We love ideas that save you money, and this one is no different. Follow our guide and you’ll soon be picking fresh, succulent shoots and leaves, that’ll add a splash of green to your salad, or a crunchy layer to a cheesy sandwich. So, get your gloves out, dust off your windowsill and let’s get started!
There are a number of things to consider, so let’s go through them one by one, starting with…
Location – this is one of the most important factors if you’re thinking about growing your own. There needs to be plenty of sunlight available, or your little seedlings won’t grow. If you have a windowsill that allows your pots to be outside, even for a short while, when it’s raining that’s even better. Plants love rainwater as it contains a small amount of hydrogen peroxide (H202), which is super for helping plants grow and keeping disease and fungus at bay. If you can’t put your pots outside, do try to capture some rainwater when you can to give your plants a treat. Just stick an old tin or jam jar outside when it’s raining and let it fill up.
Size – according to Alys Fowler, the Observer’s resident green-fingered guru, your window pots should be no less than 15-20cm deep, and the deeper the better. Any less than 15cms and the plants roots will not have the room they need to thrive. Beans and carrots will need more like 30cm deep pots to do well. Don’t overcrowd the pots either – seedlings don’t like being squashed together and won’t grow up big and strong if they feel cramped. So, if you’re planning on growing mixed salad leaves, you’d need a pot that’s at least 25cm wide. However, if you deliberately want micro or baby leaves, like they use in those fancy restaurants, plant them close together to stunt their growth.
It’s useful to bear in mind that if you decide on micro leaves, you’ll only get one pick at them, before you’ll need to replant. If you choose to grow baby leaves you’ll get two picks, maybe even three. Although, it’s common for the third flush of leaves to be quite tough.
Material – You can make your window pots out of anything that can hold water but, some materials are better than others. Anything you use will need drainage holes in the bottom, so that rules out things like glass, unless you’re confident at drilling holes in it! You can use old biscuit or paint tins and anything that’s plastic and the right shape, such as large yoghurt pots – the choice is endless really.
Compost – Choose your soil wisely! You need a compost that’s been specially made for pots. It’ll contain extra food to help your plants grow and special additives that retain water much longer too – drying out can be a real issue with window pots. It’ll usually state which are window-pot-suitable on the packaging, but if you’re unsure, look out for composts that contain loam or water-retaining granules, like vermiculite. If you’re still not sure, just ask in the shop, they should be able to advise you.
Building up your pot – you need to start off with drainage in the bottom, so pop some stones or bits of broken pot in first. If you’re worried about the weight of the pots, as the larger ones can get quite heavy, you can use polystyrene as drainage. Next, add your compost, making sure you only pack it down lightly to allow the new seedling to push their way to the surface easily. Now give it a little water, but not too much, just enough for the compost to be moist.
Time for Planting! – make a little hole with your fingertip or a pencil and drop your seed in. Cover it, press down lightly and you’re done.
Watering – try to water your plants from the bottom. So, take them off your windowsill and pop them in the sink, fill up with the rainwater you’ve collected (or just tap water if you don’t have this) and allow them just to sit and soak it up. Once you see that the top of the soil is damp, they’re good to go. If you prefer to water from the top, pour slowly and keep going until it seeps out through the drainage holes in the bottom.
Feed the seeds – It’s important to feed your plants once they’ve started growing. If they were outside in your garden, they’d be able to send their roots off all over to search for the nutrients they require. In a pot they’re not able to do this, so you’ll have to give them the food they need to grow. Get a liquid feed and give it to them about every two weeks.
Give them lots of love – Speak to your plants, it will make them grow better and, no, it’s not some new-age theory, there’s scientific evidence to back it up.
Got a balcony? – If you’ve got a balcony, or even a little piece of outdoor space, there are loads of things you can do with it. Mark Riddall Smith of verticalveg.org.uk is a master of small urban gardening and the go-to man for more help.
Follow this guide and you’ll soon be harvesting and eating your own produce. It’s a great feeling and we thoroughly recommend giving it a go.
To see our three step plan to start growing your own vegetables, click here.