How to grow your own food, with or without a garden!
Well isn't that quite the undertaking? Or is it?
You may be surprised to learn that there isn't as much to is as one might think and that's because of the very nature of plants themselves: all they want to do is grow! Give these gorgeous little life sprouts a chance to do so and soon you'll have plenty of deliciously vibrant food to add to your meals!
One of the main reasons people think that growing their own food is incredible difficult, time-consuming and resource intensive is that they only see food as something you can get from the supermarket, that needs to grow in huge fields or at least an enormous garden.
And while it is true that much of the food we consume is (sadly) grown that way, this never used to be the norm. For centuries, people grew food on a very small scale, without any chemicals or tractors and they did so successfully. They often had to let nature dictate what was going to be on their plate but it certainly must have encouraged a completely different, more respectful outlook on nature and her amazing work.
Another reason one could think growing their own food is difficult is that they are not sure what they can count as "growing food". Of course, if we're talking about growing enough wheat to make bread for a year, this is out of reach to most of us! But that certainly doesn't mean we can't supplement our meals with highly nutritious "add-ons" that we have lovingly grown ourselves.
Here are a few ways in which most people can grow something to spruce up any meal or even create an entire dish, bursting with nature's magic!
Sprouts and Micro-Greens
Yes! Of course they count! Just because they are only in your care for a few days doesn't mean you didn't technically grow these adorable little seedlings!
There is absolutely nothing easier than sprouting seeds, and they also happen to be one of the most nutritiously dense foods one could consume! Even soaking nuts overnight (otherwise known as 'activating') unlocks their hidden treasure of nutritious benefits.
There are so many different seeds that can be used that way, from the ubiquitous mung bean to the surprising sunflower seed to the antioxidant powerhouses that are red cabbage or broccoli sprouts.
Simply put a tablespoon worth of seeds in a jar, soak in water overnight and then drain away the water the next day. All you need to do from then on is rinse the sprouts thoroughly at least once (ideally twice) a day and drain well each time until they have grown into perfectly minuscule little plants - or basically sprouts.
Even backpackers can benefit from freshly sprouted seeds by attaching a little cotton or mesh bag to their backpack and dunking the bag in (clean!) water every so often (don't let it get completely dry though).
As for micro-greens, they'll take a little longer as they actually need to be planted in a growing medium (make sure you use vegan potting soil!) to be cut once they are a few centimeters tall.
Sprouts and Micro-Greens really shine when added to spring rolls, Buddha bowls or salads in my opinion, but you can also sprinkle them atop some cooked dishes (roquette or leek sprouts, for instance, will provide a little kick).
You can even dehydrate them once sprouted and add them to your home made energy bars, bliss balls muesli, granola, crackers, etc.
You won't be able to create a whole meal around those but they will certainly add a very special touch to just about any dish!
Most of them are easy to grow from seed but picking up fully grown plants can be very satisfying too because you get to start using them right away and you can surround yourself with beautiful greenery in as little time as it takes to go to the shop. I mostly recommend opting for plants over seeds for perennials such as thyme, chives, mint, sage, rosemary, lemon balm etc. For parsley, or basil, you might be better off starting them from seeds. With that said, many herbs lend themselves to being propagated from cuttings quite successfully, which is the case for oregano, basil, mint and more. That way, if you have one plant, you can basically have new plant babies endlessly, and if that isn't magic, I don't know what is!
As a bonus, they are beautiful plants that smell amazing, so whether you decide to keep them in the house, on a balcony or even planted out in your garden, they will be a feast for the eyes, for the nose and for the palate!
And most of them make wonderful tea!
As I said before, all plants want to do is grow! So it isn't surprising that even scraps will to their best to create a new generation of plants!
