Grow grow grow your boats
On the windowsill
Merrily merrily merrily merrily
Radish cress and dill….
Following on from our woodlands workspace growing events, we thought we would pass on some knowledge we have learned and help you guys to get growing, no matter what living space you have.
We all have windowsills, unless you live in a tent, or a van… I do actually know someone who lives in a van, but that’s a story for another time.
It turns out we can grow a lot more things on our windowsills than we expected, even cucumbers, who knew! It seems just about anything can be grown inside, as long as you have the space, including things that would normally go in a greenhouse, but even with limited space there are a number of things you can grow.
If your windowsills are busy maybe you can use a table or countertop near the window instead, salads and microgreens can grow even without direct sunlight, so give it a go, you might be surprised what you can grow.
Further down the post there is a list, but first here’s a rundown of what you need:
- Vicki at WCG (woodlands community garden) ran the workshops, and imparted a tonne of advice to us, thanks Vicki!
- She recommends buying seeds online from places like:
- RealSeeds https://www.realseeds.co.uk/ (I have seen others recommend them too)
- Organic Gardening Catalogue https://www.organiccatalogue.com/
If you want to buy from your supermarket, pound shop or garden centre then go for it, just get planting and you’ll learn as you go. Lidl are selling lots of seeds for only 29p each and advice online says they grow well. You can also get seeds free with gardening magazines.
Seed compost is finer and less rich than other composts, which helps seeds to grow, but then most seedlings will need transferred to soil with richer compost to help them grow, microgreens don’t normally need transferred as they don’t need so much nutrients.
If you use rich compost from the start you may not have so much success. If you don’t want to have to transfer them you could try having a layer of seed compost on top of rich compost, then the seeds should sprout well, and when the roots grow they will reach rich compost beneath.
Try to buy peat free compost, as the use of peat is not sustainable, and it releases carbon. However Vicki mentioned peaty compost she uses which is collected from rivers, which has very little environmental impact, she gets hers from the Organic Garden Catalogue, web link above.
Lastly, a pot! You could use egg boxes, cardboard tubes, plastic punnets or tubs, compostable food containers, or even make little pots out of newspaper. You just need a pot which can soak up water from beneath, and a tray or tub to put it in, so then you can pour water into the tray or tub to water from beneath. Mushroom tubs or yogurt pots can be good for putting pots into.
You may also want to get some plant food like Tomarite or comfrey feed to help them along, you can feed them every week or so.
Vicki’s top tip – don’t plant your seeds too deep or too close together, but if you follow the advice on the packet you can’t go far wrong. This is true for small seeds especially, they really only need a light dusting of soil on top of them. If planting microgreens you will want to plant quite a few in each pot.
Seeds like to start off dark and warm, so after planting in damp soil pop them on top of your fridge or in an airing cupboard. It helps to cover the top of the pot tightly with a lid or plastic bag and a rubber band to keep the moisture in, then you can just pour some water into the tray for the soil to soak up from the bottom, otherwise use a spray bottle to mist the soil, as this doesn’t disturb the seeds as much as pouring water onto the soil.
Once most or all of your seedlings have started to grow, move them onto the windowsill or bright area and take the cover off, as now the seedlings need light to grow. Water from the bottom to promote healthy growth. We had a bit of mould on the soil when growing pea shoots, which doesn’t seem to have any effect on the plant and went away after a few days. I read a tip suggesting sprinkling cinnamon over the soil as it has anti-fungal properties and won’t hurt the plants.
If you are repotting seedlings:
Wait til they have grown some ‘true’ leaves, which come after the initial seed leaves. Using a spoon can help to dig up the seedling, don’t worry if you disturb the root, just plant it nice and deep so the plant is well supported. Make sure not to damage the stem as it probably won’t grow if you do, so grab it by a leaf and be gentle. Of course you can also buy seedlings to save you the bother of growing from seed, but this way means re-using your own pots rather than buying more, and is cheaper too.
Some vegetables grow from a flower which has to be pollinated for it to ‘fruit’. Just opening a window might do the trick, giving the plant a gentle shake can help it to self-pollinate. Alternatively you can manually pollinate using an old toothbrush, your fingertips or a soft paintbrush, go from flower to flower touching them briefly and gently.
When to plant:
Salads don’t take long to grow, so can be planted throughout the season, other things take longer so really need to be planted in March or April to get the full length of the season, otherwise you will be growing micro veg too!
Keen growers will have started some seedlings in February to give them a head start, but with all the rain we had it certainly wasn’t the most inspiring time. Once March hit the rain seemed to ease, and with spring arriving it will help us get in the mood. Monty Don is back on our screens with Gardeners’ World, his chat with Zoe Ball on Friday morning gave me more inspiration, to enjoy time in the garden, and maybe start a wee microgreens farm to help to sustain us through this isolation period…
… So let’s get planting!
