How (and Why) to Start Your Own Sustainable Micro Kitchen Garden

Now more than ever, micro gardens are big news. They're great for the environment, even greater for your budget and help us to #stayhome that little longer between braving trips to the supermarket. Want to start your own? Follow these easy how-tos. Gardens and green fingers, not required

During the Second World War, the British Ministry of Agriculture captured imaginations with its Dig for Victory campaign, which encouraged people on the home front to grow their own produce. Eighty years on, the COVID-19 pandemic presents us with a very different kind of battle. Nevertheless, cultivating a few crops - even on a sunny windowsill - can still serve as a small yet easy step towards countering panic-buying, redressing lost income and staying at home that bit longer between trips out for essentials.

Not convinced? Home-grown produce buffs up your sustainability halo too. We're entering serious farm-to-fork territory here. You'll cut food miles to zero and reduce the need for harmful pesticides and single-use plastics as well as cutting back on the waste that ends up dumped in landfill. It's win, win, win, win, win.

Don’t throw it, regrow it

You don't need to (virtually) hotfoot it to a garden centre, nor possess a fertile vegetable patch or horticultural talents to begin a kitchen garden. In fact, you should look no farther than your compost bin. Many offcuts can be regrown on a small, sunny windowsill. Carrot tops, mushroom stalks, the bottoms of onions, lettuce and cabbages are often considered scrap, but these items can often be easily regrown and enjoyed all over again.

Nurturing avocado pits and pineapple tops may take a few years, but with this simple method, you can re-harvest everything from spring onions, leeks and pak choi to lemongrass, cabbage and celery in as little as two weeks.

  • Cut off the root end of your chosen vegetable and place in a shallow bowl or glass of water. Be sure the water does not fully submerge your trimming. Place in a sunny, warm, well-ventilated position for best results.
  • Change the water daily. Eventually, you'll see shoots emerging from the top of the cutting.
  • Once roots are well established in the water, transfer the sprouted plant to a pot of soil, watering daily, until ready for harvest and/ or needed in your dinner.

Start a herb garden

Peer into the abyss of your fridge and it's likely you'll find a bag of slimy coriander or yellowing parsley. We're all guilty of it. Growing herbs is not only a satisfying lockdown project, but also helps cut down on waste while jazzing up bland meals and less-than-appetising leftovers.

Spring is the perfect time of year to begin. Simply place a pot or container in a sunny corner or make the most of a small balcony or patio with a vertical garden tower (this one doubles up as a composter too). No outdoor space? No problem. Try a windowbox or grow indoors - there's all manner of retro-chic terrariums and sleek hydroponic grow kits available to buy (try Ikea's KRYDDA / VÄXER), but an upcycled tin can work just as well.

Sowing a few seeds or cultivating cuttings from a neighbour gets you bonus points, but there's no judgement if you opt for a few pre-potted herbs (note: the ones you find in supermarkets rarely last; those available from dedicated garden centres tend to be much more hardy). Some of the easiest to grow include kitchen stalwarts such as mint, rosemary, thyme, sage, parsley, chives and oregano.

Top potting tips, according to Petersham Nurseries’ Amanda Brame

  • Generally, herbs aren't too fussy and will cope quite well in containers as long as they are around 40cm deep.
  • Make sure your pots have drainage holes.
  • Fill your containers with a soil-based compost such as John Inns No 2. Failing that, a good, organic, water-retaining compost is also suitable.
  • Regular watering is really important.
  • Give them a liquid feed every two to three weeks with an organic seaweed fertiliser and this will help speed up the growth for a regular supply.
  • Keep the containers simple by filling each one with a single herb type and grouping them together for that final stylish impact.

Microgreens: good things come in small packages

Small spaces are best suited to small plants; there's no point trying to grow broccoli in a pokey flat where you can't swing a cat. Step forward microgreens, the quick-growing powerhouses of the plant world. These sprouts pack a punch when it comes to flavour and nutrition, but tend to come with that hefty price tag too often associated with "superfoods". Growing them yourself is cheap, easy and our idea of fun. Mustard, alfalfa or broccoli sprouts are among the most common, though we love the deep-purple hue and peppery bite of radish sprouts.

The growing process is a little different from regular produce, and kind of miraculous. Nifty kits are available, but don't feel like you have to invest; simply find a shallow container (an old baking tray will do) and you're hot to trot.

  • Procure seeds. It's easy to get your hands on a few packets online.
  • Fill a shallow container or tray with a light potting mix and moisten with water.Alternatively, forego soil altogether; a few dampened sheets of kitchen roll work just as well as a base.
  • Sprinkle seeds evenly. The goal here is that they're close together but not touching.
  • Place in a warm spot that gets plenty of sunlight. South-facing windows are the brightest.
  • Spritz daily with water to keep moist, but not saturated. A couple of sprays morning and evening usually does the trick. Once germinated, make sure you're directing the water at the roots, not the leaves.
  • Microgreens are ready to harvest when they reach around 4-5cm tall (roughly 10 days, depending on the growing environment). Simply use scissors to snip off what you need, when you need it.

Like this? Step up your sprouting game and try this method with pulses such as lentils and chickpeas.