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How to grow vegetables without a garden

Suzanne Elvidge is a writer, editor and proofreader specialising in healthcare, technology, business and eco-issues. You can visit her at www.pharmawrite.co.uk/.

Veggies on the windowsill

It's amazing how much you can grow in even the smallest of gardens or window boxes - but what if your apartment doesn't have a yard, a fire escape or even an outside window ledge? Does that mean you can never have the luxury of vegetables with zero food miles? Don't despair - you too can grow your own. And you might even have the luxury of eating fresh, homegrown vegetables out of season. Here's how!

Herbs in WindowPick the sunniest window in the place

Pick the lightest and brightest window in the house or apartment — vegetables need plenty of light. As the light is only coming from one side, the pots might need to be turned every day or so, to stop the plants all leaning to one side. If it's still not bright enough, try simulating sunlight using "grow lights" (or try "daylight" fluorescent lights, which may work out cheaper, but won't be as powerful) — but don't forget to turn them off at night.

Grow in the dark

Don't have a sunny ‘sill? Grow fungi. Mushrooms don't even need light — try growing them in a dark cupboard, using compost pre-seeded with mushroom spawn, or a specially prepared log for more unusual varieties.

Choose mini-veggies

You can grow a wide range of vegetables indoors, but keep in mind that many veggies may grow enormous or not cope well with being in a pot. Look for varieties that are described as "dwarf," "baby" or "bush," or are listed as being suitable for container growing. Really, it's worth trying anything (except perhaps huge things like pumpkins or corn…). Deep-rooted vegetables such as parsnips will be difficult to grow unless the pots are huge, but things like round radishes and small-rooted carrots and beets should do well.

Think décor and dinner

Rather than growing "ordinary" varieties that you can just buy at the store, think about plants with attractive flowers that will act as both decoration and food, or unusually colored vegetables, such as pink striped eggplants, purple carrots or yellow tomatoes. Beautiful to look at and delish to eat. They also liven up your meals with their gorgeous — and perhaps unusual — colors.

Pick them young

Salad vegetables grow well indoors, and if the windowsill is light enough, can even grow through the winter. They can be planted closer together than those out in the garden, and are even more delicious picked young — keep sowing them regularly to get a constant supply.

Plant a salad supply

Try planting a mixture of different lettuces, and mix in some nasturtiums and arugula for a spicier salad, or some basil for something a bit more fragrant. If picked young, spinach and beet leaves work well in salads, too. You can start every lunch or dinner with a freshly picked and tossed salad — adding elegance and nutrition to your everyday meals.

Don't forget the herbs

Herbs are very useful things to have growing in a kitchen window. Basil grows very quickly, as does mint (but give it its own pot — it will take over, given half a chance). The more woody herbs, like rosemary and thyme, will also grow indoors in pots. Herbs generally need good light and a bit of warmth. (Tips for growing and cooking with your own herbs.) 

Watch their height

If the windows are big enough, try plants like sweet or chili peppers, cucumbers, eggplants or tomatoes (especially cherry tomatoes). Once they have reached the top of the window (or as high as you want them to be), pinch out the growing tip to stop them getting any taller (and blocking out all your light). Dwarf beans and peas can do well indoors, but will need canes or string to climb up.

Plant veggies in compost

Fill the containers with multi-purpose potting compost — do not use garden soil as it can bring pests indoors, and can get compacted in the pots, not allowing the roots to breathe. Sprinkle seeds lightly on the surface of the compost, cover them thinly with compost, and water gently. Some nurseries will sell young plants that can go straight into pots.

Choose pretty pots and containers

As the containers will be on show all the time, it might be an idea to pick nice-looking plain or glazed terracotta pots, or get adventurous with recycling — what about an old watering can, a kitchen colander, cleaned out large food cans, brightly colored buckets, or wooden crates and old baskets lined with plastic. If the containers don't have any drainage holes, drill a few of these so that the plants don't get waterlogged.

Don't water too much

Water the vegetables regularly, as they won't be getting any rain, but don't over water them as this can stop oxygen getting to the roots. Feed the plants as well, using a good liquid feed. Don't forget to use saucers or drip trays under the pots to protect the floors and carpets.

Be a bee

Anything that relies on insects for fertilizing the flowers might need a bit of a hand — use a soft paintbrush to transfer pollen from one plant to another (bee impressions are not essential, but might amuse the kids!).

Show off your homegrown veggies

Time to enjoy your homegrown vegetables. As they are so young and fresh, cook your vegetables very simply to show off their wonderful flavors. Try steaming them lightly and tossing them in homemade herb butter (finely chop and mash into softened butter), or stir them into cooked fresh pasta with a good quality olive oil. Show off your windowsill salads with shavings of Parmesan and crispy croutons made from seeded breads. Or just eat your veggies straight out of the pots — they will be delicious!

Keep reading for more gardening tips

How to garden and grow plants indoors
Compost gardening guide
Money saving tips for gardeners

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