In a long-distance phone call on Tuesday, I was reminded by a far-away friend that not everyone has 14 inches of fresh snow on the ground. In Portland, Oregon, the cherry blossoms are out. Although they’re likely still in for a few more months of rain, places like the Northwest in addition to other more mild regions are ready for the commencement of the growing game. More and more, it’s not just for farmers, gardeners and hippies.
If you’ve never been able to keep a houseplant alive, don’t despair. Fresh-grown food is not beyond your reach. Anyone, anywhere can grow food. There was a time in my life when I couldn’t keep an ivy plant alive (between long times away with no one to water it and the constant attention from my feline housemates). Now? I grow food for a living.
Even if you have never tried to grow food before. Even if you have tried and failed miserably. Even if you have a really good excuse why you couldn’t possibly. Try it. Try it again. Growing our own food, in any capacity, is empowering.
Some excuses and some ideas:
I don’t have a yard.
There’s always herbs. There’s nothing quite like fresh herbs to give a little extra fresh flavor to your favorite dish. Plant seeds yourself or get starts to put in small pots on your windowsill. Make a habit of checking to see if they need water at the same time everyday (like when you do the dishes or brush your teeth).
Depending on what kind of setup you have, you could grow a number of things on your patio, deck or porch. Tomatoes do great in their own pots. The new-ish trend of planting them in a pot upside down is a great use of space, so even if you don’t have a porch, you could hang a basket outside of your window. Here‘s a link to a DIY tomato planter that uses the rest of the soil for herbs.
I travel a lot; I’m never home for more than a couple weeks at a time.
Try microgreens. These nutrient-dense darlings grab up to 20 bucks a pound at fancy farmer’s markets, but they’re easy to grow and are ready to harvest in a little over a week. You can grow any salad green, mustard, even some herbs. The seeds don’t have to be labeled “microgreens”. Use a very thin layer of soil on a flat tray. Seed thickly and dust with a bit more soil. Make sure when you water, you are using a gentle force.
Also, on the other side of the spectrum, try planting something more long-term outdoors that doesn’t need much attention, like a rosemary plant , raspberries, rhubarb or asparagus. These may take a few seasons to come around, but once you have them you’ll have a pleasant array of fresh foods for years to come.
Or, share the load. Find some other folks with similar situations, and work out a rotation for watering, planting, weeding (and eating!)
Nothing grows where I live.
You may have to invest in a little soil-enhancing nutrients (or make your own compost), but (a lot of) something(s) will grow where you live.
If you’re feeling adventurous, try cactus. Nopales are known to be beneficial to the diabetic, and packed with antioxidants, including vitamins A and C. Opuntia, the most popular edible cactus is native to every state except New Hampshire, Maine, Hawaii and (my fair) Vermont. Cactus is used in a variety of recipes (in burritos, as fries, salsas, omelettes, etc.) Cactus can be grown easily indoors or outdoors.
I live in the basement.
Try mushrooms. You can inoculate almost any sterile medium. There are even affordable mushroom growing kits that do that for you, just spritz and wait.
I can’t afford to buy seeds.
If you receive supplemental nutrition benefits (food stamps), you can use your EBT card to but seeds. You’ll probably end up saving money in the end, and learn a lot in the process.
Often commercial farms have extra seed from years past. After a few years, the germination rate decreases, so they’re not worth planting for a commercial operation. For the home gardener, there’s a bit more flexibility. Try asking a local farmer if they have any old seed they’d be willing to let go of. You may have to go to the farm to pick them up, but who doesn’t like a farm tour?
I want to grow food, but don’t have enough space.
There is so much room in the world. In urban areas, try looking into a plot at a community garden, or create raised beds on flat rooftops. Follow the permaculture tenet to grow up. Look to layer plants that need less light under taller plants that use less space close to the ground.
Ask a neighbor if you can grow a garden in their yard in exchange for a share of the produce. See if any local restaurants might be interested in having someone grow some of their food on some local land; local is in these days, maybe the owner would lease a small plot.
Use your imagination. Where you see an abandoned parking lot, think about how you could transform even a small corner of it into a food-rich garden.
Growing food has transformed the way I look at what I eat; it also has given me a new outlook on my world. Plus, it tastes good. In the words of Guy Clark, there’s only two things that money can’t buy: