Supermarket Strategy #7 – Seven Ways to Start Growing Your Own Food in Small Spaces
Why would you want to grow your own food?
In this series of posts we’re focusing on reducing our reliance on supermarkets and industrial food for lots of reasons. Some of the main ones are to reduce our costs, to improve our nutrition, and to tread more lightly on the earth.
In case you missed the previous posts in the series, they are:
This post – Strategy #7 – is about replacing some of your supermarket needs (in small steps) by making a start on growing your own food.
If you’ve never grown anything before, or if you live in an urban environment without access to garden areas, take heart. There are easy, small ways to start — even if you’re short on time, space, or confidence.
I’ve listed the following suggestions roughly in order from easy towards more challenging, beginning with what must be the simplest, cheapest, quickest way there is to get started growing a little bit of fresh food in your own home.
Start sprouts in a jar on your kitchen bench
Sprouting seeds, grains, and legumes is a simple process that takes no more space than a kitchen draining board. It’s a way that you can use indirect sunlight and moisture to increase the volume, digestibility, and nutrition levels of seeds, grains, and legumes.
All you need is a clean jar, a piece of loose weave fabric or netting a large rubber band or some string, water, some indirect sunlight, and some edible seeds grains/legumes. (Preferably organic and definitely not treated in any way that would stop them from sprouting.)
At its most basic, sprouting goes like this: Put a small amount of seed or grain in the bottom of your jar, cover with water, and leave for up to 12 hours (less for smaller seeds).
Cover the mouth of the jar with a fabric or net that will hold the seeds and release the water; drain. After that, rinse and drain your seeds at least every 12 hours, keeping them moist but not wet. Watch for them to start to sprout, which should happen within a day or so. Keep rinsing and draining till the sprouts are the size you want, and viola: homegrown food!
You can use your sprouts in lots of ways: toss them into a stir fry, add to salads, add to sandwiches, blend them up in smoothies…
You can use your sprouts in lots of ways: toss them into a stir fry, add to salads, add to sandwiches, blend them up in smoothies…
Food that grows in soil is always my preference, but sprouting is hard to beat if you’re short on space or time or you just need a not-too-daunting way to get started growing something.
A how-to resource and a word of caution
There are a different soaking and sprouting times for different sizes and types of seed, and its good to be sure you’re not letting your sprouts get slimy or moldy – for details, this post is a comprehensive guide covering pretty much everything you could want to know.
The only thing I would add to it is a word of caution about soy, which I suggest you avoid entirely, and other legumes, which I suggest you cook after sprouting.
(See this article by environmental journalist Tara Lohan about soy effects on human and environmental health and how soy got so big, this one about soy farming as a deforestation driver, and this one about soy in processed foods, if you’re keen to know more about why I suggest avoiding soy.)
All other legume sprouts, in my opinion, should be cooked before you eat them. All legumes are hefty to digest and some more so than others — cooking them after sprouting gives you double insurance that you’ll get their health benefits without an upset tummy.
Kidney beans are particularly tricky according to some sources, so give those a miss unless you’ve done your own research and you’re confident you know what you’re doing.
Other than the legume family, if you can sprout it you can probably eat it! Have fun experimenting, compost your failures learning experiences, and enjoy your successes 🙂
Grow edible things in containers
(Or your could grow drinkable things in containers — see the section below for ideas on that.)
The great advantage of growing food plants in containers is that, well, they’re contained. So they’re more manageable than even a small garden plot. Small and manageable is good, because we need strategies we can maintain.
If you’re doing this for the first time and you can afford to buy seedlings and potting mix, do.
Or you can get off to a slower but much less expensive start by starting your own seeds and making your own compost and potting mix, which is beyond the scope of this post but isn’t as hard as it might sound. You can also get creative with finding free containers, such as unwanted polystyrene boxes, instead of buying pots.
Whichever way you go about it, start small and then build slowly, so you don’t get overwhelmed.