Here’s a list of various things you can grow inside, which of course can also be grown outside or in a greenhouse. You are still best to start them inside otherwise seedlings may well get eaten, and will grow quicker inside. I learned this the hard way, with some frustrating moments of all my seedlings getting eaten!
So with pea seeds, instead of growing peas you can grow tasty pea shoots for your salads. They don’t even need direct sunlight, they will grow better the more sunlight they get but even at a north facing window they should still grow.
Soak the seeds overnight before planting. You can plant lots of these in one pot, don’t cover them with soil just place them on top and water the soil.
Wait until you’ve got a good few inches of growth before harvesting, and make sure to cut above the lowest growth point/buds, otherwise it will die. You should then be able to harvest again every week or two.
We were impressed by this one – just from an egg box, you can grow radishes without re-potting them (they don’t like to be moved anyway). Just plant 1 seed in each compartment.
Once you see a mound on top they are probably ready to pick. Radish greens/leaves are completely edible too, but you’ll probably want to cook them as they’re a bit coarse otherwise.
Photo rights: Astrid Canelle
If you like some peppery rocket in your salad then give this a go. On sunny days make sure they have enough water otherwise they might bolt, grow thick and tall and go to seed – this is like the plant’s defence mechanism, going to seed before dying. The same is true for other salads, so keep the soil moist when it’s sunny. They have relatively short roots.
Spinach might need slightly deeper soil than rocket but they still have fairly short roots. Such a versatile food for salads, sandwiches and dinners.
You can grow lettuce inside, just pick the leaves at whatever size you want before they get too big. Note they will need a bigger pot than other salads as they need ample room for roots.
Spring onions are great for a small space – they grow skinny and tall, so lots can be planted close together. They have short roots too so don’t need a lot of soil.
As with leek, you can also regrow them from a cutting of the root end (this could be a good one to impress the kids) – place in a little water with roots submerged and the stump just above the water, place in sunlight and keep the roots moist, shoots should start to grow. Change the water at least once a week, then when shoots are 4 or 5 inches tall plant them in soil and harvest at the desired size – they should keep growing throughout the season if you want them big.
We have had a lot of success with both methods of growing spring onions so definitely recommend these. However I didn’t know you can actually harvest the leaves and leave the onion to grow almost indefinitely…
Popular with Roman soldiers, that seems like as good a reason as any to grow this! Watercress adapts well to growing in containers outside or pots inside, it has a peppery flavour and can be eaten raw or cooked.
Great in an egg sandwich or salad, the forgotten salad from your youth has a place in your diet today.
You can also grow microgreens from things you might not expect, like broccoli, cabbage, beetroot and radish, and they normally taste like concentrated versions of the full-size plants they would normally become. Most salads work too – sown densely to grow as microgreens.
Apparently the easiest to grow are: radish, sunflower, rocket, wheatgrass, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, lettuce, kohlrabi, mustard and clover.
Of course herbs are great for growing indoors, some of the easiest ones are chives, rosemary, oregano, parsley, sage, thyme, dill and coriander. I always thought of chives as a garnish, but actually they can be eaten in larger quantities like spring onions, and the flowers are edible too.
Peppers and Chilli peppers
Vicki had a french variety of chilli peppers (basque chilli) which is very well suited to growing indoors in the UK. Start them as early as possible to give them time to grow.
Cucumber / Courgette / Tomato / Mangetout
These all need more space, but are still possible to grow indoors if you have room. They will need supported or something to grow up, and might need a bit of help to grow in the right direction. Alternatively grow them in a mini greenhouse outside.
Mangetout is a good one for getting multiple crops from – once the plant is established you can get a new crop every week or two. Note, they might grow quite tall….
Last but not least, we almost forgot… Mushrooms!
They don’t need light so can be grown anywhere, and instead of seeds they grow from spawn/spores. Advice online indicates that mushrooms need a bit more work to get right, but they grow really well from used coffee grounds, so if you drink a lot of coffee then why not give it a go – oyster mushrooms are apparently the easiest to grow. Another suggestion I read online was to ask a local cafe for used coffee grounds, which apparently they are usually happy to do, as they are happy to see it go to good use.
Annoyingly compost always comes in a plastic bag, so I asked Vicki if she knows of any other way to get it, other than home composting. She says they sometimes get deliveries of bulk bags from Mcnairs. There are various places that sell them if you look online, they range in price from about £50-£100 for 250kg-1000kg bags. This is clearly impractical for indoor growing, but I thought this was worth mentioning as an idea for anyone with a garden or allotment, if you were planning on buying lots of bags of compost this could save on a lot of plastic waste. Those with an allotment could share a bulk bag with others at the allotment.
We would love to see what you are growing, so do share with us on Facebook and Instagram.
From Jamie, Woodlands Workspace and the team at Society Zero CIC