Spring has sprung, and it’s the perfect time to plant just about anything. Living in a city like Istanbul limits our grow-your-own options, but it doesn’t mean clever city dwellers can’t improvise. Even those with a novice green thumb can grow vegetables and herbs in a sunny corner of an apartment or on a balcony. Whether your place gets lots of sun or you live engulfed in shade, there are plenty of fun options for growing your own produce at home. If you are too impatient to wait for seeds to sprout, seedlings are a great way to jump-start your project and provide quicker results. In fact, some vegetables can be grown from scraps we’d normally simply throw away. So to get started, here’s a quick overview of what you’ll need and some of the most popular plants – and a few unusual options – to try out.
Most flowering and fruit-producing plants need around six to eight hours of direct sun. In the city, where tall buildings are often close together, this much indoor sunlight might be hard to come by. In that case, balconies, wide windowsills or, if you’re lucky, a rooftop would do the trick. If you don’t have access to any of these sunny spots, don’t despair. Some plants require very little light but will still produce tasty results.
Good soil is essential to provide nutrients, water drainage and the tiny air pockets plants need to grow. Since your apartment garden will depend on containers for planting, dense garden soil won’t give you the best results. For our purposes, a well-draining potting mix will provide a lighter, fluffy base that will help maintain air pockets for roots and allow water to drain properly. If your container doesn’t have drainage holes, line the bottom with rocks or pebbles before filling it with soil to allow excess water to settle away from the plants’ roots.
Your imagination is the limit when it comes to what containers to use for planting, though it is important to do some research on the required growing conditions for each plant and the size they require before selecting its perfect home. Terra cotta pots add a rustic look, while painted ceramic pots can offer a fun splash of color. For those who love to recycle, plastic bottles can also be transformed into planters. Simply lay them on their sides with the caps still on, cut a decent size hole in the top, line the bottom with pebbles, fill them with your potting soil and voila, an instant planter. Likewise, old glass jars and tins are great for smaller plants like herbs. If you want to add some unique character to your urban garden, collect vases or vintage jugs for planting root vegetables or herbs. Keep in mind, any container you choose will triple in weight once the moist soil and plants are added, so be sure wherever you put them to grow, be it a balcony or a windowsill, can handle the extra load. Likewise, any containers in spots that could be knocked over by strong wind or a curious kitty should be secured in place.
Choosing your harvest
Herbs: Fresh herbs are wonderful to have on hand. They are a great, easy option for growing indoors or outside in containers. Some popular options include parsley, basil, lavender, thyme, mint and chives, and they can be planted in almost any cute pot, old jar or even antique teapot your heart desires.
Cauliflower and broccoli: High in fiber and vitamins, cauliflower and broccoli can both be grown in pots. Each plant requires a pot of around 12 inches deep (30 centimeters) by 10-12 inches wide, with good drainage. They are a great choice for those who get little sun, only requiring six hours of sunlight a day.
Scallions: Did you know you could grow scallions from leftover scraps? Save the bottom 3-4 inches of a store-bought scallion and plant it about a half inch deep in potting soil or leave it in a small glass of water in bright sun. In about one to two weeks, you’ll have a full-grown plant for salads or recipes.
Garlic greens: Though you can’t grow full heads of fragrant garlic indoors, you can give garlic greens a try. Simply plant three or four cloves in a pot filled with potting soil, set them near a sunny window and water them lightly. In just seven to 10 days, they will be ready for snipping. Their less intense garlicy aroma makes them great for salads or as a seasoning or garnish.
Hot peppers: If you’re looking to add some heat to your dishes, chile peppers might be a great option. They do well in pots both inside and outdoors, and can be grown year-round.
Salad greens: Who doesn’t love a fresh salad? Flat, fairly shallow containers are ideal for growing a variety of leafy lettuces, spinach, microgreens, watercress and arugula. These demand around 12 hours of sun a day, so be sure to pick your brightest spot and in just four to six weeks, you’ll have the best salads in the city.
Tomatoes: There is nothing like a perfectly ripe homegrown tomato. Unlike leafy greens and herbs, tomato plants have a tendency to be quite heavy, but they grow very well in pots of around 30 inches in diameter. They require around 14-20 hours a day of sunlight, so choose your sunniest spot for their pots.
Mushrooms: Don’t give up if your place doesn’t get much sun. Indoor gardening is still possible for you too. Mushrooms love cool, dark places. A wide variety of affordable and easy-to-use mushroom growing kits are available online for almost all of our favorite edible fungi, including oyster, shiitake and morel. The kits come with everything you need, just add water, place them in a dark corner and watch them grow.
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