Food is pretty great. Growing your own food is even better. But when you’re living in a shoe box of an apartment with barely a balcony to speak of, and trying to hold down a job that leaves you tired every single night, then growing your own food might seem a little far-fetched.
But the truth is: it isn’t. It’s easy, cheap, and healthy. And all you need are containers, potting soil, a little fertilizer, seeds, water, and sunlight. Large plastic bottles make great containers, as do cloth shopping bags — and with a little starting cash, you can start your own little food production right at home.
Grow the dark leafy greens in a container of at least six square inches — that’s practically all you need to get started on a single plant. Remember that kale loves the sun when the weather is cold, but would rather stay in the shade in warmer temperatures.
When it’s winter, kale will often be sweeter because the plant concentrates more sugar into its leaves. Kale’s nutritional benefits are staggering (particularly in calcium and vitamins A, C and K). And best of all, it can be baked and seasoned into the perfect healthy snack — salted kale chips.
Growing greens in a windowbox is easy — poke holes into the soil about four inches apart, sprinkle some seeds of your choice (in this case, slightly spicy arugula), pat soil over the holes, and gently sprinkle water. Be careful when poking your holes so the pressure of your finger doesn’t compact the soil too much, which makes it harder for sprouts to spread their roots. Once they start appearing, pick the strongest shoot for each hole and cull the other ones, to optimize growth and increase the chances of survival for that one shoot. A little shade doesn’t hurt, especially in warmer weather.
Arugula’s biggest benefit aside from the taste, especially if you’re a fan of a little spice — is in its vitamin A content. If you’re a fan of spinach in your smoothies, try out some arugula instead — it’s a real treat.
When you think of carrots, you probably think of large containers and long taproots — but baby carrots can be an efficient way to up your intake of delicious orange root, all while using a container no taller than 10 inches. Baby carrots (depending on what seeds you get) can be harvested at finger length. Store-bought baby carrots are actually rejected carrots chopped up into smaller bits, so if you want to keep ’em tiny then you’ll have to pay attention.
Seedlings (once culled) should be at least an inch apart from one another (and you can toss the cuttings in a salad), and after a month you can check on the roots to see how they fare (if the shoulders of the carrot poke out, they’re generally good to go). To optimize the space in your container, a great companion for your carrots are…
If you’re growing carrots in spring or fall, then planting little red radishes can be a great way to start the season. Unlike carrots, radishes are taproots that grow really fast — and they’re delicious in all sorts of salads, or as a simple garnish.
Radishes germinate (grow sprouts) after less than two weeks, and can be spaced an inch apart with seeds half an inch deep. Remember to water very lightly (sprinkle the water gently) to avoid flooding the soil and washing away its nutrients. Once the green plant of the radish is about four inches, it’s time to harvest!
While a sturdy tomato plant will require a big pot (about 14 inches wide), you can grow several tomato plants in a container for delicious little cherry tomatoes! Best grown in summer, tomatoes enjoy some shade and good amounts of sunlight, lots of fertilizer and a stick of some sort for the plant to support itself as it grows its fruit.
Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, a great antioxidant to spurs your body’s own production of endogenous antioxidants like glutathione, melatonin, and alpha-lipoic acid. They’re also incredibly delicious, and a must-have for any fan of salads and Italian cooking.
Peas are climbing plants, so they (like tomatoes and pole beans) like something to climb on. If you’ve got a balcony, then a great idea is to line your peas, tomatoes and beans along the railing, letting them climb up the metal (and giving you an extra bit of privacy, to boot!).
Peas are rich in fiber and vitamin C, and pack a surprising amount of protein for their stature and size. They grow quick, too!
Best buds to peas, pole beans grow quickly and are just as delicious (and nutritious) as their bush varieties, which take up more space. Both grow well in summer, just like tomatoes, and require to be planted at least three inches apart and about an inch deep.
