The single best way to get fresh food is to grow it. This is great if you have a homestead, or a live in a farm, or your house has a massive garden. A bit harder if you live in a flat or have a very small garden.
Even so, there are still quite a few things that can be grown indoors without using a lot of space. All that you need is a few pots, a sunny windowsill, and a bit of patience.
Benefits of growing food indoors
There are two main advantages to growing food indoors:
- the weather won’t trouble you
- bugs and small critters will be less of an issue
If you live in a place that is very cold or very hot, growing indoors means you will be able to control temperature fluctuations without having to invest in an expensive greenhouse or shade kit.
Bugs will be limited to mostly those that would be around a normal house (fruit flies and maybe a slug or two will be the worst of your worries), instead of those most commonly found outdoors. Birds won’t eat all your cabbages before you get to try them. And don’t forget that you won’t get cats, dogs, foxes, and other assorted animals doing their things all over your food! But be careful if you have pets or small kids and make sure your plants are kept safe from them, as they could be worse than wild animals.
Also, if you are a fan of international foods, growing your own ingredients can hugely reduce the cost of cooking with them. Of course, you won’t be able to grow everything indoors, but you would be surprised by the amount of plants that will flourish inside a house with just a little bit of care.
Herbs and spices
Herbs are a popular option for indoor growing because buying fresh herbs can get quite expensive and dried herbs (as fantastic as they are) don’t work in all recipes. Herbs are really easy to care for and the plants will usually live for a long time.
Most herbs can be easily grown from seed. But if you are not the kind to grow things from scratch, you can always buy seedlings or even fully grown plants and simply make sure you keep them alive. You don’t even need to visit a garden centre to find herb plants, most large supermarkets now sell them in the greengrocer’s section at competitive prices. The pots they come in when you first buy they are usually quite small and won’t allow the plants to grow healthily, so make sure to repot them using good-quality soil.
At some point or the other we’ve grown basil, chives, parsley, chervil, thyme, rosemary, coriander, dill, cilantro, oregano, and mint. Most times my children will even take care of them for me. Herbs are incredibly easy to grow!
Garlic and ginger are two popular spices that are also very easy to grow at home, and can be done almost for free. For garlic you just plant a clove and you’ll get a whole head (plus the greens and flowers which are delicious and very hard to find in stores). With ginger you have to wait for ‘eyes’ to develop before you plant it. If you take care of your plants, you’ll have an endless supply of garlic and ginger.
Peppers of all sorts are also quite easy to grow indoors. If you’re a fan of spicy foods, you can add some variety by growing all different kinds of chilies that are hard to buy. If your harvest gets overwhelming, you can freeze or dry the peppers, or even make your own fermented hot sauce (in the style of sriracha or tabasco).
If you have a bit more space, you could also grow all varieties of onions. This is a great option if you like the more expensive varieties like shallots or baby leeks. If you have a bit less space, spring onions (scallions) are also a very good option.
Leafy greens are especially easy to grow and there are so many varieties: iceberg lettuce, kale, spinach, chard, batavia lettuce, rocket, mizuna… Just like herbs you can grow them from seed, get seedlings, or even buy ‘alive salads’ from the supermarket and transfer them to a larger pot. You’ll get a larger variety to choose from if you grow from seed.
Tomatoes are also easy to grow indoors, especially cherry tomatoes as the plants are smaller. I really like growing those cute orange and yellow varieties. They look nice, taste a little bit different, and are quite expensive to buy. Perfect combination for something you should grow yourself!
Carrots, celery, radishes, onions (mentioned above), and fennel can be grown indoors as well. However, those do need more space, so you will need a larger pot on the floor rather than a small windowsill one.
Many fruit trees have dwarf versions that can be kept indoors, especially citrus fruits. Kumquat in particular is a fantastic little tree to grow in a flat or a balcony.
Many berries can also be kept in pots. In the UK they can be bought as small plants in most garden centres and even pound shops and discount supermarkets during Spring for a very low cost.
My all-time favourite fruit to grow on the windowsill is strawberries. The first few years you have a plant it won’t usually yield much, but after a while you’ll get loads and loads of strawberries. And there are many varieties you can grow.
Just like with herbs, you will need to repot fruit plants so they can grow properly.
Edible flowers are another thing that can be grown indoors, and with these you get pretty flowers as well as tasty food!
Some of the plants I have already talked about have edible flowers that are extremely hard to find in food stores, especially the herbs and onions.
Two flowers that almost everyone has tried at some point are lavender and roses. Both can be grown indoors, just be careful with lavender because bees love it and they might come into your house. With roses, you can use the leaves in tea.
Other flowers that can be grown indoors quite easily are nasturtiums (leaves and petals are edibles and taste a bit peppery), pansies and violas (flavour similar to lettuce), hibiscus (great for hot and ice tea), marigolds (a bit spicy and slightly bitter, somewhat similar to saffron but milder), and calendula (a bit woody and sweet, great for tea).
And a special mention goes to dandelions and daisies. Both are often considered weeds, but they are both edible and will grow almost anywhere. Dandelions are fully edible, the flowers are mildly sweet and great for salads and tea, the leaves are a bit bitter and can be had raw or cooked, and the roots can be used in stir-fries or roasted as a replacement for coffee. Daisy flowers are also mildly sweet and good in salads and tea, and the leaves vary between sweet and bitter depending on the size and season, and they can be eaten raw or cooked.