This article originally appeared on the Big Green Idea’s newsletter for December 2008
The dream of becoming self-sufficient in at least food is one that many of us aspire to but unfortunately few of us can hope to achieve. The hankering to live the rural idyll is often hindered by the simple fact that where we would choose to live and where we actually end up living can be two entirely different things. I’ve had my green fingers itching in a third storey flat and know people living in studio apartments and university halls with a similar need to flex their botanical digits but no garden to exercise them in! Combine this with long allotment waiting lists and the desire to grow fresh fruit or vegetables can seem all but impossible.
However all a plant really needs to grow is sunlight, water and some kind of medium to grow in (i.e. potting compost) all of which can be achieved in a pot on the windowsill. If you can grow a spider plant then you most certainly can grow herbs or even a chilli plant.
This time of year land-cress (sometimes called American land cress) can be sown along with Chinese leaves and lamb’s lettuce. They take a few weeks to come up but the smaller thinnings of the crop can be eaten as a snack or to bulk out other salads. One autumn I had a few pots of summer sown mixed leaves on a windowsill near my settee and would happily munch on them watching the box set of Curb your Enthusiasm. Of course Larry David is not an essential part of the plants’ growth but for the occasionally idle person a green leafy snack in arm’s reach of the television is a much healthier alternative to popcorn or crisps.
Traditionally around now a lot of gardeners are putting onion sets down to overwinter on otherwise empty plots. By scaling down, the indoor gardener can do more or less the same thing by growing shallots in pots on a windowsill. They need around six inches between them so this is perhaps best achieved in a large herb trough rather than individual pots. If a trough is hard to come by or your windowsill is too small then a tetra pack carton with one of the long sides cut off should be enough room for two small shallot bulbs, which should yield around 8 shallots. The theory goes that small shallot bulbs with give small shallots and large bulbs will give large ones. However that is just the theory! As with potatoes you can grow shallots from sprouted shop-bought ones but proper sets from a garden centre are perhaps the best way forward.
Come the spring a lot more can be planted this way. I’d strongly recommend growing from seed rather than being tempted by supermarket herbs in pots. Plants from seed tend to be stronger and the re-potting of certain herbs can cause them to bolt or even just drop down dead! A packet of seeds, a little peat-free compost, a large yoghurt pot with a hole cut in the bottom and a saucer to stand the pot on are all the things you need to ensure a fresh supply of herbs right through the summer.
Who really needs a smallholding when a minute holding can be achieved with minimal cost and very little effort?!