By Victor Wang
This one goes out to all the parents who want to teach their children how to garden, but don’t have enough space to grow their own food. News flash: You and your kids can grow nutritious, fresh food at home, even if you're limited to a tiny patio or a couple of windowsills. With a clear strategy and a few hand tools, gardeners working with a small area can do glorious things. Follow these tips to grow an indoor herb and vegetable garden, in any amount of space.
Herbs When you’re short on space, herbs will give you the most bang for your buck. The same compounds that give herbs their fragrance and distinct flavors make them nutrition powerhouses. Most are loaded with antioxidants and vitamin-rich. Simply incorporating fresh herbs into your regular diet via salads, soups, and smoothies can help to protect you from disease. Instead of asking "Oooh, what's that on my pizza?", kids jump at the chance to eat what they've planted!
Most herbs do best in pots eight-inches or larger. Select containers with good drainage and place a tray beneath pots that you place on countertops, furniture, or windowsills. Different herbs have different requirements, so choose wisely and reap the benefits.
Potting Soil Plants rely on the soil for minerals, nutrients, and their general health and well-being. Don’t skimp on a good planting mix. Stick to organic soil mixes with a high percentage of compost, or add your own compost and perlite for better drainage. Don't feel like messing with the soil? Children love playing in the dirt!
Plants and Seeds Some herbs, including basil and chives, are simple to grow from seed. But many can be tricky, so you’re better off buying already-started plants. Perennial herbs can last for years in pots, while annuals only give you one year. Consider which herbs you like based on foods you can eat them with, and start your herb garden from there.
Herbs to Start With
Basil, cilantro, dill, and parsley are annual herbs that grow well indoors. Mint, oregano, sage, rosemary, and thyme are all hardy perennials that will last in pots for years if you treat them right. Harvesting herbs from mid-stem, above where two leaves meet will reward you with bushier growth and more to harvest later.
Plants and Seeds
Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants take a couple of months to get started and kids may get a little impatient waiting for them. Save some time and buy starter plants. Lettuce, greens, peas, melons, and squash can be grown easily from seed. For the highest-quality plants, buy seeds from companies specializing in organic and heirloom varieties.
Growing Conditions Most veggies want direct sunlight and lots of it. If you have a sunny patio that gets morning sun, you’re golden. You may be able to grow some veggies successfully with partial sun, but the plants will underproduce. If you lack sun-filled spaces, you may want to consider a hydroponic setup. This will allow you to grow vegetables without soil indoors, year-round.
Whichever route to indoor gardening you choose, prepare to see the joy in your child's face when they see the final harvest. Gardening and family life are two reasons New York ranks so high on the “Quality of Life” index. All you need is a few tools, some pots, and a small area with some light to have some of the best tasting herbs and veggies your family has ever had. In addition to an indoor garden, you're cultivating a new generation of gardeners.
Victor Wang grew up in Central California plucking tomato worms from his mother’s heirloom tomato garden and is now a master gardener and freelance writer. His areas of expertise include landscaping, pest control, and, of course, gardening.
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