With less food on the supermarket shelves and more time at home, there’s never been a better time to start growing your own produce. And you don’t need a garden or allotment to do so, Paige Pichler finds out, as she dives into the world of indoor farming.
If there’s anything that the COVID-19 crisis has made abundantly clear, it’s the fragility of the supply chains from which we purchase our food and other household products. Many have started to question the system that’s been in place for most of our lives – simply going to the supermarket and expecting to choose from stocked shelves. Disconnecting us from the agricultural process and the Earth itself, our dependence on supermarkets not only does us a disservice by removing us from the growing process, but it disintegrates our relationship with the planet.
Complete dependence on supermarkets is a relatively new phenomenon. We’re some of the first generations that have virtually no connection with the land and the food that grows on it. We head to the shop, the local restaurant or call a delivery service when we need to eat – no questions asked. This crisis is helping us wake up, take inventory of the way we purchase food and respect the people who tend to it as well as the land it comes from.
The consequences of a single-source food supply spill into our carbon footprint as well. The food industry contributes to massive carbon emissions, deforestation, water wastage, chemical usage and more. According to a study from the University of Michigan “food accounts for 10-30 percent of a household’s carbon footprint; the production of food accounts for 68 percent of total emissions, while its transportation accounts for five percent.” When we only shop at supermarkets, taking multiple trips there in our cars, we purchase from a long supply chain, sometimes with more than one middleman, particularly if we’re looking to buy organic. Supply chains are often much longer and more complicated than we realise; but with increased demand, we’re starting to see just how fragile and often harmful they really are.
As a response to the shock of empty shelves and stockpiles of canned goods, many are getting back into the kitchen – making bread and pasta has never seen such a resurgence. Others are going one step further, and contemplating growing their own food supply. And luckily, amid this modern food crisis, we now have ways to move around previously insurmountable obstacles like cold weather, lack of land and other complications. Saving you trips to the grocery store and increasing your self-reliance, at-home produce seems to be a sustainable move from the past that’s desperately needed in our future.
If you’re looking for a way to decrease your dependence on supermarkets, grow clean food at a lower cost and use sustainable growing practices, indoor gardening could be for you. Here are some of the best ways to grow your own food within your own space.
Start with the basics
If you’re not looking for a large, fancy indoor growing system, you can start with harvesting simple things like sprouts and microgreens. Since these are some of the most nutrient-dense produce items available, they’re a great starting point when you’re growing your own food. According to Jill Winger, founder of Prairie Homestead, a lifestyle website dedicated to helping people grow their own produce, “They’re cheap, only require a handful of supplies you likely already have, and are ready within days.”
All you need is a wide-mouthed mason jar, sprouting seeds, a tea towel or cheese cloth, scissors and water. If you’re looking for less DIY, you can buy sprouting lids to skip a few steps. Cover the top of the mason jar with a perforated surface like the cheesecloth secured around the mouth with a rubber band. Find the seed-to-water ratio best for whichever sprouts your growing and place them into the mason jar after soaking the seeds for 8 hours. In the morning, drain the water and repeat.
Rinse the seeds, swirl the water around the mason jar and then drain. Allow the jar to rest on its side while the seeds dry. Do this every day for 3-5 days and soon you’ll have your own nutrient-packed sprouts to add to any meal you want. Once they’ve sprouted to the degree you would like, put them in the fridge and seal tightly.
Grow a herb garden
Another way to add at-home gardening to your routine is by starting with fresh herbs. Emma Sothern, co-founder of the website, Garden Zoo, suggests starting with common kitchen herbs such as mint, cilantro, dill, oregano, rosemary, sage or thyme. If you’re pressed for space, you can use one larger pot with multiple herbs, giving each of them sufficient room to grow. “Most herbs only need four hours of sunlight a day, and you only need to water them when the soil is dry to the touch,” adds Sothern.
