How To Grow A Table Top Indoor Garden

You may dream of growing all of your own food, but your personal reality might not be as romantic as a rural retreat with an acre of ground in the south of France (my as yet unfulfilled vision for living my good life). You may be an urban eco-warrior, or like me a suburban greenie.

I tend to do most of my farming in the kitchen! I am lucky enough to be the owner of a small back yard in which we produce potatoes, onions, carrots and such but the truth is that this part of Scotland is certainly not renowned as the bread-basket of Europe. The climate is too cold and damp, for starters and even our title deeds for the house stipulate that we can’t keep chickens (another of my personal “good life” dreams). So it is most certainly the case that this veggie household is not self-sufficient.

Hence my dream of being a farmer’s wife is played out mainly in my kitchen. Harvesting indoor crops allows me to contribute to our healthy diet without being concerned about the weather, and I get just as big a sense of achievement harvesting alfalfa sprouts from the windowsill as when I pull a carrot out of the ground outside – and I’m usually drier…

Your indoor crop can be as big or as small as the space available to you. The principle works for villas, cottages and apartments just the same. Experimentation is good and you will quickly find out which crops work best for you. This indoor kitchen farming also has the great advantage of being relatively cheap, so you don’t have to fork out lots of cash to participate. Just remember to buy organic seeds – you don’t want to start farming with built-in toxins.

Windowsill Herbs

Herbs are probably the most common plants to be grown inside the house. They can be treated in much the same way as houseplants, look just as pretty – and smell a hundred times better. They are the magic dust in any recipe and can transform the simplest of ingredients into a taste-fest! The saviour of many a boring root-vegetable roast in the winter, fresh herbs are a godsend and can be easily grown all year round.


Basil is my favourite windowsill herb and it grows well from seed, although you can also commonly buy living plants from your supermarket or greengrocer. It behaves best if you keep it quite dry, watering only when the leaves start to wilt. Be sure to avoid splashing the leaves with water or they will get damaged, and don’t leave the pot standing in water. If you leave in a cold, damp climate like Scotland, then basil really is best grown indoors as it is quite a tender plant. Basil tea can also be used to prevent travel sickness.

Coriander / Cilantro

I’ve had absolutely no luck cultivating coriander outdoors and am still perfecting growing it from seed inside. It is a beautifully fragrant herb that lends itself beautifully to a windowsill as long as you harvest regularly to stop it flowering. If you do let it run to seed, you can also harvest the seeds to use as a spice to add to curries and other asian style meals.

Sprouting Seeds

There’s a saying goes “It isn’t the food in your life that counts, it’s the life in your food” and I’m pretty convinced that sprouting seeds are some of the most vibrant living foods you’ll ever come across. Tiny capsules containing the pure potential of life within, the seed of a plant contains all the essential nutrients the plant needs in its first few days of life, and to build itself into a flourishing specimen. When we eat the sprout, we can benefit from all of that goodness as it is released.

Alfalfa Sprouts

If I were to be cast away on a desert island, then alfalfa would be the seed I’d take with me to ensure good health, and possibly even survival! A true gift of nature, these remarkable seeds can grow roots down to the water table – their tenacity in life almost equals their life promoting properties. Probably the most significant of the Alfalfa’s magic nutrients is vitamin B12, making it an almost vital food for vegetarians who have very few other sources.

Growing alfalfa sprouts is absolute child’s-play! I use a specially designed sprouting tray but you can use any old jar or a muslin bag to grow your sprouts after soaking them overnight. Rinsing them regularly is a must as if you allow them to dry out they will die, however if you leave them standing in water they will rot, and this really is the most difficult thing about this particular indoor crop.

Served after about four days worth of growth, when the sprout is about 2inches long, they can be used in sandwich fillings or salads and when served on their own with a splash of lemon juice, they are equally delicious. If you save the water that drips into the bottom tray, your other houseplants will benefit for its nutrient rich properties.

Snow Peas

My second favourite sprouting seed, snow peas are a great success with children due to their super sweet shot of green goodness and are very high in iron and vitamins C and A. Grown on sprouting trays after an overnight soak, these large round peas may take a couple of days longer than the alfalfa, but they’re likely to be gone well before! Eaten straight from the tray, they make a great mid-day snack and are an especially healthy alternative to children’s candies. Because the peas are much bigger than the alfalfa seeds they are easier to dry out, so do water regularly.

Some other crops you may consider growing indoors are;

  • Chilli peppers and cherry tomatoes. A sunny windowsill is ideal to bring on these plants you’d most likely otherwise need to invest in a greenhouse for.
  • Wheatgrass is regularly touted as a superfood and is another crop you can grow indoors to contribute to your family’s healthy diet.
  • Salad leaves, especially the Oriental selections are also eaily grown indoors in any old container you have lying about. During the summer months, I usually sow a few empty aluminium cans with some salad seeds and harvest them when young and tender.

If all of that isn’t enough to be getting on with, you might like to consider signing up to become a farmer on a real life organic farm – all from the comfort of your own home – even the kitchen! MyFarm is a project run by the National Trust in England, where they are hoping for up to 10,000 people to join up for the £30 annual subscription to help run the farm on the Wimpole Estate. Think Farmville, for real!

Photo by ccharmon


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