Some do so very obviously, like when a potato, an onion or a garlic clove starts to sprout in your cupboard. Give them a chance: one potato, cut into two or three pieces and thrown into the bottom of a bucket with some dirt will eventually turn into quite a few more potatoes, well over a dozen on some cases! All you need to do is to keep adding soil to the bucket as the plant grows to keep covering it up, only leaving the tip of the plant poking out of the soil. Eventually, when you can no longer add any more dirt to the bucket, the plant will grow to its maximum height and, once it starts to wilt, you'll know the potatoes are ready! Don't forget to water throughout the process though!
Most leafy vegetables will sprout little roots and shoot more leaves up if you put the base in a little container filled with water. Word of advice: change that water often because it will get pretty gross if you don't!
And don't forget to save the seeds whenever you eat anything that contains them! Every seed holds the potential for a new plant: imagine growing your very own apple tree from one small seed!
These offer such a wonderful compromise!
For those who don't want to see their garden or balcony turned into a veg patch (not that there's anything wrong with that in my opinion!), edible flowers are a wonderful solution. And there are many more options than you think! Nasturtiums, marigolds, violas, borage, chamomile and pansies may be the most obvious ones, but there are many more such as hibiscus, honeysuckle, lavender, roses, or some chrysanthemums that may be less obvious but actually tastier! And don't forget that these plants will not just be good for salads.
Have you aver tried a cup of rose, chamomile and honeysuckle tea? Well you should!
All of the above tips can be applied in addition to growing an "actual" little mini garden on a patio or even a balcony. There are so many different possibilities of plants to grow that, even if yours is constantly in the shade, you may be able to at least nurture some salad greens and a few radishes! It's funny how many people think growing ornamentals in pots is perfectly natural but that it isn't realistic for edibles. This couldn't be further from the truth. As explained in 3, even potatoes will do well in containers. As will tomatoes, eggplants (aubergines), zucchinis (courgettes), greens, peas, beans and many more! And they can be beautiful too. It's mostly a question of choosing the right variety. For instance, cherry tomatoes will naturally do better in pots than huge beefsteak tomatoes and dwarf beans won't be as unmanageable as regular runner beans. If you go for a zucchini, choose one that bushes up rather than one that will shoot out a 10 meter vine! There are even some dwarf varieties of fruit trees such as apple trees and cherry trees.
There are many resources out there for people who only have limited space to dedicate to growing veggies, but know that it's always possible!
The principles of permaculture can be applied regardless of the size of your garden. The basic idea is to re-create an ecosystem that is as close as possible to what plants find in nature. So no tilling or digging holes in the ground here! It's mostly a question of adding natural matter on top of the ground to create a topsoil that will be favorable to plant growth. You can even emulate this by adding some mulch to your flower pots, which will retain more moisture at the very least.
The beauty of permaculture is that it allows you to grow edibles regardless of the soil you have.
Another principle to apply is saving your own seeds and composting any plant matter (or adding it directly to the mounds where your plants are growing) you come across. Very quickly, you will start to see most things from the perspective of what they can add to your garden and save anything from coffee grounds to tea leaves to cardboard! In a permaculture system, the plants work off each other and create a balanced environment where you can grow many different edibles in the same small area and with minimal effort.
Let nature do the work
If you can tolerate not having a perfectly trimmed lawn, consider letting nature take over here and there and sprinkle its magic all around you. Brambles, dog roses, wild edibles and medicinals will happily invite themselves into your little corner of of wilderness.
This will allow you to forage in your own backyard! Nettles will make wonderful soup and tea, for instance, while brambles can produce a huge amount of blackberries, particularly if you prune them (which you will pretty much have to do because they are quite invasive!). You can also consume dandelion, plantain, mallow, chamomile, docks and a whole lot more. If you get into the habit of looking into every new plant you find, you'll soon realize you have a lot more food at your disposal than you'd think, without even having to do any work. In fact it requires the opposite! So let your lawn get wild and enjoy the bounty!
Do you grow your own food? Share your favourite methods with us in the comments or oven on Instagram!