Excited about gardening season but don’t have the room for rows and rows of your favorite Pennsylvania produce? For the eager green thumb with limited or no outdoor space, Center County farmers and producers offer a wealth of tips and tricks for getting the biggest harvest in some of the smallest spaces, with a focus on culinary gardening to make your fastest weekday easy to supplement meals.
It all starts with choosing the right location. A sunny patio, porch, sunroom, or window sill is desirable, says Ethan Davis, owner of Penns Valley’s Strong Roots Organic Herb & Vegetable Farm. Kim Tait, owner of Tait Farm Foods in Center Hall, adds that herbs tend to prefer south- or west-facing windowsills.
While growing on windowsills is preferable to using artificial grow lights, Hector Troyer, farmer at Urban Farm Sowers Market in Houserville, clarifies that “modern windows tend to block more light than older windows, making them less desirable for lighting.” power, but they also block more cold.” He notes that most houseplants grow best between 60 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Once you’ve found the best spot for your culinary garden, it’s time to pick your plants. Herbs are recommended for kitchen window sills, but if you have a patio or deck, you can expand your approach to include more produce.
“Clumped basil, cilantro, thyme, chives, rosemary, oregano, and other fresh herbs make a great addition to a kitchen windowsill. If you have them handy, you’re more likely to use them. Just use sharp scissors to cut them if you want them. They will grow back,” Davis said. “If you have a patio, (can) grow cherry tomatoes, pepperoni, peppers or eggplant, (or) kale, spinach, arugula (and) lettuce. You can get about a pound of greens for every 1 by 3 foot planter. Depending on the variety, you can achieve three or four harvests of lettuce. The same goes for arugula. Spinach and baby cabbage are slower. Kale, if you grow it to full size, will last through hard frosts.”
For faster greens without a deck or lawn, Mindy Worrick, owner of Bear Meadows, recommends microgreens – what else? — micro green. She says many strains only need soil, water, and light to produce fresh greens within 10 days. While optimal growing conditions are around 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 40% humidity, this specificity is not critical, and even providing air circulation to prevent mold problems during your grow is as simple as adding a fan to your space.
“You’re very forgiving,” she said. “I will always grow microgreens for food. There is so little waste compared to buying lettuce and other salad ingredients… The nutrition is superior to mature vegetables, which require far more time and resources to grow, including the time it takes to ship them to stores. They really are ideal plants for indoor growing (and) exciting for kids and everyone because they are so quick and easy to grow.”
Troyer also recommends some fast-growing vegetables and herbs, noting that pea sprouts can be ready to eat in as little as 10 days and alfalfa sprouts in as little as seven days. Radish greens can be harvested within a week, while basil microgreens can be harvested in around 14 days.
But what if you’re more used to growing outdoors? If you’re trying your hand at a culinary garden for the first time this year, it’s important to be aware of the various challenges you face when bringing your produce indoors.
“Indoor growing is very different than outdoor growing,” said Troyer. “Indoor plants need a lot of attention. They don’t have the benefit of nature’s hardiness that outdoor plants typically enjoy. You control their environment completely, for better or worse.” He recommends closely monitoring temperature, soil moisture, light levels, and nutrient quality, and always using good quality potting soil purchased from a greenhouse or nursery supply store (his recommendation is Martin’s Garden Center in Tyrone).
Finally, make sure to water and feed your culinary garden appropriately. Overwatering can be a big problem for home growers. Davis says plants should be allowed to dry out between waterings, but not “bone dry.” Finding a balance with your watering is also important to finding a balance with plant fertilizers and fertilizers. He adds that plant foods with “nitrogen (N) are good for vegetative growth. Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K) are good for the flowering and fruiting stages. Don’t over-fertilize with nitrogen or you won’t get as much fruit.”
Of course, even with a world of care and caution, if you find that your culinary garden isn’t producing as much as you’d like, the above farmers and producers can help with that too. All offer locally grown produce either direct to consumers or through local farmers’ markets.
Holly Riddle is a freelance food, travel and lifestyle writer. She can be reached at email@example.com.