Organic Consumers Association

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Tip: Growing Organic Food Inside Your Home Year-Round

Don't worry if you haven't got a garden or allotment! For a surprising amount of food can be produced indoors, vegan organically, either on your windowsill or on a well-lit kitchen surface.

The following plants will all do well indoors:

Salad greens are easy to grow and can be produced all the year round indoors, ever so cheaply. So, the next time you buy fruit and vegetables, save any empty plastic punnets as these are ideal for this purpose. You will need to line the base of the punnet with several layers of paper kitchen towel and this should be dampened with water before sprinkling on the seeds. Try using rape, mustard or cress seeds which should all grow well.

After sowing the seeds, place the punnet in a brown paper bag and keep it in a dark cupboard, perhaps underneath the sink, until the seeds have germinated and the seedlings are an inch or so high. Then it can be brought out into the daylight and the bag removed. But don't place it on a very sunny windowsill, or the seedlings will dry out too rapidly and become stressed.

You should check the seedlings regularly to make sure that the paper is still damp and water or spray if necessary. When they are about 2-3 inches high, the seedlings can be cut off with scissors, rinsed and used as a tasty garnish for salads or sandwiches. Alternatively, buckwheat and sunflower greens make an excellent substitute for lettuce. These grow well in small plastic trays and the sorts of trays that can sometimes buy mushrooms in are ideal.

Soak the seeds (which should still have their shells on) in a jam jar for 12 hours, then drain off the water and leave the seeds to sprout for a day before sowing. To sow: Place a layer of soil (or potting compost) in the plastic tray and distribute the seeds evenly on the surface, covering them with a thin layer of soil. Dampen the soil daily. The greens should be ready for harvesting in about 7 days and are also easily harvested with scissors.

Wheatgrass also grows well in trays and can be grown either on soil or on dampened kitchen towels. However, wheatgrass is usually juiced in a special juicer, rather than eaten, although you can also chew it like gum! Wheatgrass juice has many amazing curative properties and it is full of vitamins, minerals and enzymes and of course chlorophyll. I would recommend that you read Ann Wigmore's book, The Wheatgrass Book, if you want to find out more about how to grow it and about its medicinal properties. Sprouts Many grains, pulses, nuts and seeds can be sprouted and are easily grown indoors on a windowsill, either in trays or in special sprouting jars. And sprouts are truly amazing! They are full of vitamins, enzymes and minerals and have many features, which make them far superior to other foods For example they are inexpensive to grow, need little preparation, can usually be eaten raw and some even have anti-cancer properties. And what could be fresher, than a handful of sprouts removed from a jar in your kitchen, rinsed, then eaten straight away?

If you want quick results, then try sprouting some soaked, hulled, organic sunflower seeds. These can be ready in a day or two and green lentil sprouts also grow very quickly. Alfalfa is one of the most nutritious sprouts to grow and makes an excellent garnish, but I actually prefer the taste of red clover, which is supposed to be especially good if you are menopausal. I also really like the taste of broccoli sprouts, but these seeds are very expensive to buy and not always easy to find and so I usually grow my own.

If you would like to try this, then leave some purple sprouting broccoli to go seed in a corner of your garden. You need to leave at least two plants next to one another to be sure of producing seed and you may need to protect the ripening seedpods from birds. When the pods are dry shell out the seeds. It's fiddly, but well worth the effort, as you will save a fortune! Legumes are also worth sprouting. Try chick peas, peas and aduki beans. Wheat can also be sprouted and is used to make the refreshing drink known as Rejuvelac, which is supposed to be good for the intestinal flora. And of course wheat sprouts are also used to make sprouted wheat bread.

When growing sprouts, if you are short of space, then try one of the tiered tray systems such as the Beingfare Salad Sprouter, which allows you to grow several varieties of sprouts on top of one another. It is also possible to buy special sprouting jars with mesh lids, which allow easy rinsing and draining of your sprouts. Of course if you are hard up for cash you can simply use clean jam jars, covered with a piece of cheesecloth (muslin) and held in place with an elastic band. It is possible to buy nylon sprouting bags from the Fresh Network, which are more portable than most sprouting systems and are useful for taking on holiday. Herbs and Other Plants Many herbs will grow well on a windowsill and are useful for adding extra flavour to food. Parsley is rich in vitamins and will grow well in a pot or small trough indoors. I use the variety Champion Moss Curled and make sowings in March and August for an all year round supply. Germination seems to be more reliable than from an outdoor sowing and it is especially useful to have a small pot of parsley growing indoors in the winter as it saves going out in the garden and getting the feet wet!

Bush Basil also grows well in containers and so does Winter Savoury and both of these can be sown indoors in April or May. Chives is also an excellent indoor container plant and so is Pennyroyal and you could even try growing your own Cayenne peppers on a sunny windowsill! Also watercress does not necessarily need running water. The Organic Gardening Catalogue offers a type of watercress that does well in a well-watered pot and if you grow it indoors, you should hopefully escape the caterpillars which can quickly strip the plant bare!

