When I ask Keith Colls if I’ve done the wrong thing by planting four cauliflower plants in one pot, he responds in exactly the way I would want a gardening tutor to answer.
With kindness, a wry smile and brutal honesty he says “one plant per pot, and that’s the most you can do with brassica I’m afraid.”
Keith would know; after all he’s been gardening most of his life. Raised on a farm on Queensland’s Darling Downs, his connection to the soil began with a veggie patch that provided the family with ample fruit and veggies. To hear Keith put it, “I’ve been at least involved in gardening for yonks.” We sat down to quiz him on what he’s learned since his days in the rich Queensland loam.
How did you come to teaching?
I’ve been with the Canberra Organic Growers society for many years, and one of the things that we found was that people don’t know and want to know a lot more about gardening, because we had allotment gardens we used to manage, so that’s how we got started running courses, running workshops and things. It just grew from there.
You teach ‘Balcony and Courtyard Gardening’. Do you have a hot tip for successfully growing plants in pots?
Herbs and things are definitely the easiest thing to start off with, but you can grow nearly anything in a pot. The only difference between growing things in pots and growing thing in ground is that you have to look after them more carefully because the plant in the pot is totally dependent on you, whereas the plant in the ground can spread its roots to look for nutrients and the soil is a lot cooler, so you don’t have to worry about them getting hot whereas in pots they can get very hot.
I’ve noticed since moving to pots that even when the weather is mild they do dry out a lot faster, do you have to keep a really close eye on them?
Absolutely, you have to keep an eye on the whole bit. They are totally contained to the pot. Normally a plant sends out roots looking for water, looking for nutrients. But there are advantages to growing things in a pot too. If you want to grow frost sensitive stuff, in the winter you can pull the pots into somewhere sheltered – whereas obviously if they’re out in the ground you can’t do that. You have to build structures over your beds.
What’s your favourite form of Organic Pest Control?
Well, it’s squashing actually. Squashing is the cheapest and easiest way. Derris Dust is allowed, which is a powdered form of the derris root can be handy. Nets are also a good pest control method. That said, most of the things you do in organic gardening aren’t just simple little things. If you want to do it sustainably the best way is to build up all of the predator insects – ladybirds, lacewings, all those sorts of things. So you have to provide them with flowers. You should always have flowers in a veggie garden!
What’s your number one tip for successful veggie gardening?
I would recommend staggering out your planting – most people wind up with a big glut of produce in February because they have planted everything in spring. If you spread it through the spring and summer you’ll have produce all season long.