. Normally people moving to the Highlands move up from further south and complain of the cold temperatures but for me Inverness was my south and it is much warmer in the summer than what I am used to. 

In Shetland all tender plants are grown in a polytunnel so moving somewhere that more tenders can be grown outside is very exciting. My growing experience is limited to a windy island where wind netting is an essential, so I am greatly enjoying learning about mainland growing, especially urban growing.  

One thing I have learned so far is not to plant out in May as snow is still common – not too different from Shetland then! A useful tip I picked up is to grow early, smaller varieties of more exotic vegetables like pumpkins and corn, so they are ready to harvest quicker than other varieties. I am growing sweetcorn this year, Swift F1 Early, and for pumpkins, miniature white pumpkins called Baby Boo, and miniature orange pumpkins called Jack-be-little.

Rental Growing 
It was hard to leave the garden on Shetland I built from scratch. I left an established garden with 11 raised beds, 4 vegetable beds and a greenhouse. Fortunately moving in early spring is a great time to move as the growing season is yet to start – my main issue is that until we find a house to buy we will be renting. Renting and growing is tricky as landlords often do not want you changing their gardens, and you do not want to plant anything that you have to leave. So it makes sense to grow in containers that you can take with you when you leave again. I decided to invest in grow bags because they are easily moveable and have many benefits. 

Pots vs Grow Bags 
I chose grow bags instead of pots for a few reasons. Whilst pots are very heavy, grow bags can be folded up and stored with minimal space each season so that is a clear winner in a rental property when I need to be able to pack up my grow bags to move to our next house. 

In pots, the roots tend to grow in circles and entangle themselves as they can lack proper drainage. Grow bags prevent roots from becoming root bound due to ‘air pruning’ which means when the root reaches the side of the container and comes in contact with drier soil and more air, instead of circling the pot and eventually strangling the plant, the root stops growing. This encourages the plant to make new roots giving it a robust root system with many small root tips that can take in nutrients rather than a few long roots choking it. 

Grow Bags 
Grow bags are not a new idea, in ancient times plants were grown in woven baskets and bags. Ancient Egyptians would weave baskets, and Greeks used woven containers on their rooftop gardens as they were easily moved. 

The grow bags I bought are made out of a polypropylene felt-like fabric which is breathable and lightweight. They have built in handles and are easy to move to different locations.

One useful reason for choosing grow bags is that felt is lightly insulating so soil stays slightly warmer, useful if we get an unexpected cold snap which is always possible in this climate though they are easy to cover in fleece. 

Grow bags are also hard to overwater as any excess water is allowed to wick out of the container.

What I am Growing in Grow Bags
This year I am growing a variety of vegetables in my grow bags. I bought 10 bags each in two different sizes: 25 gallon bags for my big vegetables including pumpkins, courgettes, and cucumbers and 10 gallon bags for tomatoes, sunflowers, beans, peas, kale, salad, broccoli, and carrots. Grow bags are also perfect for cut flowers so I am growing gypsophila and calendula from seed in them this year.

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