This originally published on May 14, 2020.
Last week, I went two days without eating anything that didn’t come from a can, my fridge, or my freezer. Quarantine or not, that’s no way to live—I want the flavor and nutrition that fresh food brings!
Because I’m immuno-compromised, I limit my trips to the grocery store to twice a month, and I’m still learning how to manage my grocery list to make that possible. Fortunately, as the days warm and lengthen, I’m more and more often able to harvest fresh ingredients from my indoor kitchen garden, bringing much-desired freshness into my quarantine meals.
Even if you don’t have a knack for gardening, it’s straightforward to grow a few simple herbs and veggies in an apartment, on your indoor windowsill, or outside on a fire escape. Six of my hard-to-kill, lovely-to-eat favorites are below.
Microgreens are just vegetables that you harvest shortly after the seeds have sprouted. They’re believed to be nutritionally dense, but I love them for the flavor and texture they add to soup, a baked potato, or a warm quinoa salad.
You can buy packages of microgreen seeds, but it’s just as easy to pick up a package of 200 Calabrese broccoli seeds for $2.95.
When I first started with microgreens, I grew them in soil, but then found it hard to avoid transferring the dirt on my scissors—so now, I grow mine on a hemp grow mat ($16 for 40) that is hard to inadvertently harvest.
Keep the mat on a plastic or aluminum tray, or even the lid of a yogurt pot. Put down the hemp mat, mist it with water, sprinkle the broccoli seeds densely, and then mist again. You’ll probably only eat one or two square inches of microgreens each meal, so don’t plant more than one mat at a time.
Give the seeds a generous mist of water each morning (yes, I’ve used my iron, don’t judge me), and in a little over a week, you’ll have two-inch-tall stalks topped with a pair of heart-shaped leaves. Cut them down with scissors and garnish away.
Like microgreens, pea shoots are young vegetables eaten whole. Pea shoots taste just like fresh peas and can be used on a salad or in a sandwich, but they taste equally lovely when as a standalone salad base.
While I tend to eat broccoli microgreens within ten days of planting, I like to give pea shoots two or three weeks before I harvest them—letting them grow three or so inches tall. Grow your pea shoots just as you would microgreens, on hemp maps that you mist daily.
For shoots, grow a short variety of pea. The dwarf sugar pea ($3.25) or little marvel ($2.75) are good choices. Avoid anything with the word “tall” or “giant” in the name, as you may find those strains tougher than is desirable for a light little shoot.
I cannot kill this herb. No matter how long I go without watering it, it just. keeps. growing. The classic dish to eat with oregano is pasta since oregano tastes great with tomato and olive oil, but I’ve found it’s also really good with my favorite butternut squash risotto. Plant now to get ready for tasty dishes in August and September.
You can get a pack of a thousand oregano seeds for $2.79, and start them in egg cartons in organic seed-starting mix ($5.27). Put them on the windowsill for a few weeks, mist them regularly, and once a few of them have their heads an inch or so above the soil, carefully transfer three or four of the successful ones into a clay pot ($3.47). I put a chipped but pretty vintage plate underneath mine and keep it in the center of my kitchen table.
Radishes are a root vegetable, so while you might be tempted to roast them with garlic, I’d encourage you to think of this spicy red guy as your new breakfast veg: radishes can be prepared sautéed with bacon, or slivered onto avocado toast and paired with a fried egg.
Radishes are the fastest-growing vegetable out there. It takes as few as 20 days for a radish to go from seed to plate. I grow mine in recycled yogurt tubs and chopped-down milk cartons—anything that holds four or five inches of soil. And when you can get 3,000 (!) early scarlet globe radish seeds for $3.25, there’s no reason not to share your harvest.
The lettuce I grew up with was the flavorless iceberg of the ‘80s, but the lettuce I grow now is more likely a vibrant red leaf than something that could take down Titanic. A forgiving crop with shallow roots, I’ve grown lettuce in old, thrifted salad bowls and mugs.
The deep purple-y red deer tongue ($2.99) is one I grow every year. Leaf lettuce—lettuce that you harvest in small pieces, rather than as full globes—is often a “cut-and-come-again” plant. By picking its leaves, you’re creating more space for new leaves to grow. This is my go-to leaf for sandwiches and veggie burgers.
Swiss chard has big, dark green leaves that can be shredded into a salad, sautéed with garlic, added to a veggie lasagne, or paired with any kind of egg dish that you’d normally have with spinach. Its stalks are versatile enough to be popped into any dish you want to bulk up with extra veg: a stir fry, soup, pasta sauce, or pizza topping.
Vibrant Swiss chard—in ruby red, neon, or striped pink peppermint (all under $3)—both looks beautiful in a pot and keeps its color after cooking, so don’t be afraid to give your chard pride of place on a well-lit shelf.
If you have a small pot—say, four inches across—you’ll be harvesting your chard after about a month, when it is still in baby form. If you have a bit more space, though, and a pot that’s at least six inches across, you can let your chard grow for around seven weeks before you begin to harvest. Be warned, though: It’ll get big! The leaves can be as much as ten inches long if your plants have enough space to grow.
The total cost to grow all the above? About $43. If the seed-starting soil isn’t enough for your oregano and chard pots, you might need to add another $5.47 for some organic potting soil. If you eat from your little indoor garden all summer, that’s around $12/month for the freshest food possible—including enough to share.
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