A tip is to water at the base of the plant, and avoid getting the leaves wet. This discourages bacterial/mold disease, and malformed pods. Depending on what beans you plant, beans are an excellent source of protein, vitamins and minerals.
A catch-all term for capsicum plants with high amounts of capsaicin (which is what makes chilies spicy), chili plants love moisture, and they love a lot of sunlight!
You can grow them in a pot with germinated seeds spaced about two inches apart. Unlike beans, which don’t like to be transplanted, you can germinate your seeds on a wet paper towel in a sealed plastic container instead of the soil. If you’re lucky, you’ll have strong sprouts within two weeks. If you don’t have access to a window with heavy sunlight, then saving up for a fluorescent growing light is an alternative option for sun-loving crops.
#9. Bell Peppers.
Bell peppers could use slightly more space to work with (a single plant works best in a 4-inch pot, although a 2-inch pot will do the trick too), but the principle is the same as with chilies. If you’re transplanting, wait until seedlings have grown into a plant with at least a single set of true full-sized leaves before switching to a pot. That way, they’ll be sturdy enough to survive the switch.
Bell peppers have an incredible amount of Vitamin C, and a good amount of potassium. They’re also very juicy, and are the perfect ingredient for filled veg — cook some rice or couscous, stuff ’em up, add olives, capers, and other goodies, and enjoy an amazing baked meal.
A single zucchini plant requires a 5-gallon pot, and the seedlings themselves need at least around two inches to grow properly. While it might seem like that’s a lot of space, a single zucchini plant (when it’s doing really well) can pump out a small zucchini four to five times a week. That’s a lot of veg.
While zucchinis are no superfood, they’re perfect for making noodle-like “zoodles” if you’re feeling like craving pasta but don’t want to deal with the gluten, and they’re great in salads with pineapple, cucumber, and a sweet and zesty vinaigrette.
Do you like pickles? Because now you can make them. Your very own pickles. Using a (large) hanging container, lots of water and a dwarf cultivar, you can now say hello to baby cucumbers and delicious relish. Being relatives to zucchinis, there’s not much of a difference in growing the two — aside from time, and size of container required.
Once your seeds have grown to about three inches, pull out all but the two strongest and let these grow alongside one another until they’re 10 inches tall. Then, cull the weaker one and get one step closer to enjoying your crunchy gherkins!
Potatoes! In crates! You may call it crazy, but you can plant and grow potatoes in your very own balcony. How? Well, get your seed potatoes ready (they should be about the size of an egg), keep them in sunlight so their eyes will grow into shoots, then, in a sturdy plastic bag lined at the bottom with dirt, or a self-made pallet-built wooden crate, layer the seed potatoes with soil one layer after another, until you’ve filled your bag or crate.
After about 10 weeks, or three months if you want to be safe, carefully tear your bag open or disassemble a side of your crate, and enjoy your potato bounty! Yields can be crazy –depending on your cultivar, you can be looking at 100 pounds in four square feet of space. That’s a lot of french fries and mashed potatoes. And a lot of money saved, too. Potatoes are a good source of vitamin C and complex carbohydrates, so they make a space-efficient fuel source and staple food — especially when grown vertically.
Avocados grow on trees — but that doesn’t mean you can’t get them growing on your kitchen counter. Step one is getting a pit to sprout, which involves putting it in some warm water, dipping in about an inch. To keep it from sinking, stick some toothpicks into the pit (near the top) to suspend it over the bottom of the glass. Change the water frequently, and if successful, you’ll get roots and a sprouted pair of leaves or two from the pit. Then, transfer it into a 10-inch diameter pot and simply care for the tree — cut away excess growth to keep the tree from outgrowing the pot, and be very, very patient.
Investing in an avocado tree is something you should do if you’re looking at wanting avocados sometime in the next… decade. They’re not an immediate (or at least quick growing) crop like most of the other plants here, but eventually it’ll turn into a nice little tree.
