Growing food for yourself or your family is empowering and benefits both mental and physical health. Growing a few things at home can help reduce the number of trips to the grocery store and can make a big impact in your weekly food budget.
In fact, during a similarly uncertain time in our nation’s history, families grew “Victory Gardens” to prevent food shortages during World War I and World War II. Now faced with our current health pandemic, Victory Gardens have resurfaced as families seeks ways to be self-sustaining and grow vegetables, fruits and herbs affordably.
For many, gardening is more than just growing food and becomes a lifelong interest that can include lots of other activities such as seed saving, learning to preserve foods by canning and fermenting, ornamental gardening, floral arranging and more, but you don’t need to start there. For first-time gardeners, you can focus on learning to grow just a few things to add in to your meals, such as herbs, salad greens, tomatoes or peppers.
Plus, this approach doesn’t require a lot of tools or costly equipment. The sheer joy of planting a seed and watching it grow is enduring and truly one of life’s most extraordinary gifts. Even a giant sequoia tree was once just a tiny seed, not more than a few millimeters big.
Some plants can be grown inside on a sunny windowsill with minimal effort or supplies. If you have a nice, sunny window in your home, consider growing herbs like chives, rosemary, parsley, sage and thyme. These plants are commonly sold by local garden centers or nurseries in small 4” pots. Plus, you can pot them into decorative planters. Here’s some guidance for good growth:
- Give these plants a warm, sunny location (at least 6 hours of bright or direct sunlight)
- Water thoroughly when the surface of the soil dries out.
- Harvest regularly with kitchen shears or pruners to encourage growth.
Herbs are a wonderful way to begin gardening and can be one of the biggest ways to save money at the grocery store! Bundles of fresh herbs can cost up to $3-4 at the grocery store and are sometimes hard to use up before they go bad. However, a 4” potted herb will cost only $4-5 and will last many months.
If you grow herbs that you use frequently, you’ll only be harvesting what you need, when you need it. Herbs on-demand! Fresh herbs compliment your meals by adding vibrant flavor as well as important nutrients, without added salt or fat. Once you’re accustomed to using your homegrown fresh herbs, you’ll likely consider adding them to all kinds of dishes including salads and homemade salad dressings, fresh herb pesto, herbed butters and soups.
Another great indoor gardening activity is growing sunflower or pea shoots! These nutrient-packed powerhouses go from seed to harvest in as little as 7-10 days and are delicious when eaten fresh on top of spring pasta dishes, sandwiches or tossed in with sautéed vegetables after cooking.
If you have a sunny shelf or windowsill, you can easily grow these in 2” of organic potting soil in a small tray or container. Aluminum loaf pans are another great, low-cost option and are found at most grocery stores, and fit well on a windowsill. Here’s my guidance for growth:
- Moisten enough soil to fill to about 2” inside the container. Soil should be moist enough to hold together when clumped.
- Spread seeds to cover the entire surface of the soil, so that seeds are touching but not overlapping.
- Cover with a thin ½” layer of soil and water lightly.
- Cover with plastic wrap, or use the plastic lid that came with the aluminum pan to keep in moisture.
- Once seeds have sprouted, remove the plastic covering and check daily for watering needs.
- Pea shoots can be harvested when they are about 6” tall and sunflower shoots are harvested after the first two leaves have fully opened, and before the next set of leaves develop.
If you have even a few feet of space to garden outside, try growing green leafy vegetables in containers! Many nutrient-dense greens will grow happily in a sunny, outdoor location in just 6” of soil. Window boxes or any larger pot with drainage in the bottom will work great for greens such as swiss chard, kale, collards, leaf or head lettuce and spinach.
- Plant seeds according to the directions on the packet, using pre-moistened soil.
- Protect from heavy rain or wind events so that tender plants don’t get damaged or water-logged.
- Good drainage for excess water is key with container gardening.
Pots can be placed on a balcony, patio or porch or grouped together anywhere you have good access and at least 4-6 hours of sunlight.
Growing a selection of green leafy vegetables at home pairs well with many simple, delicious meals or salads that can be made with pantry ingredients you might already have on hand, such as Pasta e Fagioli, Swiss Chard with Cannellini Beans or Tomato, Chickpea and Basil Salad. Other vegetables that grow well in containers are tomatoes, sweet or hot peppers, eggplant, and even green beans and cucumbers!
Climbing plants such as pole beans and most cucumbers will require some support to grow on but, if you have the space, these plants can provide pounds of vegetables throughout the summer supplying you with a great source of healthy food you’ve grown yourself – as well as loads of fun and entertainment!
Enjoy observing how your plants grow, how they climb and reach toward the light, what their flowers look like and how their leaves and fruits develop. These energetic beings reciprocate the care you’ve given them by providing you with life-sustaining phytonutrients and moments of joy and calm, even during these times of uncertainty.
Remember, growing fresh vegetables, harvesting at peak ripeness and nutrition, and using those vegetables in delicious recipes is culinary medicine. Stay healthy, get gardening!