Growing Food in Your Flat
(When You're Worried About Food Shortages)
Whenever I mention that learning to grow food is a vital skill everyone should try to have, one of the immediate responses I hear is; "What about people who live in flats? Not everyone has a garden!"
Believe me, I am well aware. Having lived in a flat myself for over five years I know what it's like not to have a garden. So before you give up, let me reassure you that you can grow food in a flat. I'm not going to lie and say that it will be as much as you could grow in even a very tiny garden, but you can still grow a surprising amount. Let's start with the smallest space to the largest:
The Window Sill:
The trick with these is to layer them up. Put shelving up in the window (without a backing obviously) so that you can triple the space you have.
Here you can grow:
• Hot Peppers/chilis: I haven’t had to buy chili flakes in about 3 years now thank to the chili plant that is permanently on my kitchen windowsill. Because they’re self pollinating they do really well indoors, but being a tropical plant they need to be on the windowsill that get’s the most light. Let the soil dry out between watering and don’t put them anywhere within reach of children or pets for obvious reasons. Also, just because it’s a green pepper doesn’t mean it’s mild. I learned that one the hard way.
• Spring Onions: The best part about these is that if you want to regularly include them in your cooking, rather than just pulling out the whole plant you can just cut off the top part to use in your dish, and the leave will regrow. Do fertilise the soil often if you do this or the taste will be severely impacted as it run’s out of nutrients. When you cut them down don’t get too close to the lower white part of the stem, or it will take a lot longer to grow back than if you just take the green part. If you want to take it another step further go for a plant called a Welsh Onion, which is a perennial and a bunching onion. Not only does it grow up, but it will also grow sideways and create new small bunches of onions.
• Micro-Greens: Mezuna, cress, mustard, broccoli, alfalfa, red Cabbage, kale, pea, mung bean, Radish. All of these can be sprouted very quickly and added to you meals. You will have to buy bags of seeds to sprout, but once spouted these provide huge nutritional addition to your food, as well as a lot of bulk. You can easily turn seeds into a large homegrown salad bar. If you don't want to use your precious windowsill space for this, just use a sprouting tower anywhere on your sideboard. If you’re not sure what these are, it’s a series of stackable trays which sit on top of each other like a tower with drainage holes at the bottom. When you pour a layer of sprouting seeds onto these trays and soak them, they quickly geminate and grow into fresh tasty young plants that can be added to meals. It’s a great way of getting a nutrient dense addition to your food, and you massively increase the volume of food you’re eating from a tiny seed to something ten or twenty times larger.
• Windowsill Salad: Plants like perpetual spinach, lambs lettuce, rocket, and mizuna are all voracious growers which will thrive in pots. They can be regularly cut back for meals provided you take from the outer leaves and don't cut down the main stalk where all the new growth happens.
What can grow in dark places?
Maybe you have some spare space but it's not near a window. This is where grow lights would normally come in. A few years ago this was something that I would have recommended enthusiastically. Now, with all the price hikes kicking in, I'm not sure I can.
So, what grows well without light?
Enter, the mushroom. The legal kind, obviously.
Button mushrooms, pink, grey, gold and blue oyster mushrooms. All of these can be grown inside with a little practice, and unlike a lot of my suggestions, don’t require a windowsill. Given how important it is for our immune systems to have a good amount of vitamin D, mushrooms are quite a useful thing to grow. Starter mushroom grow kits are quite cheap and are a good starter to help you feel confident in what you’re doing. However with a little basic equipment such as grain spawn cultivation jar, you can take your home grown or shop bought mushrooms and keep growing more of them indefinitely. Some mushrooms will even grow on cardboard rather that wood chips. But be careful how you grow these as some people can be allergic or even develop sensitivities to the spores if regularly exposed to them. So try to keep them in a room where there is good air circulation and not in a room you’ll constantly be in, like your bedroom or living room. This is a massive topic that could be talked about for hours so I’ll refer you to the book Mushroom Cultivation by Richard Bray for a truly in-depth education on how to spot them in the wild and to grow them.
• Quail: I could sing the praises of quail from dawn to dusk, but for today I'll focus on what makes them both an amazing pet, and a bloody useful one when you have limited space. Obviously, from quail you get daily eggs. While they are much smaller than their chicken counterparts (roughly 1/3rd of the size) these birds will lay for longer, AND they are so quiet. Honestly, I've had guinea pigs which were louder than these birds. Budgies are louder than quail (so much louder!) The males are quiet too. One indoor rabbit cage like this is enough to house three to four quail, and you could even get the kind of cage that is layered in tiers to give them more room and get more birds. Other than the occasional chirp, they're a useful and cute pets. Like any animal, they need to be cleaned regularly, but I'll have to talk more in depth about these later since - like most things - they need more than just a small paragraph to properly cover everything about them. But for the moment, here is an animal I would like you to consider.
