Gardening without a garden

We are very lucky here to have a bit of land around our house that allows us to garden. Over the years, the lawn has completely disappeared as we have built raised beds, constructed a fruit cage, built a greenhouse and (the final straw) started keeping chickens. We have expanded into spaces originally considered unsuitable for growing and now have designs on the small patch out the front.

As I write, I am, however, conscious of people who do not have any land. People who live in flats and apartments that may just have a balcony or even only a window sill, perhaps not even that.  For a while Mr Snail-of-happiness worked in Reading, where we rented a flat for him to live in. The only room that had a useable window sill was in the kitchen, but it was tiled and got quite a lot of sun, so I took him several sweet pepper plants and chillies, and they grew happily there for a couple of years, providing him with some fresh produce, even if only a little. In addition, he had some herbs in pots… a lovely way to add fresh flavours to your cooking.

Two trays of oriental leaves.

Two trays of oriental leaves.

However, things like peppers can be a little bit daunting for a complete beginner and, if you want to grow them from seed, it’s best to start them off at the beginning of the year, so they start to get long days as the plants mature. What if you want to start growing something right now? In that case (whenever you may be reading this, and whichever hemisphere you are in) I can suggest nothing better than oriental leaves. Buy yourself a selection of seeds (you can even get mixed packs), fill a seed tray with compost, sow your seeds, cover with a little more compost, place them on a tray to catch any water, water them and put them on a window sill or table in a light place. Keep the compost moist and wait for your crop. First, you will get heart-shaped seed leaves, then the plants will start to grow proper leaves which you can harvest once each plant has a few of them. Snip the leaves off and more will grow.

Baby leaves like theses are not strongly flavoured and are ideal for salads, but can also be used in stir fries, or wilted into a risotto a minute or two before cooking is finished. Next time you go to the supermarket, look how expensive bags of baby salad leaves are and this should convince you that the activity is worthwhile!

Seed compost isn’t full of nutrients, so the leaves might be a bit yellow after a time and, if so, a bit of plant food is in order. Eventually your plants will become ‘worn out’, so after a couple of weeks, plant another tray to get going whilst you are using one… this way you can have a succession of fresh leaves throughout the year even without a garden.

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  1. Fruit vinegar | The Snail of Happiness

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