Blog for #NationalHouseplantWeek
When I was a small curly haired child, time with my Dad was super precious. As a site manager specialising in large-scale construction projects, he worked a lot, including most weekends. I remember on Sundays he would get up super early, make my mum her coffee, grab a cup of tea, bacon butty and head out into the garden. I would toddle along after him with great enthusiasm. On his only day away from work in the week, he would always spend it out in the garden, growing food for us all to eat (I am one of five siblings). My dad grew up in rural poverty and believed that his kids should know the value of producing their own food and fully understand where it came from. Particularly when food was often scarce, he learnt how to grow additional nutrition from his grandfather who learnt it from his grandfather etc. I loved growing food with my dad; I would stand on the end of his row, which was usually precisely marked out using a builder’s line, and I would excitedly pass him one cabbage plant at a time. Much to his adoring dismay, I would always get upset if he threatened to throw out seedlings that were too small to plant, so he would always plant an extra row of the smaller plants, just for me, so they were not discarded and got a second chance at life.
For me, growing my own food has always given me a real sense of feeding the soul as well as the body. As I go through life, I notice that collectively we are becoming more and more distant from the natural world and I believe our intrinsic connection to nature is so important to our mental health, now more than ever. As we struggle through our third COVID-19 lockdown, with brexit, potential food insecurity on the horizon and as it is ‘National Houseplant Week’, I thought I would share some innovative ways I am growing food inside my little terrace house.
Windowsill growing is a great form of entertainment, you can spectate from your work-from-home desk and it will keep your feet metaphorically and firmly planted in the soil.
The number one food I think everyone should grow in their houses, on their windowsills, is pea shoots. They are so easy and cheap to grow but more importantly, pea shoots taste amazing and are extremely nutritious due to their high protein, polyphenols and vitamin C content.
All you need to grow them is a little compost, pots, trays or frankly any watertight container and some pea seeds. I use dried peas I bought from the supermarket; soaked them over night and place them on top of a 5cm deep layer of compost in trays. I slightly covered mine with another layer of compost but you do not need to do this I also wouldn’t worry about spacing the seeds out too much. I grow mine in a layer with the seeds close together quite successfully. Finally make sure you give them a good water. You can of course use pea seeds from the garden centre or buy them online from a seed company but you will find they are more expensive. I always leave a couple of the plants to go to seed so I can collect the seeds, dry them and use to grow future crops.
Other microgreens you can grow in the same way on your windowsill are radish, cress, rocket, any lettuce and herbs. I would always recommend the cut and come again varieties because you can trim off a few leaves at a time and they will magically grow back in a couple of weeks. Rocket is one of my personal favourites as its peppery flavour packs a good punch. When sowing rocket seeds make sure you cover with a dusting of compost and I find if you place the containers in a plastic bag, the humidity helps the seeds to germinate, but make sure you remove the bag as soon as you see shoots appearing.
We all know that herbs have been used in medicine for centuries as they have many healing properties, so in the midst of a global pandemic what better collection of plants to start growing on your windowsills. I use the herbs I grow to sprinkle on meals and into dishes but my favourite way to use them is by adding boiling water to them to create fresh teas. The best herbs to use for teas I think are thyme, lemon balm, mint, rosemary and camomile. You can buy small plants from your garden centre or online, but for me it’s always nice to find someone in your community whose willing to share a bit of their plant with you or swap it for something else.
Before I go, I have to share with you my latest lockdown experiment, I have started growing watercress. I usually buy a bunch of watercress a week from my local market, but as it is a bit of a superfood it’s quite expensive and does not keep very long. Therefore, I decided to use a few sprigs from my weekly shop and have a go at growing it myself. I placed it in a glass bowl with a few stones at the bottom to trap the stalks under. Within a week, to my delight, it had started to root. I change the water in the bowls weekly and once a month, before I change the water, I throw in a green tea bag for a couple of hours. I started growing my watercress sprigs in the summer and I now get a small weekly crop to add into dishes, salads and smoothies. If you like watercress, I would recommend you have a go yourself.