From pot to plate - growing an indoor garden made easy
I cannot stress enough the importance of growing your own food, whether outdoors or on a smaller scale indoors. Conventionally produce, store bought "greens" are often laden with carcinogenic corporate chemicals, as multimillion pound businesses mass grow in pursuit of profit over health. So I hope a few of you, that have shown an interest in my gardening blogs, have started growing your own kitchen gardens, teaching your kids how to grow their own produce or have just simply thought of a more local way to get your hands on cheaper, healthier alternatives.
The simple fact of the matter is, you don’t need a farm or even a back yard to have a crack at growing your own food. It’s amazing what you can grow in pots on a sunny windowsill, on some decking or on a patio. While you won’t be able to grow enough to ditch the supermarket, you will certainly be able to liven up your meals and your living space. A small container-based garden is the perfect place to start your food growing adventure. You definitely don’t need big vegetable beds and you don’t even really need any tools. Starting off small and in this way will help you to build your skills as a gardener without committing huge amounts of time or resources.
A container garden will also reduce your food waste, as when you have ingredients like herbs and leafy greens on hand, you only pick what you need, rather than buying a whole bunch for a few leaves and watching the rest turn into a green sludge in your crisper drawer.
So with all that in mind, allow me to give you a few quick pointers, on a few key factors you may want to think about:
Cucumber love a well lit windowsill
When it comes to choosing a place to grow food, not all spots are created equal. The number one factor to take into account is the amount of direct sunlight your plants will receive. Most food plants need at least six hours of direct sunlight a day to thrive, which means that a shady windowsill or courtyard with a view to your neighbour’s high fence is most definitely out.
Strawberries love a hot, sunny spot
The ideal spot for growing faces roughly between north and south, as this allows for plenty of gentle, year-round sun. West-facing positions can get blazing hot in summer as the afternoon sun is always the hottest, but you can get away with exposing your plants to this intense sunlight, but you’ll have to be vigilant about watering them.
The obvious one is pots or containers for your plants. Any size that you can fit in your space will do the trick, but I’d recommend they’re at least a couple of centimetres deep, with holes in the bottom for drainage.
Any old drainage holes will do
Larger plants like tomatoes or chillies are best planted by themselves in a bigger pot, while herbs and greens can be grown solo in smaller pots or together in larger pots.
Tomatoes like a bit of room for roots to grow
Just remember that space, water and nutrients are limited when growing in pots, so don’t overcrowd your plants! It’s also a good idea to sit the pots in a tray or saucer so that any runoff after watering is safely captured, especially if your pots are on a windowsill. You most certainly don’t want dirty water trickling down the wall onto your nice carpet.
When you’re growing on this micro scale, it’s best to use a high-quality potting compost. It’s important not to skimp on this one, buy the best you can find as your plants will thank you for it later. Using regular soil can lead to disease and pest problems, so seek out a potting mix (preferably organic) that is specifically designed for growing plants in containers. Look for one that has been enriched with compost or manures rather than slow-release chemicals.
The great thing about growing in containers is that you really don’t need any tools. A small watering can that produces a fine stream will cover both your watering needs and liquid fertiliser application. I personally use a child's beaker cup, the risk of a watering can, is the risk of flooding your windowsill. Alternatively, use a thoroughly rinsed out, small hand-pump spray mister (old kitchen cleaner bottles) for keeping plants fresh and happy during the heat of summer, especially in houses where air-conditioning is used.
Although I tend to focus more on vegetables, herbs such as oregano are ideal for pot growing, especially if they are in or near the kitchen. Herbs like chives, rosemary, thyme and oregano are also perfect for beginners as they are robust and forgiving for those who haven’t quite developed their green thumbs just yet. Once you’re feeling a little more confident, try planting some parsley, basil and coriander.
Mint grows fast and in abundance
I've neglected my mint this year, by allowing last year's stems to fill up the pot. Mint is also a fantastic herb to grow as its almost impossible to kill off, so always grow in pots because if this things gets a foothold in your garden, in can spread uncontrollably if not monitored closely.
Old "takeaway" trays are perfect for Mixed leaf salad and betroot
What on earth are these, you ask? Greens that grow without forming a single head. Think rocket, not iceberg lettuce. These kinds of greens are perfect for growing in containers because they are not heavy feeders and don’t mind being a little crowded. There is a world of difference between the quality of greens you buy from the shops and ones that you harvest moments before eating them. Look for varieties like land cress, rocket, spinach, loose-leaf lettuces, mustard, mizuna, kale and rainbow chard.
The ultimate small-space crop, these take up minimal room, are very portable, return a yield quickly, and are delicious and nutrient dense.
I am actually planning on writing a complete blog on micro-greens tomorrow, as I'm planning on setting up a full scale micro-Green environment very shortly and have been doing extensive research lately.
When growing in small containers you have to be very conscious of the limited supply of the two things, other than sunshine, a plant needs to survive. There not a lot we can do to control the weather and amount of sunshine we get, but we can keep an eye on and monitor food and water. Staying on top of your watering is extra important if you’re growing your plants on a sunny windowsill as indoor environments tend to have low humidity, and plants and potting mixes can dry out very quickly. As a rule of thumb, give your plants a little water every other day, preferably first thing in the morning. The best test is to push your finger down into the soil and if it feels moist 2cm below the surface, then there is adequate water for the plant to survive.
Mineral salts and other harmful byproducts can accumulate over time, which can have an adverse effect on the health of your plants. To mitigate this, give them a really good soaking once a month as this will aid in the flushing out of any harmful build up.
If your plants are annuals and will only last for a season, such as greens, after you do your final harvest and remove the plant, top up the container with some compost or worm castings before planting the next crop to replenish the nutrients available to your plants. If your plants are perennial, like many herbs and small fruits, repot your plants into fresh potting mix every year to ensure they stay healthy and strong.
Remember trial and error is perfectly fine, what works for one might never work for another. Never get stressed about failure when growing plants, just flip-it and think of it as a lesson on how it just didn't work for you.
Eventually, you'll be (like me) growing all manner of wild and wondrous plants all over the house and garden.