Posted on April 9, 2021
Growing your own food is a fun, satisfying, productive, and healthy hobby. You may think you don't have enough space, enough sunlight, or enough experience, but I'm here to show you why you're wrong! Here are a few easy plants you can grow in any home and some fun ideas for using them.
Growing From Seeds vs Buying Seedlings
The first decision you will need to make is if you will be buying the seeds or buying young plants (seedlings). There are pros and cons of both. Growing from the seeds is much more cost-effective and many gardeners find a lot of joy and pride in working through the entire life-cycle of a plant. However, for beginners, the time between planting the seed and the plant reaching the point at which it will be sold as a seedling can be the toughest part of gardening and starting seeds in large numbers can require some specialized equipment.
If you just want to start off with a few plants on a windowsill, stick with buying seedlings, but if you have a bit more experience and want to learn the process and invest the time and equipment cost, you can save a money and grow a larger yield over time. For this article, we will focus on buying seedlings from a nursery or hardware store garden center.
Let's start with herbs. These are easy to grow and super versatile in the kitchen. Basil is a great starting point--it is beautiful, fragrant, easy to find, and easy to grow. Basil will thrive with a high level of sunlight, so if you have a particularly sunny window or balcony, that's where you'll want this to live. The large smooth leaves of basil are unmistakable. Transplant the seedling into a medium-sized planter with container garden soil and water daily or whenever the soil is dry. You can start harvesting the basil as soon as the plant is 8-10 inches tall. By this time, it will be established and stable enough that harvesting leaves will encourage new growth.
Fresh basil excels in Mediterranean and Italian food. Keep it simple and stack whole basil leaves with fresh-cut tomato and fresh mozzarella with a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar for a classic Caprese Salad. Chiffonade the leaves to sprinkle onto warm pizza or pasta. If you have a particularly bountiful harvest, make a batch of basil pesto! You will want to use your basil within a few days, as it will start to wilt and lose its flavor after not too long. If you want to store your harvest long-term, finely chop the herbs, mix the chopped leaves with olive oil, and use ice cube trays to freeze single-portion herbed olive oil for future use!
Whereas basil is a fresh, summery herb, Rosemary has a warm, robust, flavor and aroma that serves fall and winter dishes extraordinarily well. It also grows in colder weather and does not need as much sunlight or water as basil. Like basil, you will transplant the seedling into a medium-sized planter, but if you do have a bit more space, this is a great candidate for a larger planter. If properly cared for, it can grow into a larger bush-like crop that will produce usable herbs year after year. You should bring it in during the coldest parts of winter, but if covered and properly cared for, it cam even be left out year-round.
Your rosemary will be ready to harvest once there are sprigs over 8 inches long. Use scissors or pruning shears to snip the top quarter or so of the sprigs, making sure to leave at least half of the height of the plant intact. Once you have the clippings, you can use the herb fresh or let it dry for long-term storage. When you use rosemary, you should pull the smaller needles off of each sprig and discard the branch and then finely chop it before use, as the leaves don't fully soften during cooking and they can jab the inside of your mouth if you're not careful.
Parsley is a super versatile herb with a fresh flavor that can enhance a wide variety of dishes. Like basil, parsley will do best with generous exposure to sunlight, but does not need full, all-day sun to survive. Harvest sprigs of parsley once the plant is 10 inches tall and use the leaves in everything!
Chop the leaves (not too finely!) and sprinkle on soups, salads, rice, or almost anything else. The flavor isn't too strong, but it will add a layer of freshness to your dish.
On to vegetables! While many vegetables to need a bit more space than herbs, you can still grow a lot of your own food in containers. Tomatoes are a great first choice and you can often buy the plants in a large enough pot that you do not need to replant them. Sometimes, it will even come with a cage for the plant to grow onto. There is a seemingly endless variety of tomatoes, but they should all do well in containers. Cherry tomatoes and Roma (also called plum) tomatoes are my personal favorites to grow. They are a bit smaller, so they grow a bit faster and there's nothing quite like eating a whole cherry tomato right off the vine.
Harvest the tomatoes once they are fully red (unless you've bought a variety that stays yellow!), but before they get too soft. Leaving them too long can lead to a mushy tomato and can eventually attract fruit flies. Once harvested, use within a couple days. Pair them with the basil you grew in almost every dish!
5. Hot Peppers
This may be a bit more of a matter of taste, but hot peppers are great for container planting. You should have no trouble finding jalapeno or habanero seedlings, but if you are a bit more adventurous, you can order seeds for ghost peppers, thai chilis, or scotch bonnets and work up a sweat.
Your peppers will need a bit more room to grow than you think, so transplant the seedlings into at least a 12-inch pot. They will do best with ample sunlight and generous watering. Harvest the peppers once they have reached their final color and size, which varies based on the pepper you choose. Hot peppers will continue to get hotter if you wait to harvest them, but don't leave them long enough that they start to wilt or get mushy. Use these to make your own hot sauces, add to chili or salsa, or use in stir fry to kick it up a bit.
Unfortunately, most vegetables that thrive in containers need full sun, but salad greens can thrive both in containers and in less sunny spots. Kale, arugula, lettuce, spinach, and other salad greens will grow well without direct sun and will give you a great yield. Many greens will grow to the size of the container, so if you want to maximize your yield, choose a larger (12-16 inch) container.
Generally, when you grow your own greens, you should eat them fresh instead of cooking them. First, if you've ever cooked spinach or kale, you know how quickly a bucket full of greens will seemingly cook down to a single bite, so cooking your greens will make your harvest look a lot smaller than it is! But also, freshly picked greens have a great flavor that is best enjoyed fresh. Toss your greens with some olive oil and vinegar and season with salt and pepper for an easy and simple salad, or use them to add a fresh bite to sandwiches or burgers.