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 My indoor garden started with a Royal Flush: During a poker game with friends, I was halving an avocado for guacamole when I realized, to my complete shock, that I had a good hand. Instead of pausing the game to throw the pit in the trash, I poked a hole in the soil of the nearest houseplant, dropped in the pit and forgot about it. I was reminded a month later when the fast-growing avocado plant took over the pot. You, too, can grow an indoor garden with kitchen scraps usually thrown onto the compost heap.

Garlic: 1. Plant a few garlic cloves with pointed tip facing up in a pot with loamy organic soil.

2. Place the pot on a sunny windowsill and water regularly like a houseplant.

3. Green garlicky shoots emerge in a week or so. Harvest with a scissors to using in cooking or as a tasty garnish for soups, salads and baked potatoes.

Green Onions: 1. Use green onions with healthy, white roots attached to the bulb. Snip off green tops for cooking with a scissors. Leave a little green top on the onion bulb.

2. Plant the entire onion while leaving the short top above ground in a small pot filled with a loamy, organic potting soil. Make sure your container has drainage holes. Put in a sunny windowsill and water once a week or when soil feels dry to the touch.

3. Harvest new green shoots with scissors to use for cooking or as a tasty garnish. Continue to leave the onion in the soil. With each new growth the onion will taste more potent. After each harvest of onion tops, dress the topsoil with organic compost. Enjoy green onion tops in stir-fries, omelets, and in sandwiches all winter long

Pineapple: 1. Indoor pineapple plants rarely produce flowers and fruit, but their striking foliage adds a touch of exotic to any houseplant collection. All you need to grow one is the green top you cut off when you eat the pineapple. For best results, use a pineapple that has fresh center leaves at the crown. Lob off the top, right where the crown meets the fruit. Peel off the bottom leaves and clean off the leftover fruit. Let the top rest a day before planting.

2. Fill a shallow pot with rich, loamy organic soil mixed with a few tablespoons of well-rinsed coffee grounds. Pineapple grows best in an acidic soil. Plant the pineapple top so the soil is even with the bottom of the crown.

3. Water well and mist the leaves and crown with a diluted, organic liquid fertilizer. As a member of the Bromeliaceae family, which also includes air plants, pineapple plants take much of their nourishment not from the soil but from nutrients in the moist air.

Avocado: 1. For best results use only a ripe avocado. Carefully halve the fruit and rinse the pit. Pat dry and let sit overnight in a warm, dry spot. The next day, peel off any of the parchment-like skin from the pit.

2. Place the pit with the base (the wider end) toward the bottom in a 7-inch pot full of loamy, rich organic soil. Make sure the tip is above the soil, exposed to light for proper germination. Water thoroughly.

3. If your apartment is dry, place a clear plastic cup over the exposed seed tip to serve as a mini-greenhouse. Though the plant does not need direct light to germinate, placing the pot on a sunny windowsill will speed growth.

4. Continue to water every week and make sure the soil doesn't dry out completely. The pit may take over a month to germinate so be patient.

5. When the sprout emerges and grows to about 4 inches, add another layer of organic soil to cover the pit completely. This not only protects the seed, but also any roots that may poke through the soil in search of nourishment.

6. Once the plant starts growing, it may remind you of the story "Jack and the Beanstalk." You can watch the plant grow tall for a year (supported with a wooden rod) and let it branch on its own, or make a decision to prune it and force it to branch, making a sturdier plant. If you choose to prune, it's best to trim with a diagonal cut 2 inches from the top. Be careful as you prune not to cut the main stem more than 1/3 of its height.

7. Continue to add organic compost to fertilize the soil with each pruning and water as you would a houseplant. Only repot the fast-growing plant when it is 6 times taller than the diameter of the pot.

8. Though avocado plants do not bear fruit if grown indoors, you can plant multiple avocado pits at various times in the same pot for a more interesting arrangement. 

Further Reading:

The Sprouter's Handbook by Edward Cairney (Argyll Publishing, 1997).

Sprout For the Love of Everybody by Viktoras Kulvinskas.

The Sproutman's Kitchen Garden Cookbook by Steve Meyerowitz.

The Wheatgrass Book by Ann Wigmore.

Sprouting by Pauline Lloyd. (A copy of this article can be downloaded from my web site at: http://www.btinternet.com/~bury_rd/sprout.htm).

Seed Suppliers:

The Organic Gardening Catalogue, Riverdene Business Park, Molesey Rd, Hersham, Surrey. KT12 4RG. (Tel: 01932 253666.) Sells a good selection of seeds for sprouting and also stocks the Beingfare Salad Sprouter, sprouting jars, a manual wheatgrass juicer and books.

John Chambers, 15 Westleigh Rd, Barton Seagrave, Kettering, Northants, NN15 5AJ. (Tel: 01933 652562.) Offers a selection of seeds for sprouting.

 The FRESH Network, PO Box 71, Ely. Cambs. CB7 4GU. (Tel: 0870 800 7070). Sells sprouting jars and nylon sprouting bags, plus a number of books on sprouting.

 Suffolk Herbs, Monks Farm, Coggeshall Road, Kelvedon, Essex CO5 9PG. (Tel: 01376 572456.) Sells seeds for sprouting, sprouting equipment and books on herbs.

 Note: all of the seeds mentioned in this article can be obtained from The Organic Gardening Catalogue. 

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