How About Growing Your Own Vegetables from Home This Summer?
Escalating food prices coupled with increasing demand for fresh organic produce makes growing your own vegetables at home a reasonable idea. However, it may sound daunting if you haven’t tried it yet. You may be even thinking, ‘how am I going to grow food when I don’t even have a garden?’ Well, you don’t need a plot of soil (which can be an advantage no doubt, if you have one), but your balcony, rooftop or kitchen area can be the right spaces to grow some gorgeous greens. Many vegetable plants grow well in pots, which are very versatile; they can be placed on your windowsill or even be hanging from a ceiling! Just make sure they are placed in areas where they can absorb sun, and the plants are ready-to-GROW!
So, let’s explore the different options to get started and see what can work for you once you decide to plant in-house. You may even manage to produce your future salad entirely from your home!
Grow What You Love and What is in Season
Before you go off to secure the materials for your mini vegetable garden, think about what you like to eat first. This will guide you to selecting what you should plant. Some plants grow throughout the year while some are seasonal by nature. As we are hitting the summer months, you can start growing the hot weather favorites: tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplants and herbs (lettuce, parsley, mint, basil, etc.,). Additional summer plants that grow quite well in pots include okra, zucchini, bush beans, southern peas and pole beans. If you have a garden at your disposal for planting, then you can even go for carrots, squash or corn as these vegetables do better when they have more space to grow.
The Right Amount of Sun
As a rule of thumb, remember that vegetables thrive in places with good sunlight. The fastest growing vegetables need at least 6-8 hours of sunlight a day, so whilst a shady area can work too, you will have better results in the sunlit area. Luckily, Lebanon has plenty of long sunny days during the summer months. The vegetables that need the “full sun” are generally tomato, eggplant, cucumber, pepper and zucchini.
There are also plants that do very well in a half shaded spot (as some areas in your garden or in your house get less direct sun than other areas). The “partial sun” plants are those that require at least 4 hours of sunlight each day. These tend to be the root vegetables, such as beetroot, turnip, radish, parsnip, carrot, broccoli, onion, and cabbage. Other plants that thrive in less sunlight are classified as “partial shade” (2-4 hours of sunlight), such as arugula (a lovely peppery green that goes well in salads), kale, celery, endive, spinach, basil, parsley and mint.
Picture Credit: https://balconygardenweb.com/balcony-vegetable-garden/
Placing Pots in Your Home
If you have a small sunny balcony space or plan to use a sunlit area in your kitchen, use pots for growing herbs and salad greens along with tomatoes and peppers as these don’t generally take up much space. Pumpkin and cucumbers can crawl vertically too, so you can train them to grow up a wall area if space is limited. As for the pots, you can get yourself the standard terracotta (do note these can be quite heavy once filled with soil), fiberglass or plastic containers that are usually sold separately in garden stores or come with the plants you purchase. Otherwise, you can improvise with what you have at home, such as using an empty glass jar or a tin can. If you want something bigger, old storage bins, a no longer needed wooden drawer or a burlap coffee bean sack can work too. Just make sure your container offers good drainage (so excess water is able to escape). You should add drainage holes to your pot, if it doesn’t come with one. Remember, without drainage, soil will become waterlogged and your vegetable plant may die. You can read more about what type of containers you can use at home https://www.airtasker.com/blog/grow-vegetables-apartment/ for more practical ideas.
Remember that the spot you choose for your plant has to be the right one. Keep plants away from any cold drafty areas and away from any heat vents, such as the air conditioner compressor(s) you may have (some homes keep this on the balcony; so if you do this in your home, make sure it is not close to your plants when the A/C is switched on). You also need to make sure the plants are not kept under sunlight that is too direct, which in turn can burn them. In other words, you need to find the right location so plants are not in harm’s way; they get the right amount of sunlight and are able to thrive.
Start Planting Your Pots
So there are a number of ways to go about here. You can get the plant already in a pot from a nursery, whether it’s a seedling (young plant) or a fully grown plant. This can save you time and effort planting seeds. Otherwise, get seeds (sold as seed packets) as this will be cheaper than buying the individual plants. If you are planting in a garden seeds might be a better choice. First, it is much cheaper (otherwise you will need to purchase a bunch of plants which can be costly). Secondly, you have more freedom to experiment with what works in your garden and what doesn’t. However, you should make sure you are using high quality seeds. If you get bad quality seeds and they don’t germinate, your money and effort would be wasted! If you are not sure about the seeds you have you can do a simple germination test before you plant them. All you need is a paper towel, zipper bag, your seeds, a bowl of water and a pen. You can follow the instructions provided in this easy-to-follow home test https://growagoodlife.com/simple-seed-germination-test/.
While some supermarkets do sell seeds, you can try to buy them straight from a reputable plant nursery in your area, which is often cheaper too. Alternatively, you can order them on-line. If you want to know more about the two options (seeds versus seedlings), you can learn more about them here https://wholefully.com/organic-vegetable-gardening-for-beginners-grow/.
Picture Credit: https://www.almanac.com/gardening/planting-calendar
Getting Your Soil Right
When it comes to having the right soil for your vegetables, it may differ from house plants to garden plants. Inside a house or an apartment, you are more likely to use containers (pots) which might make it difficult to use garden soil. Soil from a garden can sometimes be too dense to use in a pot or a raised bed. As a result, it will compact in pots, limiting air and preventing water from flowing through. However, this is not always the case. You may still use garden soil or choose a potting mix (potting soil) – a lightweight and fluffy alternative that is usually composed of peat, moss, vermiculite and perlite. While the potting mix absorbs moisture well, it doesn’t have any nutrients (no minerals nor microbes) therefore, you need to inject some fertilizer to it. For tips on how to choose the right type of soil for your house pots you can read further here.
If you are planting in a garden make sure the soil is fertile with nutrients and drains easily when watered. Furthermore, it should be free of weeds and disease and has high organic matter content. What I mean by the latter is decomposed plant material known as humus, which contains many useful nutrients for healthy soil, such as nitrogen. Keep in mind that healthy soil produces nutritious food, so invest in some time preparing your soil correctly before you start planting. You can also invest in making your own compost (natural fertilizer) out of food scraps. Here is a brief guide explaining good quality soil and how to make compost https://homeguides.sfgate.com/soil-mixture-grow-vegetables-44918.html
When it comes to watering your plants, always water the roots rather than the leaves. If your plants look droopy, don’t think they are dead, a good watering should help to rejuvenate them. However, do not overwater them either(check the planting instructions as different vegetables have different watering needs). As with everything, too little or too much can do more harm than good!
Well, that’s it for our introduction to planting vegetables at home guide! Hope it gave you an idea what to consider if you plan to plant your food produce this summer. Of course, you can educate yourself further on this topic by taking workshops, speaking to experts or doing some more on-line research. As we live in a region blessed with bountiful sunshine and fertile soil, we should prioritize eating local produce and even growing them at home, if we can. Let us know if you are making a summer vegetable garden and share with us your experience. As always we love to hear from you!