Local, organic, slow.
These are words we’ve all heard in the food sector in the past few years, and they don’t seem to be going anywhere.
Sourcing your food from local farmers’ markets is a fantastic option, but what if you could grow your own nutritious edible plants?
As a self-proclaimed urban jungle enthusiast, I’m here for this movement.
There are a lot of reasons why I enjoy growing plants at home. They’re pretty to look at, they boost my mental health, and they’re good listeners.
Plus, you can eat some of them!
By growing my own edible plants, I know exactly where they come from and how they’re grown. They also help me save a lot of money.
On top of that, plants make my one-bedroom apartment feel a little bit more down to earth.
It’s best to start with plants that are notably more resilient.
Possibly the easiest plants to grow are scallions or green onions.
To begin, simply take that store-bought bunch, use a rubber band to tie the bulbs together, and place them in a glass filled with 1 inch of water.
Change the water daily. In a week or so, the roots will have doubled in length and can be planted in a shallow pot.
Keep them in full sun and water them regularly. When they’re ready, simply snip off the tops.
Microgreens, such as wheatgrass and soybeans, are small in size but big on nutrients, like potassium, iron, zinc, magnesium, and copper.
To start, fill a seedling tray with potting mix. Moisten the soil and sprinkle the seeds evenly over the soil. Sift a thin layer of soil over the top and lightly mist it.
Place the tray on a sunny windowsill, misting daily.
Seeds germinate in 2 to 3 days and need 12 to 14 hours of light. At 1 to 2 inches in height, they’re ready to eat!
If you’re into gardening, tomatoes are pretty much a staple. You can use them for a number of things. Salads, sandwiches, sauces — the possibilities are endless!
Pro tip: Smaller tomato varieties, such as roma or cherry, are better suited for being potted and kept indoors.
Fill a pot with starter potting mix, planting seeds approximately 1/4 inch deep.
Water the mix thoroughly and place it in a spot that receives good sunlight. The seeds should begin to germinate within 5 to 10 days.
When they’re 3 inches tall, move them to potting soil and water them thoroughly.
You’ll know they’re ready for harvesting when they’re red and firm.
Pro tip: For a continuous supply of tomatoes, start a new plant from seed every 2 weeks.
Want to grow something that’ll quickly spice up your meals? Peppers are amazing edible plants to grow at home, and the options are endless.
Similar to microgreens, sprouts pack a lot of nutrients like protein, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, and vitamins C and K. They just deliver them in a small package.
Want to have edible plants without even using soil?
Place several tablespoons of sprouting seeds into a mason jar and pour approximately 2 cups of water into it. Drain the seeds and then cover them again with more water.
The next morning, dump the water out and repeat the exact same process.
A couple times a day, do this same process. About 3 to 5 days later, you’ll have a mason jar full of sprouts!
Pro tip: Use a sprouting screen or cheesecloth with the mason jar lid to easily drain and add water.
Lettuce grows fairly quickly and is very easy to harvest.
All you have to do is snip the tops off the plants. Lettuce also doesn’t take up much space, which is obviously fantastic in small apartments.
Grab a starter plant or seeds, fill a planter with potting soil, and poke finger-sized holes about 4 inches apart.
Sprinkle a few seeds into each hole and gently cover them up with soil. Water thoroughly and keep the soil moist.
Squash isn’t very difficult to grow, and they do continue to produce throughout the season. However, they take up a lot of space.
Unless you have a large garden, this one should be skipped for indoor growers.
Some would argue that carrots aren’t difficult to grow. However, they need an almost perfect soil bed with the correct pH levels.
In my opinion, there are much better plants to consider growing at home before tackling this one.
Celery takes quite a bit of moisture to grow into the crunchy stalks we know so well.
This can be a burden to handle when trying to cultivate an indoor or small patio garden. Additionally, it’s a very slow grower.
There’s a host of reasons to grow edible plants, including four very specific ones: health, food security, sustainability, and mental health.
The freshest foods are undeniably the healthiest. That said, you’d expect that as long as you’re eating fruits and vegetables, you’re good to go, right?
While this is significantly better than eating processed foods, there are still more benefits to eating fresh foods as locally as possible. It doesn’t get much more local than your own kitchen, patio, or yard.
To be able to keep up with demand, large farms that mass produce have to use very different methods than those you use for your typical backyard garden.
The heavy tillage of soils leads to the decomposition of organic matter and releases nutrient elements. Essentially, we’re stripping the soil by overusing it.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines low food security as “reports of reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet” and very low food security as “reports of multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.”
These areas with limited access to affordable and nutritious food are also commonly known as “food deserts.”
In some places, like urban centers or remote areas, the closest access to fresh food is often miles away. Since food has traveled from farther away, produce is considerably less fresh.
With these factors plus a higher cost of living, food insecurity is common and leads to less nutritious diets and potential health concerns.
Kristen Fulmer, a sustainability and environmental expert and founder of Recipric, notes that many communities that live in food deserts are “communities that suffer from poor air quality, improper healthcare, lack of greenspace and funding for education.”
Consequently, “those communities often suffer from diabetes, asthma, and lately, coronavirus,” says Fulmer.
Inner city urban gardens provide a much-needed space to grow plants and fresh produce.
This isn’t a perfect solution, but it’s helped to reduce food insecurity. If a community garden isn’t a feasible possibility, then growing edible plants at home can be a fantastic alternative.
The positive environmental implications of growing edible plants at home is clear. By doing this, we’re altering a number of different practices.
For one, it means less commute time to stores, helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with the long-distance transportation of store-bought produce.
It also means minimizing the usage of water and chemicals.
According to Fulmer, this “results in a reduction of potable water use, promotes better community air and water quality and is likely much healthier for the people growing and the people eating the crops.”
There are a lot of mental health benefits to tending to plants.
I can speak from a lot of experience that the simple act of growing plants, especially from seedlings, is very fulfilling.
“Fostering plant growth brings more direct connection [with food], and the mutual benefit of becoming a caretaker to the plant will emerge as the plants start returning the care with their crop,” Fulmer explains.
Growing our own food helps us connect to where food really comes from.
It creates a closed loop that is infinitely better for our health and the environment than mass-produced food grown outside of our own ecosystem.
Not only that, growing our own food is simply practical.
It can help our bottom line as well as our well-being. With that in mind, it’s easy to see why growing your own food is such a rewarding experience.
Ashley Hubbard is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tennessee, focusing on sustainability, travel, veganism, mental health, social justice, and more. Passionate about animal rights, sustainable travel, and social impact, she seeks out ethical experiences whether at home or on the road. Visit her website wild-hearted.com.