Grow Your Own – Everybody’s Doing it!
There really is no excuse to not grow at least some of your family’s own food. One of the best things about growing food is how little space it actually takes. If you have some containers and some empty space, you too can enjoy some home grown deliciousness! Not convinced? Here are some places I, personally, have successfully grown delicious food
- In a bright sunny window
- in a garage, without windows
- in a garage with windows
- in a cheap plastic covered “greenhouse” bought at Raley’s
- In an unheated shed attached to the garage, with windows
- In a shallow bowl from store bought cut produce (like the celery in the picture above)
- in my pantry!
I am going to talk specifically about my pantry greenhouse today, because if I can grow food, in my pantry, then you can grow something where you live too! Be that an apartment, in the suburbs, in a sky-rise, it doesn’t matter! Get the idea of needing a ton of space and time and resources, etc. etc. to grow your own salad successfully out of your head. It’s just not true. I am currently growing;
- Easter Egg radishes,
- 4 varieties of lettuce
- 4 varieties of carrots
- 2 different herbs
- and sprouting 5 different varieties of pepper seeds
All on a few shelves in my pantry!
STOP. Listening to what “everyone” says and START experimenting with what you have to work with. I think you will be surprised how much you can do in small unexpected places when you use all available space efficiently and creatively.
Let’s Get Started
Here’s the short list of what you need to get basic food items (lettuces, carrots, radishes, herbs) growing;
- shop lights and hoods (about $12 at Lowes)
- Thin chain
- Small “S” hooks that will hook inside the chain
- extension cord IF your spot is not close to an outlet
- Hooks that you screw into a ceiling (make sure the chain is large enough to fit over the hook)
Not Required but might make your job easier
- Drill for pre-drilling small holes to screw your hooks into
All of the above should cost less than $20 for one light set up. Of course, if you end up doing multiple lights, like I have, it will cost a bit more up front, but this is not an expensive set up! I do not use expensive grow lights for this get up. Shop. Lights. Don’t be wooed by the fancy plants and veggies on the grow light boxes, I have never found them to be necessary or worth the cost!
**I would like to add, however, that when I was planting less hardy crops, in a very cold garage space, I also used a basic heat light to make sure my veggies stayed warm on freezing cold night. But that’s not what this post is about so i will not be going into detail about heat lamps here
Putting it All Together
Let’s put everything together and get growing!
- There are small holes on either end of your shop light hood. Measure the distance between the two holes and that is roughly the distance you want to drill the holes for your hanging hooks to be screwed into the top of whatever shelf or space you will be using to grow.
- Pre-drill a hole smaller than the screw tip of your hanging hook. Then go ahead and just screw the hook in by hand, it should go pretty easily.
- Once your hooks are in place, slip one end of your small “S” hook into each hole on both sides of your light hood. Hook your chain through the other side and hang your light up on the hanging hooks you prepared
- Plug your lights in and turn them on…
- YOU’RE DONE!
Let’s Get Planting!
Now the fun part!! Pick some lettuce varieties that will not be overly tall (so skip the romaine for this one), unless you have a very tall space. I love May Queen, Tom Thumb, Red Sails, or any of the loose leaf lettuce varieties! There are thousands of seed catalogs and varieties out there! Of course, in a pinch, I’m sure your local garden center also has a few fun varieties that will work. I am a big believer in supporting the local businesses that I don’t want to close up shop, so I intentionally make purchases at my local garden center whenever I can. Of course, it would be impossible for them to carry every variety, so seed catalogs get a fair share of my business. There are thousands of seed companies out there! Just make sure the seeds you buy are Heirloom, organic, non gmo, etc. Here are a few of my fav’s (not necessarily in order, but pretty close!).
- MI Gardener (this will actually be my first year using these seeds, but I have followed his YouTube channel for years and trust they will be excellent…and they are ONLY ONE DOLLAR each!)
- Bakers Creek (have used their seeds for years and LOVE them!)
- Territorial Seed Company
- High Mowing Seeds
- West Coast Seeds
As far as planting medium goes, do not use dirt from your backyard, unless you have a proven, weed free, pest free compost pile. I always use organic bagged potting soil, from my local garden center, for my seedlings and have yet to regret it. You will be using only a small amount of soil and, remember, this will be food you and your family will be eating, so it’s worth the few bucks to buy a good organic potting soil.
Now, for the actual container to plant in. Basically anything that holds dirt and water will work. I never put holes in the bottom of my planting containers in the greenhouse. It just means I have to water them more often, and I tend to be lazy when it comes to water. Here are a few container ideas;
- plastic cups
- Milk Jugs cut in half
- Empty Yogurt Containers
- Cardboard Soup Boxes cut in half
- Water Catchment Trays
For my pantry I moved to large indoor plant catchment basins (basically the plastic disc you put under your indoor houseplants to catch water). They are 4 inches tall and have a 12 inch diameter, so they are a decent depth and enough width to fit several plants in one container. For my full size carrots, I am using 14 inch cheap plastic pots. I definitely recommend using plastic for plants you plan on having in the container for a long period of time, in this case, all Winter. I will be experimenting with “Soil Blocks” this Spring to hopefully move away from starts in plastic cups and containers.
Get This Party Started
Now that you have your lights set up, your organic potting soil ready, and seeds purchased, let’s get dirty!
Fill all of your containers with your soil, leaving about 1/2 inch of space around the rim. Wet the soil and mix it all up to make sure it is evenly damp, but not sopping wet.
Either follow the planting/spacing instructions for your seeds or start your seeds sprouting for transplanting later. You can read more about pre-sprouting your seeds here.
I direct seeded my lettuces with excellent germination success. It is extremely important that your soil stay moist while the seeds are germinating. This is one reason I like my soil nice and moist before I plant.
Here is a list of seeds I pre-sprouted to improve germination rates and how many days it took for them to sprout:
- Carrots – 3-5 days
- Radishes – 2-3 days
- Herbs – 1-5 days (depending on the herb and variety)
- Peppers – 5-10 days
As the seeds germinate, they are placed into their pots at the suggested spacing for that particular plant. I only put a very light dusting of soil on top of my seeds and then water them into the soil well. Remember, there are no holes in the bottom of your containers (unless you bought container with pre-made holes, like my larger carrot buckets) so don’t do crazy with the water. Just enough to keep the soil damp.
Check daily for new sprouts! Some of mine were up the next day! Some didn’t come out for 3 days, it was equally exciting for me to see each new seed and variety pop up! Some things never get old.
Now that everything is planted and lights are set up…all you have to do is wait. And wait a little more….and waiting is my least favorite thing. Ha! But it’s always worth it. Below are a few things that are growing in my pantry, right now, in the beginning of January in zone 5. These would never be an option outside or in my unheated greenhouse!
I would love to hear if you used any of these ideas to grow something new in your own space…the more creative the better! Please share in the comments below – pictures are a bonus 🙂