Have a small garden, or no garden at all? Bring the bounty indoors by growing an array of vibrant vegetables and healthy houseplants – no garden or patio required.
Apartment living has its benefits, but the amount of gardening space isn’t one of them. If you are itching to get your fingers in the soil and grow a lush variety of decorative and edible plants, don’t let your lack of patio or outdoor space get you down. There are a number of things you can do to grow your own fresh foods and bring the joys of gardening indoors.
Here are some quick and easy growing tips, and a few air-purifying plants to help improve your home.
Grow your own sprouts
Whether you want to fill your sandwich with crunchy greens, add the delicate flavor of pea shoots to a stir-fry, or garnish pasta with the delicious flavor of broccoli sprouts, sprouting is an easy and fast way of growing fresh produce right in your windowsill. Depending on the type of seed, the method varies. Small seeds such as broccoli can be done in a mason jar with either a commercially available plastic mesh sprouting lid, or a layer of cheesecloth fastened with a rubber band.
- Start by putting 1 tablespoon of broccoli seeds (or other tiny edible seeds) in a jar, add 2 cups of cool water, and soak the seeds for two hours.
- After that initial soak, drain and rinse your seeds twice, then store the jar upside down in a dim corner of your kitchen, rinsing and draining the seeds every 8 to 12 hours for three days.
- On the fourth day, put the jar in a sunny window for a day to green the sprouts up, and once that’s done they are ready to eat.
You can store sprouts in the refrigerator for about five days. Lest you think that these humble sprouts aren’t as healthy as the real thing, a study done by Johns Hopkins University found that you get as much antioxidant in 1 ounce of broccoli sprouts as you would if you ate three pounds of regular broccoli! How’s that for a superfood?
Larger seeds such as sunflower or pea shoots have a slightly different technique, because raw sunflower seeds with the shells on and dehydrated peas both have an unappealing texture. Therefore, these are best grown in a small pot or a shallow nursery tray, so you can leave behind the inedible portions when it’s time to harvest.
- Start by soaking your pea seeds or sunflower seeds for 8 to 12 hours, then plant them in a high quality organic potting soil. Use about a quarter cup of seeds for a 6 inch diameter pot, or 2 cups for a 10” x 20” tray, if you need a lot for making a stir-fry.
- Scatter the soaked seeds in a thick layer over the soil, then sprinkle a little bit of soil over the top so they are just barely covered. Place it in a bright sunny window and keep it evenly moist.
- Pea shoots will be ready to harvest when they are 2 to 4 inches tall, after the second set of leaves appear (usually about 10 to 14 days). Sunflower shoots should be harvested when they are 2 to 4 inches tall but only have their first set of rounded seed leaves. Clip your sprouts at the soil line, and rinse them in a salad spinner. They can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Grow vegetables and greens on your windowsill
Many vegetables grow easily in a sunny kitchen, as long as you take care to provide good airflow (don’t crowd them), water regularly but allow the soil to dry just a bit between watering (keep it moist but not soggy), and give the plants the best light you can manage (placing mirrors or reflective surfaces nearby may help). It’s also important to match the plant with the correct size of pot.
- Shallow-rooted plants such as lettuces, spinach, radishes, and dwarf carrots such as ‘Nantes’ or ‘Parisienne’ grow easily in most standard pots, as long as they have 8 to 10 inches of depth.
- Kale and Swiss chard grow tall enough that they need a pot at least 14 inches deep.
- If you install grow lights to give your production a boost, even heat loving plants such as cherry tomatoes, peppers, basil, and a variety of other herbs are all within reach for the indoor gardener.
The book Indoor Kitchen Gardening by Elizabeth Millard is an excellent resource for apartment gardeners who want to grow their own food.
Filter the air with chemical-reducing houseplants
Did you know that houseplants can actually clean the air you breathe? Chemical emissions from fabric and furnishings, cosmetics and office supplies, and even your computer and printer lower your air quality indoors and can contribute to problems such as asthma or allergies. Houseplants are the answer! Not only are they beautiful, but many of them are highly effective at filtering the air we breathe and leaving us with a healthier environment.
- Rubber plant (Ficus robusta) is one of the most powerful plants for removing formaldehyde, which is commonly released into the air from draperies, carpets, and fabrics. It makes a strong architectural statement as a houseplant, growing to an eventual height of 8 feet tall, and it’s easy to grow given bright indirect light.
- Heart-leaf philodendron (Philodendron oxycardium) grows easily even in low light conditions, is resistant to pests and disease, and is moderately good at filtering the air.
- Snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata) is available with a variety of beautiful variegations and stripes, is easy to grow in even the darkest of corners, and also contributes to filtering out chemical emissions.
- English ivy (Hedera helix) is easy to grow and can trail over the edge of a table or dresser, or be trained onto a topiary form. The variegated versions need more light, but the green ones can tolerate a darker corner. They are excellent air filters and take care of a variety of common household emissions.
- Peace lily (Spathiphyllum sp.) has dark green, glossy leaves and white “spathes” that look like flowers. It’s another powerhouse at filtering the air, removing acetone, trichloroethylene, benzene, and formaldehyde. They prefer bright light and need regular watering (they droop dramatically when neglected), but are otherwise easy keepers and are a great starter houseplant both for their beauty and for their health giving properties.
You can see that your lack of patio or garden space needn’t keep you from experiencing the benefits that gardening has to offer – fresh, healthy food, clean air, and the joy of digging your hands in the dirt and decorating with plants.