Fresh fruits and veggies are so important in maintaining good health, and nothing is fresher than the produce you grow yourself, so everyone would benefit from growing at least a small amount of their own food. Even if you have very little space – and even less time, here are five tips to get you started:
#1 – Grow some herbs in a container – Cilantro, thyme, sage, rosemary, chives and basil. Even if you live in an apartment, you can often find a sunny windowsill or balcony for your mini-herb-garden. Adding fresh herbs to recipes not only enhances the taste, but these plants contain phytochemicals and micronutrients whose benefits we are just beginning to learn about. If you can get enough light, you may be able to keep the herb garden going through the fall and winter.
#2 – Tuck a tomato somewhere – A friend creates edible landscapes for clients by tucking various vegetable plants among traditional flowers and shrubbery. Kale and multicolored kale look gorgeous as part of the landscape, and you can almost always tuck a tomato plant someplace. I put one of my (still spindly) tomato transplants in a pot on the walkway near my gorgeous golden begonias. As long as the tomato plant receives sufficient sun, water and food, it will produce. And there is nothing better than the taste of home-grown tomatoes.
#3 – Outfox the frost – These greens are thriving in my “hoophouse,” a passive solar greenhouse that harnesses heat from the sun to keep greens growing year-round. You can get a jump on spring yourself by building a simple cold frame. I like this do-it-yourself plan because it recycles glass windows that might otherwise be discarded.
#4 -Greens under glass – Another way to outfox the frost is to cover your plants with glass jars when the weather is nippy. As year-round gardening guru Eliot Coleman tells us, the French used hundreds of glass cloches as terrariums in their fields a hundred years ago.
NOTE: Remember to monitor your cold frame or glass cloches during the day because the sun can quickly raise the temperature inside enough to stress and even kill tender plants.
#5 – Grow your own sprouts – I bought these special plastic trays years ago, because they make rinsing and draining sprouts easy. But you really do not need special equipment. EHow gives you step-by-step instructions on sprouting mung means using a wide-mouth jar. This ayurvedic approach uses paper towels and a sieve. The basic process is to soak the beans in filtered water until they begin to sprout, then to keep rinsing them to keep them moist. I often sprout a variety of different beans, peas and seeds (radishes are particularly tasty). The recipe below shows how I use the sprouts as a topping for those great over-wintered greens from the hoophouse.
2 c fresh sprouts
1/2 c raw sunflower seeds
1/2 diced vidalia onion
3 c fresh greens (look for great color and freshness)
juice from one lemon
4 T rice vinegar
1 t sesame seed oil
3/4 c high-quality olive oil
You can mix the dressing in advance to allow the flavors to marry. (Feel free to add some chopped herbs from your windowsill garden.) Adjust the sesame seed oil to taste – too much can be overpowering. To serve, place the greens on plates, then toss all the other ingredients with the dressing and mound them on top of the greens. You can garnish with dried Michigan cherries.