How many times have you looked out your kitchen or bathroom window to the concrete below and wished you had a nice patch of grass to turn into a garden? Have you cringed when going through the check-out at your local grocery store because you’ve spent a car payment on fresh produce and dreamed of how much money you could save by growing your own food? If only you had somewhere outside you could use for planting!
Don’t think that just because you don’t have a yard, you can’t have a garden. On the contrary, indoor gardening is more popular than ever. There is no time like the present to start saving some green by developing your green thumb; here are a few options to include in your very own countertop garden.
Adding some fresh herbs is the best way to spice up any dish. For many of them, all you need is some room on a windowsill and you’re in business! Keep in mind that although these herbs (for the most part) love the sun’s natural rays, they need to be protected from artificial heat, so plant them away from the stovetop or the oven. Also, they grow best when the indoor environment mimics the outdoors in terms of temperature, and you can achieve this day to night climate shift by allowing your indoor temp to drop about 10 degrees when the sun goes down. Finally, be sure to water your herb garden appropriately. Good drainage is especially essential as they like to be watered but don’t fare well sitting in a pool.
Here are a few must have herbs:
One of the most common herbs to have on hand and one of the easiest to grow indoors, parsley will not disappoint if you are willing to wait to see some results (slow to germinate seeds may take up to two weeks to poke through the soil). Once you get it growing, parsley does not require much maintenance or light.
Rosemary is a good indoor choice because it does well when left unattended: it prefers a less moist environment and, indeed, it is easy to over-water rosemary. Additionally, an upright variety (like Blue Spire or Tuscan Blue) remains more compact than some of its cousins.
If you’re looking for an oniony kick, chives are the way to go. An easy to grow little herb, chives do not require much light and grow very quickly. Chives are easiest to start when you plant a bunch of existing sprouts, complete with roots, into a small pot of soil and trim off one-third of the crowns on top to stimulate new growth.
Fruits & Vegetables
Growing your own fruits and vegetables allows you to add a burst of fresh flavor to your dishes without having to make a grocery run. A couple of good options include:
While commonly thought of as a vegetable, the juicy tomato is actually (technically) a fruit! And there’s a way to grow your own without having an elaborate set-up: plant cherry, or “window-sill,” tomatoes indoors because they do not require a wooden stake for climbing vines like other varieties of tomatoes.
Round Radishes or Baby Carrots
Either one of these smaller varieties of vegetables will grow well on your countertop. The main difference between growing vegetables and other plants inside is the use of compost with the potting soil. For more on appropriate soil, let’s look at our final consideration for our indoor garden.
Although the likelihood is lessened by growing indoors, you may still experience one of the un-pleasantries of an outdoor garden: pests! The good news is that there are several things you can do to minimize and even eliminate them.
Even though you can likely find cheap or free soil from an outdoor garden, resist the urge to use this in planting your indoor garden. This soil is prone to both diseases and pests and you should stay away from it entirely. Instead, go with a commercial potting soil, or make your own tri-mix of soil, compost, and vermiculite (you could also use perlite or sand instead of the vermiculite, or even a mixture of all three to add to your soil/compost mix).
Keep up your plant’s defenses by maintaining appropriate light/temperature ratios and bathe them regularly with water. The conditions found indoors are not necessarily conducive to a healthy plant (that’s why so many office plants never make it), so make sure you monitor their condition and remedy problems as soon as you notice them.
If, despite your best efforts, you notice pests have moved in, move them right back out, permanently. You can use a safe insecticidal soap spray which is effective against insects on contact. Be sure to apply this spray at night/early evening to prevent it from drying and evaporating rapidly and never apply it in direct sunlight as this can burn the leaves. Finally, make sure you wash off the leaves you have sprayed prior to eating.
But now that you know the basics, you’re ready to do just that – grow your own food and eat it! So, what’s on the menu from your garden? What are some of your favorite tips and tricks to growing your own herbs, fruits and vegetables?
Mike Tuma is a store associate at a Chicago-area Home Depot. Mike also contributes to the Home Depot blog, and is interested in outdoor products ranging from chainsaws to riding lawn mowers.