What if I have a balcony?
Congratulations! Your ability to grow food just massively increased! All the things I've already mentioned can still be done inside the flat, with the addition of everything that you can grow on the balcony too. Imagine you just got told you got a 70% pay increase, well, this is what a balcony means. So don't be discouraged by not having a garden. In fact, have a quick watch of this video example bellow to see just how much can be grown in a balcony garden.
The video above perfectly illustrates the points I often make about using vertical space, railing planters and climbing plants.
I’m going to assume the balcony is small - most of them are. Mine was about a third of the size of the one shown in the video, but still, there is a lot more you can do now. Once you learn to start growing in such a small space, should you ever get a garden or an allotment, you’ll already have trained yourself to view every square inch as an advantage.
So, what else can you do with on a balcony?
• Worm Farm: Also called a wormery, worm cafe or worm composter. If you have any kind of waste such as carrot peels, apple cores and mouldy fruit or veggies, a worm composter is for you. It will quickly turn your scraps into food for your plants and you won't have a a kitchen stinking up with rotting food in your bin. The worms I'm talking about aren’t just regular worms though; the kind I mean are Eisenia Fetida, more commonly known as red wigglers. They are not to be confused with the brown, beige kind you often find in the garden. The red wigglers are aggressive composters, and they will quickly eat their way through your scraps and turn it into nutritious worm castings (worm poo). They'll be even faster if you grind or cut the food scraps before giving it to them.
You can also add torn up cardboard, pet hair, paper (non glossy) to the mix. Some people even keep their worm farms indoors in the kitchen, though personally I’m not a massive fan of doing this just because it requires that I be hyper vigilant about the moisture content and ratios of what is added. At least on the patio a little pong isn’t going to be too noticeable. Though unless your face is an inch away from the worm farm, there really shouldn't be any smell at all.
The last benefit of having a wormery is that at the very bottom you get this amazing liquid called worm tea. Which is a very nice way of saying smelly worm poo juice. Worm tea is an amazing natural fertiliser, though it does have to be diluted by three times the amount of water to tea before watering your plants with it. If you don't do this it's like subjecting your plants to a fire storm rather than a nice little sun bathe. It's just too strong unfiltered, so always water it down.
• Hamster: Yes, you read that right. A hamster. These cute little fur balls work amazingly well in collaboration with your wormery. Any cardboard from packaging, loo rolls (again, non glossy) and kitchen scraps will be quickly chewed up into into tiny little flakes. When the time comes to clean their cage, it can all be put into the wormery. This massively increases the speed in which the worms can chew everything down into worm castings.
• Grapes: Provided you have a south facing balcony you can grow a grape in a pot and have it run along the balcony rails supported by gardening wire. Don’t wind the vine through the rails unless you have no intention of moving or you’ll likely have to cut it all back if you have to move. The trick is to give it a large pot which drains very well - grapes hate soggy soil - and avoid putting it in a black pot. Grape don’t like wet roots or hot roots either, and on a sunny day a black pot gets too warm for a grape vine to be happy. If the budget is a problem and a black pot works out cheaper than a brown or cream coloured pot, then try and paint it with a light colour of spare paint or wrap it in something light. An old manky towel would work. it doesn't have to be fancy.
• Cucamelons: These are adorable and so tasty! Think of them like vining mini melons the size of grapes, with a cucumber taste. They grow fast, thick, can be planted really close together. I like growing them up the canes I use to support my tomatoes, but on a balcony they will grow wonderfully on any kind of screen or trellis.
• Beans and peas: Fast growing, beautiful when flowering and - obviously - give you beans. Make sure to go for climbing beans - not dwarf varieties - to get the most out of your space.
If you like my series of articles on resilience training you can follow me for more daily articles, or leave me tip and request a particular topic be covered. As detailed in my first post, I unfortunately have a lot of experience with resilience training, and in these strange times it's a skill I'm hoping to share with as many people as possible.
This series is mostly written in the order it should be approached. You don't need to panic, you don't need a massive budget and you can protect yourself more and more by taking small steps to improve each day. Not sure were to start? Start with my oldest article first and then work your way through them. I'll have a new article for you soon.
About the Creator
A Very English Prepper
I've been prepping for over 10 years. Now, I want to share how you can get started.
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