By Pauline Lloyd

Don’t worry if you haven’t got a garden or allotment! For a surprising amount of food can be produced indoors, vegan organically, either on your windowsill or on a well-lit kitchen surface. The following plants will all do well indoors.

Salad greens

These are easy to grow and can be produced all the year round indoors, ever so cheaply. So, the next time you buy fruit and vegetables, save any empty plastic punnets as these are ideal for this purpose. You will need to line the base of the punnet with several layers of paper kitchen towel and this should be dampened with water before sprinkling on the seeds. Try using rape, mustard or cress seeds which should all grow well.

After sowing the seeds, place the punnet in a brown paper bag and keep it in a dark cupboard, perhaps underneath the sink, until the seeds have germinated and the seedlings are an inch or so high. Then it can be brought out into the daylight and the bag removed. But don’t place it on a very sunny windowsill, or the seedlings will dry out too rapidly and become stressed.

You should check the seedlings regularly to make sure that the paper is still damp and water or spray if necessary. When they are about 2-3 inches high, the seedlings can be cut off with scissors, rinsed and used as a tasty garnish for salads or sandwiches. Alternatively, buckwheat and sunflower greens make an excellent substitute for lettuce. These grow well in small plastic trays and the sorts of trays that can sometimes buy mushrooms in are ideal. Soak the seeds (which should still have their shells on) in a jam jar for 12 hours, then drain off the water and leave the seeds to sprout for a day before sowing. To sow: place a layer of soil (or potting compost) in the plastic tray and distribute the seeds evenly on the surface, covering them with a thin layer of soil. Dampen the soil daily. The greens should be ready for harvesting in about 7 days and are also easily harvested with scissors.

Wheatgrass also grows well in trays and can be grown either on soil or on dampened kitchen towels. However, wheatgrass is usually juiced in a special juicer, rather than eaten, although you can also chew it like gum! Wheatgrass juice has many amazing curative properties and it is full of vitamins, minerals and enzymes and of course chlorophyll. I would recommend that you read Ann Wigmore’s book, The Wheatgrass Book, if you want to find out more about how to grow it and about its medicinal properties.

Sprouts

Many grains, pulses, nuts and seeds can be sprouted and are easily grown indoors on a windowsill, either in trays or in special sprouting jars. And sprouts are truly amazing! They are full of vitamins, enzymes and minerals and have many features, which make them far superior to other foods. For example they are inexpensive to grow, need little preparation, can usually be eaten raw and some even have anti-cancer properties. And what could be fresher, than a handful of sprouts removed from a jar in your kitchen, rinsed, then eaten straight away?

If you want quick results, then try sprouting some soaked, hulled, organic sunflower seeds. These can be ready in a day or two and green lentil sprouts also grow very quickly. Alfalfa is one of the most nutritious sprouts to grow and makes an excellent garnish, but I actually prefer the taste of red clover, which is supposed to be especially good if you are menopausal. I also really like the taste of broccoli sprouts, but these seeds are very expensive to buy and not always easy to find and so I usually grow my own. If you would like to try this, then leave some purple sprouting broccoli to go seed in a corner of your garden. You need to leave at least two plants next to one another to be sure of producing seed and you may need to protect the ripening seedpods from birds. When the pods are dry shell out the seeds. It’s fiddly, but well worth the effort, as you will save a fortune! Legumes are also worth sprouting. Try chick peas, peas and aduki beans. Wheat can also be sprouted and is used to make the refreshing drink known as Rejuvelac, which is supposed to be good for the intestinal flora. And of course wheat sprouts are also used to make sprouted wheat bread.

When growing sprouts, if you are short of space, then try one of the tiered tray systems such as the Beingfare Salad Sprouter, which allows you to grow several varieties of sprouts on top of one another. It is also possible to buy special sprouting jars with mesh lids, which allow easy rinsing and draining of your sprouts. Of course if you are hard up for cash you can simply use clean jam jars, covered with a piece of cheesecloth (muslin) and held in place with an elastic band. It is possible to buy nylon sprouting bags from the Fresh Network, which are more portable than most sprouting systems and are useful for taking on holiday.

Herbs and Other Plants

Many herbs will grow well on a windowsill and are useful for adding extra flavour to food. Parsley is rich in vitamins and will grow well in a pot or small trough indoors. I use the variety Champion Moss Curled and make sowings in March and August for an all year round supply. Germination seems to be more reliable than from an outdoor sowing and it is especially useful to have a small pot of parsley growing indoors in the winter as it saves going out in the garden and getting the feet wet! Bush Basil also grows well in containers and so does Winter Savoury and both of these can be sown indoors in April or May. Chives is also an excellent indoor container plant and so is Pennyroyal and you could even try growing your own Cayenne peppers on a sunny windowsill! Also watercress does not necessarily need running water. The Organic Gardening Catalogue offers a type of watercress that does well in a well-watered pot and if you grow it indoors, you should hopefully escape the caterpillars which can quickly strip the plant bare!

Further Reading:

The Sprouter’s Handbook by Edward Cairney (Argyll Publishing, 1997).

Sprout For the Love of Everybody by Viktoras Kulvinskas.

The Sproutman’s Kitchen Garden Cookbook by Steve Meyerowitz.

The Wheatgrass Book by Ann Wigmore.

Seed Suppliers:

The Organic Gardening Catalogue www.organiccatalogue.com sells a good selection of seeds for sprouting and also stocks the Beingfare Salad Sprouter, sprouting jars, a manual wheatgrass juicer and books.

The FRESH Network www.fresh-network.com sells sprouting jars and nylon sprouting bags, plus a number of books on sprouting.

Note: all of the seeds mentioned in this article can be obtained from The Organic Gardening Catalogue.

Editor’s notes on indoor cultivation

You may find it difficult to locate a growing medium for your plants that is genuinely vegan organic; nearly all organic growing mixtures contain animal products such as poultry manure or bone meal. An exception is Fertile Fibre Vegro www.fertilefibre.com which you can buy through their website. There are three kinds of Vegro – seed, multipurpose and potting composts.

One other point is that tiny fruit flies/mushroom flies may take up residence in your moist indoor growing medium. They are very hard to shift and the larvae may eat plant roots. The only practical answer if this happens is to change the growing medium as often as possible, rinsing out the container before re-filling with fresh clean material. Don’t store compost mixes for too long.

This article appeared in Growing Green International magazine Num 9 (Summer 2002), p2.