Greens and herbs of many kinds are super easy to grow in pots, and so long as you feed them, keep them moist, and can put them where they receive enough sunlight, the more you harvest the better they grow.
Learning about ways to feed your potted plants can be a whole other adventure, just as composting can — there’s so much to learn and explore.
But for now, just start. If its really daunting, limit yourself to starting with ONE pot. The first time you snip some chives to add to a bowl of soup — even if the chives came already potted from Bunnings and the soup from a can — you’ll have started growing your own food. Anything’s possible from there.
Grow low-maintenance perennial herbs and make chilled teas
Growing something you can drink counts too.
Do you buy soft drinks, carbonated water, cordials, or fruit juices? Consider replacing them with teas made from things that grow in containers (see above) or in your garden. (Actually, its only called “tea” if it includes leaves from the tea plant Camellia sinensis; otherwise its proper name in herbal lore is a “tisane.” But we’ll stick with “tea” to keep things simple.)
Any herb you collect fresh from your containers or your garden to make tea with will be way healthier for you than herbs grown in mono-cultures, packaged, and transported. And don’t even get me started on the sugar content and other non-food ingredients in bottled beverages. And on top of all that there’s the cost savings.
Chilled herbal tea examples for the tropics and sub-tropics
If you live in a more temperate region, with proper winters, here’s a list of 18 herbs for you.
Grate fresh ginger rhizome into a heat proof jug or jar (scrub it clean first, but no need to peel) and pour boiling water on it. Let it steep for as long as you like. Overnight is fine (it will be stronger, so you can dilute it more and it will go further) and ten minutes is fine too.
Add honey (its easier to dissolve if you add it when the tea is still a bit warm, but I don’t add while its hot because I use live, raw honey, and I don’t want to destroy its goodness with heat).
Then chill, dilute to preference (I put a bit in the bottom of a cup and add water; my husband drinks it straight), and enjoy as a refreshing, healthy, thirst quenching drink.
Another plant you can use to make a refreshing chilled tea is Mexican tarragon, which I wrote about here.
Another is lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus), a low-maintenance tropical perennial which also does ok in a large container if you need to bring it in to protect from frost. It has a slew of health benefits you might not have known about (I didn’t).
Yet another is hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa) — yes, hibiscus flowers that we grew up thinking were just for decoration can be made into a healthy tea.
That should get you started – now you can skip the beverages section next time you’re down that aisle.
Next, another kind of beverage.
Kombucha is regular sweet black tea that has been converted to a fermented beverage . It’s cheap to make and is a delicious and healthy replacement for sweetened drinks.
What transforms the sweetened tea into a sugar-free probiotic (and puts this in the “homegrown” category) is something that grows on top of the tea, called a Scoby. Scoby stands for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts.” Fear not – they’re all friendly varieties that build healthy gut flora in humans.
It takes a bit more to learn kombucha making than it does for herbal tea, so rather than try and condense it here I’ll share a basic resource to get you started.
By drinking kombucha regularly (especially if you also eat un-pasturised sauerkraut and/or un-pasturized yogurt/kefir) you can scratch probiotic powders and pills off your shopping list too.
Grow tough, easy fruit/vegetable climbers in narrow spaces
This is really an extension on the container growing section above, except that now instead of talking “balcony or porch,” we’re talking about narrow places where there’s not much space but what there is goes all the way up.
Plants like cherry tomatoes, regular climbing tomatoes, peppers and capsicums, egg plants, pepinos, cucumbers, peas and green beans, and probably more that aren’t coming to mind, can all be grown in containers and trained up trellises to make use of vertical spaces.
Other, more rambling vines that we think of as space hogs can be used cleverly, too, for example by allowing them to grow up a trellis and then over the car port. Sweet potatoes, chokos, pumpkins, and passion fruit come to mind.
Sweet potato vines can be grown in a large pot to give space for tubers, or a smaller one if you plan to just eat the vine tips as a nutritious green vegetable.
