How to grow your own veggies

Think that growing a few veg and herbs at home is hard without a garden? Think again: Here’s a few simple tricks to get started.

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already thought about the carbon footprint of your diet. From farm to fork, the journey of our food is typically very long and carbon intensive. For example, transporting food within, to and around the UK generates 19 million tons of CO2 every year — equivalent to around 5.5 million cars.

What we eat is often grown in a greenhouse heated by fossil-fuels, then processed and packed in different factories, and finally transported to its retail destination. And think about all those times you need to go to an out of town supermarket, perhaps by car — that also adds up to your diet’s carbon footprint.

Long story short: Our relationship with food generates far more CO2e than the Earth can take. If we are to feed the growing world population while safeguarding our natural ecosystems and keeping global heating below 1.5°C, our food system needs to change. And we know this: to make a large-scale transformation, we often need to start small.

Sources: United Nations News, Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, Food and Agriculture Organization.

How to grow veg and herbs at home

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Choose containers that have wide holes to allow for optimal drainage and are sized correctly for the plants you're growing. Generally, the bigger the pot, the more nutrients and moisture your veggies will get.

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Make sure to use a high quality potting mix to grow your plants. Potting mix doesn’t contain soil. Instead, it’s made of organic and inorganic components like coir (fiber from coconut husks), compost, or vermiculite (a mineral), which help retain moisture and ensure there is enough air for roots to grow. Potting mix is also sterile, which means plants won’t be exposed to disease pathogens or weeds. Pro tip: Look for peat-free potting mix to help protect peat moss, a powerful carbon sink.

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The growing season for veg and herbs depends on your local climate, but the main growing period is from early spring to autumn. Make sure you check the best time to plant. If you’re growing indoors, pick sunny spots and consider getting extra lighting if you're short on natural light.  

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Start small. Some vegetables aren't that easy to grow. Avoid onions, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, or eggplants if you don’t have a large outside space. On the other hand, a mini herb garden on your windowsill is a great idea for beginners. You can easily grow basil, rosemary, mint, thyme, oregano, and many others. And you can also get creative and look for uncommon herb varieties. Try with Red Perilla (tastes cinnamony), lemongrass, stevia (a natural sweetener), or sweet bergamot.

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Greens are quite easy to grow on your windowsill. You can choose among lettuce, arugula, kale, spinach, chard, watercress, and many more. Pick a 5 to 10 cm deep pot and fill it with moist soil. Sow your seeds into the surface of the soil, and keep it moist. Allow the plants to grow at least 10 to 15 cm before you harvest your fresh salad.

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Next time you buy scallions, sprout the whites. Simply secure bulbs with a rubber band and put in a glass with 2 or 3 cm of water. Change the water daily and when the roots have reached around 5 cm in length, move them to a shallow pot. Harvest the green tops leaving about 2 or 3 cm of the stem to regrow.

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Hot peppers are easier to grow than sweet peppers as it takes less time for the pepper to mature. Plus, chili peppers have built-in defenses that repel pests. You can start growing them easily from the seed. Try out different varieties — there’s about 4,000 of them in the world!

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Ginger is quite easy to grow at home. Get a plump ginger root from your local market, making sure it has a few growth buds (they look like little horns). Plant the rhizomes 15 to 20 cm apart, 5 to 10 cm deep, and with the growth buds pointing upward. Pro tip: soak the rhizomes in water overnight to get rid of any chemicals.

The big picture

Industrial agriculture is harming natural ecosystems and is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. By growing a few greens at home you will enjoy the freshest produce out there and experience the joy of watching your seedlings grow into something delicious. And no matter how small your veg production will be, you will slash your carbon footprint along the way.

Nicoletta Maestrini
by Nicoletta Maestrini
Communications Assistant
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