Herbs require pots with good drainage as well as sunlight to sustain them. Turn off the lights in your home and find the windowsill that gets the most natural light. If you live in an urban area with little sunlight streaming in, you can purchase artificial light to nourish your herbs. Kelly McGlinchey, founder of food sustainability consultancy Table & Tilth adds, “For those who want a more intricate set up, there are indoor herb garden kits ideal for small spaces. This Micro Grow Light Garden is a great choice for growing herbs like basil, parsley and sage on a countertop in your kitchen.”
From here, start gardening! Fill the pot or herb kit with high-quality soil and herb seeds. Place them by the window or underneath the lights and water when the soil feels dry. With an indoor herb garden, you can have freshly picked flavor all year round, without the hassle or strain on the planet. Sothern adds, “Be prepared to make mistakes at first, but don’t give up. The rewards, not to mention the satisfaction of growing your own food, will be worth it.”
Assess your space and choose what you want to grow
One of the largest hurdles in indoor gardening involves the amount of sunlight your home gets and the space you have available. If you’re looking to grow fruits, flowers or root vegetables, you’ll need more light to sustain them indoors since they require much more energy to grow. As sunlight can either make or break your home-gardening operation, McGlinchey suggests that, if you have a sunny window, “Track the number of hours of light it gets in a given day, and take note of whether you have direct light through a south-facing window or indirect light.” If you find that the amount of sunlight isn’t enough to sustain your plants, start looking into artificial options.
Once you’ve found the amount of natural light your space gets on a daily basis and deciphered if you’ll need added artificial light, you can dive into what types of food you would like to grow. McGlinchey says to “try starting with leafy greens or kitchen herbs. Plants like these don’t require large amounts of space and have the added benefit of bringing a boost of flavour to your culinary game.”
You can also start growing highly nutritious mushrooms in your at-home garden with your new set up. “Oyster mushrooms require minimal care and will give you a ready-to-eat crop in less than three weeks,” says McGlinchey. You can order mushroom-growing kits online that make harvesting the plants much more straight forward.
Another option for indoor produce includes growing root vegetables like carrots and squash. These varieties often take longer to harvest and require more soil. For instance, carrots need at least six inches of top soil to grow and can take months to become ready to eat. But, if you have the space, sunlight and equipment, you can start potting root vegetables in your home whenever you feel ready.
Experiment with plant stands
Perhaps the easiest of at-home growing options, plant stands can help you grow multiple types of food in smaller amounts of space. With different varieties for various needs, this option offers an easy, but often more expensive way to grow your own food. Plant stands can reduce the need for the dirt and hand watering, making it much easier to start your own vegetable garden either indoors or outdoors.
For instance, Lettuce Grow is a self-watering and self-fertilising plant stand that can fit in your living room or on your back patio. Drastically decreasing the time spent tending to your indoor garden, products like Lettuce Grow also minimize the amount of water you need to keep your plants alive. Lettuce Grow can stand outside if you have the space, or inside with plant lighting to keep your produce thriving.
Lettuce Grow offers GMO-free seeds and pre-packaged plants that you can place in your plant stand. With different sizes to fit your needs, the plant stand can grow up to 36 plants in minimal space. Plus, you don’t need to have a green thumb to keep them alive. Just set up the plant stand outside in the sunlight or inside with adequate amounts of artificial light, add nutrients, use a pH adjuster and fill with water once a week.
Plant stands like these do need power, however. You’ll need to account for that in your utility bill and within your carbon footprint. Still, the amount that you save cutting out the middle man for organic produce at the grocery store can offset these costs. If you’re looking at other options for at-home growing, plant stands offer ways to simplify the process – supplying you with fresh, organic produce within your space.
Growing food at home may seem like an old school way to feed your family, but not only does it increase your self-reliance, it helps lighten the load that the planet carries. There are so many ways to move through common barriers like cold weather and time restraints when you find the method that works best for you.
If the benefits include keeping supply chains shorter, knowing the exact methods in which your food was grown while feeling empowered in harvesting fresh produce, more people will hopefully join the movement. By rethinking the way you purchase food, you could help create a more sustainable, empowered future for you, your family and, most of all, the Earth.