A quick-growing root crop, kohlrabi is a cabbage and cauliflower-related plant that is more commonly known for its strange, gnarled and purple-white bulb-shaped root. Strong seedlings should be grown four inches apart and require a container of around four to five inches in height. Usually, the root grows to about three inches in diameter, and it can be eaten raw, less than two months after planting. Yup, pretty darn quick. With an enormous amount of vitamin C, fiber, and potassium, it’s a pretty nutritious little root as well.
Like kohlrabi, turmeric (and its larger cousin ginger) is easy to grow in a little pot at home. Take a large root with several buds, and break it apart into little pieces for each bud, plant them two inches below the surface of the soil, and water them. The container size is almost irrelevant so long as there is enough room for the root to grow larger (they don’t get very large to begin with), and turmeric has such a powerful taste and aroma that you won’t need much in your cooking, either.
But its benefits don’t just come from the unique taste — this little orange-golden root works as a pain killer for rheumatism and osteoarthritis (as well as ibuprofen, one study showed), and there are studies that claim turmeric is beneficial against inflammation, rashes, diabetes, dementia, and cancer.
Growing onions for the thick, pungent leaves is best done in a nice large plastic tub with holes drilled into it for drainage. Space your onions about three inches apart and water them regularly with plenty of sun for the most growth, and trim the greens often!
Chopped up, they work nicely in salads, stir-fry dishes, omelettes and spreads. If grown from seeds, onions can take several months to mature to full bulbs from early spring to late summer. You can also plant onion sets (the inner core layers of the onion), although it’ll still take you months before a full-grown bulb emerges.
Growing garlic only requires four inches distance between individual planted cloves, and frequent water, and sunlight. Once the cloves sprout and begin to grow flowers, clipping the flowers and keeping the leaves low in number will focus growth on the bulb, and after about 10 months, each single clove will have turned into a full bulb. Plus, you can keep the leaves — they’re tasty!
For a single batch of garlic this might be inefficient, but if it’s warm enough where you are, you can plant and hang your grown garlic in cycles. Garlic has anti-bacterial and antibiotic properties, thanks to a sulfur compound called allicin (which is also responsible for its smell).
If you’ve got a little lemon tree, and want it to bear fruit without dying, then keep it outside during summer. Citrus trees need lots of sun and lots of humidity, the kind you can’t really get indoors naturally. Lemon trees don’t bear fruit for years unless they receive a grafting from a fruit-bearing tree, and for that, you’ll have to consult with someone who owns lemon trees. You can also get yourself a commercially-available plant.
Herbs are simple and fun to grow, and they’re incredibly useful in cooking. You can grow a massive range in a window box: oregano, basil, mint, lavender, and thyme. Frequent watering and direct sunlight by the window is essential for a thriving crop, and make sure to weed out the stragglers while the herbs sprout to produce only the strongest plants.
Aside from being incredibly tasty and the heart of almost any dish in any cuisine, herbs carry a host of important physical effects, both in the form of vitamins and antioxidants, and in the form of essential oils. Lavender oil is great for cuts, burns, and infections on the skin, and has calming aromatic properties.
While fungi is definitely not the first thing you may think of, there are some kinds of fungi that, with the right attention, will become excellent additions to your kitchen. Oyster mushrooms and shiitake mushrooms grow on straw and wood respectively, whereas button mushrooms like manure, so if you’re growing them indoors and at home then the latter might not be too welcome.
Mushroom spawn can be bought online, or from specialty stores, and is essentially sawdust or straw mixed with mycelia, which is the nerve-like matter through which mushrooms grow over vegetation. There are several steps to growing mushrooms.
First, you need to sterilize the mycelia from other micro-organisms by dampening the sawdust or straw and heating it up in a microwave for just a minute or two, until it’s dry again. Then you need to mix the spawn with its respective growth material. Add heat, darkness, and time, and within about a month your tray (a baking pan will also work) will be ready for harvest.