Chokos are less nutritious, but so easy once you get them going. I wrote about 7 Ways to Use the Humble Choko Vine, here.
Even pumpkins can grow on trellises. I always fear that the vine won’t hold that heavy fruit up in the air, but it does. And pumpkins can also be harvested before they’re large, and be cooked and eaten like you would a zucchini. In my experience small unripe pumpkins are interchange-able with zucchini in the kitchen, and a LOT easier to grow.
Full disclosure: mushrooms in my experience haven’t been the easiest things to grow. I can’t (yet) count them among my successes. But so far I’ve only made a few attempts, and I’m not giving up because mushrooms are SUPER nutritious and many types are also safely medicinal.
I believe that food should be the first place we turn when we need medicine. And I’m convinced that food from our own immediate environment is a significant key to building our health and resilience, so we can reduce our reliance on pharmacies as well as supermarkets. Mushrooms are such super-foods that no matter how many times I fail at growing them in abundance, I intend to persist till I crack it. (It’s mainly a case of moving it up the list of priorities…)
Anyway, if you’re keen, consider starting with a kit the first few times to dip your toes in. There are lots of mushroom growing kits out there; search online for “mushroom growing kits” in your area.
And while you’re waiting for your kit to sprout, you might like to check out these online courses, the first one free and the other so reasonably priced that its almost a no-brainer.
Or search for another mushroom growing resources that tickle your fancy -they’re springing up everywhere (pardon the pun).
Grow edible insects in a tub on a bench
The insects in the picture are silkworms, which are easy to raise on mulberry leaves at home. Many other types of insects can also be raised at home — as food for you, your chickens, or your fish.
Around 2 billion people, world wide, eat insects.
Yes, we picky folks would need to get past the ick-factor.
And no, insects aren’t pettable.
But if you have serious space constraints and you can get past those two hurdles, you could produce your own ethical, high-quality, super-local, balanced and complete protein at a fraction of the cost of any other comparable protein source, on a bench in a corner.
No, I haven’t tried this personally yet. (At least, not for human food. We’ve had a few goes at growing black soldier fly larvae for chicken food and fish food, but we’re still very much in the learning stages.)
But if I had no space to raise other kinds of livestock and I couldn’t afford to buy humanely, ethically raised meat, I wouldn’t hesitate to put “learn how to farm insects for food” at the top of my list of priorities.
I don’t believe that fake meat from a lab is the answer to any of our meat-related challenges. Nature placed insects near the base of all food chains with the same exquisite wisdom she applied to all the rest of her Creation. I would much rather eat insects as designed by Nature than meat designed in a lab.
So, if that tickles your fancy for right now, here are some resources to explore:
And if you’re not keen today, that’s ok. File it away at the back of your mind for if you ever do need or want to explore it.
Ok. That was lots of ideas. But ideas are utterly useless without action.
So don’t close this tab until you’ve chosen one thing to take action on. The very first thing that pops into your mind as you mentally scan back through this list — that’s the one.
If you’re new to growing your own food:
- Choose an option (from the list above or any other option that occurs to you) and note in your notebook (from the first post in this series) what you need to do to get started .
- Don’t do too much research — you’ll fall down the rabbit hole and you might never make it out! Just look up the basics so you can get started.
- Consider what basic supplies you’ll need and add them to your shopping list or find them in your house (such as a large empty jar for your sprouts and buying some seeds)
- What else? Scribble down the first step, do it, then do the next step. One at a time.
If you’re not new to growing your own food:
- Chose one thing you’re growing but not making very good use of. Ask yourself, what would I need to do differently to bring this food from where-ever it grows, into my kitchen more regularly?
- Or, What one thing is there that I’m not growing yet but would like to?
- Or, What one thing I’m already growing would I like to grow more of, so I could use it more often?
- You could also
- read “One Garden Meal Per Day” and see if it gives you any ideas
Kate writes at ARealGreenLife.com about making healthier choices for ourselves and for our families, communities, and ecosystems.