On Windowsill Gardening

Windowsill garden | Litterless

In two weeks, I'm moving. Two weeks ago, I planted a few pots with spinach and herb seeds. I started the seeds too late in the season, but they'll be fine. I've loved watching them start to peek out of the soil, slowly and surely.

I don't think I've grown any plants from seeds in two or three years. Summers have been full of weeks and weekends away from home: at my parents' house, on vacation, visiting Julian in Madison. Though each summer I've wanted to grow food on my back porch, each summer I've hemmed and hawed and finally decided not to plant anything, visions of parched pots withering in my absence floating through my head.

This summer, a move seemed like a great reason not to start any seeds or buy any starts. The pots might break en route, the soil might spill out in the truck, the plants might be neglected for several days before and after the move.

They might, and yet, so what?

I've spent several summers waiting for the perfect moment when the stars align and my calendar is clear, but of course that's unrealistic. Soil is free, seeds are cheap, and I passed on the extra seeds to friends who have more garden space than I do. There's nothing to lose by planting foods that might not get a chance to flourish and there's nothing to gain by skipping a gardening season.

I needed to realize that growing food isn't an all-or-nothing proposition: while planting ten pots might be better than planting three pots, planting three pots is a world better than planting no pots. I don't have the backyard garden of my dreams, the community garden plot of my dreams, or even the back-porch container garden of my dreams. But when I look at the tiny threads of basil, spinach, and chives slowly growing upwards in my three windowsill pots, not only do they seem like more than nothing, they seem like more than enough.

What are you growing this summer, big or small?

DIY Dried Herbs

DIY dried summer herbs | Litterless

I didn't intend to write about this again this year - and yet here we are, late summer and the herb party in my parents' back yard is out of control and I'm back at it, drying bundles of herbs to use throughout the rest of the year.

Here's how I approached it when I prepared this basil, parsley, and rosemary for drying yesterday:

DIY dried summer herbs | Litterless

First, I washed the herbs thoroughly but carefully, ensuring I got all of the bugs out but trying not to bruise the delicate leaves. Because they were then sopping wet, I wanted to give them a head start on drying so they didn't drip water on the floor or get moldy when hanging. So, I then dried them off by patting them in a clean towel.

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The herbs that I wanted to hang dry - parsley and rosemary - I tied in a bundle with string; we then hang them from the ceiling in the pantry, which is cool and dark. There they'll stay until fully dried, when we'll strip them from their stems and store them in glass jars to use this fall and winter.

DIY dried summer herbs | Litterless

If you'd like to remove the leaves from the branches before drying - it can be easier to strip them off when the herbs are fresh than when they're dry and brittle - I like to place them on a cooling rack. This helps the air circulate well and means that I don't have to be careful about turning them so that each side can reach the air, as I might need to if I just placed them on a non-permeable surface, like a dinner plate.

The above little project took me just twenty minutes yesterday, and it makes use of herbs that our garden is producing in such large quantities that they'd just be wasted if we didn't set some aside to dry. If you don't have a garden you can pull from, bundles of herbs are often inexpensive at the farmers' market this time of year, too. I also hope to dry some dill, mint, thyme, and sage before the season is out.

I love the fragrant ritual of spending some time with piles of fresh herbs each summer. Are you planning to do this, too? What herbs do you like to make sure you dry each summer?

City Garden: Swap Seeds

Swap seeds

Spring, you guys! It doesn't always (and by that I mean ever) feel like it here yet, but the evenings are brighter, the calendar reads solidly mid-April, and birds sing in the mornings. Warmth is coming, and I'm holding on to that as I shrug on my winter coat each morning.

I've begun to think about what I want to grow on the little back deck of my apartment this summer. Last year I was gone for several weeks of the summer, and so my food growing dreams never turned real. But this summer I'll be home more, and I hope they will.

To avoid the non-recyclable plastic packaging that often holds plant starts, I grow my plants from seed. Seeds can typically be acquired in one of two of ways: in paper packages of tens or hundreds of seeds, or as tens or hundreds of seeds harvested from the plant itself the previous year. Either way, if you're a city dweller like me, that's probably a few too many than your little backyard, porch, or backyard garden can handle.

If you've picked up a few packets of things you'd like to grow this year but lack the room to sow every last seed, you have a few choices. You can save the extras until the following year, but like any perishable, seeds are typically best used within the twelve months that they're purchased or harvested. Or, you can swap the seeds with friends or give them away freely.

I've been making plans to meet up with a few friends to trade seeds. This way, we can all have more variety in our gardens at no cost, and fewer seeds get wasted. I'll swap some chamomile seeds for some kale, pepper seeds for tomatoes, and then I have so many cilantro and dill seeds that I'll try to just give them away to anyone who wants them. If your friends aren't the growing type, there are often free community seed swaps this time of year - an internet search in your city might turn some up!

It's heartening to think that several months from now, summer will be in full swing, and I'll hopefully be gathering a few things each evening from my back porch mini-garden. I can't wait. Do you have any garden space, no matter how small? What are you hoping to grow this year?

Edible Landscaping

One of the nice parts about living in a city where I can walk almost everywhere I need to go each day is the chance to creep on everyone’s landscaping. There are some beautiful plantings in my neighborhood – overflowing windowboxes and manicured terraces abound.

My very favorite, though, is to walk around the city and see food being grown. I’ve seen planter boxes overflowing with kale, collards, and chard. Others feature rosemary or sage tucked among the flowers. Some displays are entirely edible; others weave edible plants among other decorative ones. I’m not sure how much of these get eaten, but I love the sentiment that no matter where we live, we can grow little bits and pieces of the food we eat – and that plants grown for food can be just as beautiful, or maybe more so, than the other things we grow just for decoration.

In that vein, lately I've been collecting a few examples of beautiful edible landscaping that have been inspiring me. Photographs of food grown both indoors and out. Some inspiration for us all next year, I guess. You can see more photographs and ideas on the topic here, if you'd like!

Image via.

City Garden, Indoors

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I was looking through a few old pictures lately and found this one of a windowsill at my last apartment. Rosemary, mint, sage, and chives cohabitate with aloe and a tiny succulent. I really love this photograph because to me it looks like such bounty – living in a small space but still growing all of those herbs that I used so frequently. 

This is a good reminder to myself that growing food doesn’t have to be an all (you have a big yard or you live in the country) or nothing (you don’t have a yard or you live in a city) proposition. Instead, you can choose to grow a little bit in lieu of nothing at all, and your table can be richer for it.

A few more thoughts on growing your own food in small spaces, coming at you next Tuesday – check back soon.

City Garden: Saving Seeds

First, a puzzle: can you guess what the seeds above are? Maybe if I tell you they're both from herbs? Answer at the bottom of the post.

This year for the first time, I've harvested a few seeds from my garden to save for next year. I haven't done any research about it, haven't been watching and waiting on my plants to go to seed - just when I notice that one is offering up drying seeds, I shake or pick them off and store them in those tiny jars above. I'm planning to store these jars in the back of my cabinet all winter, away from light so that they stay strong and hearty.

I'm looking forward to planting the seeds early next summer and seeing what happens, an experiment of sorts. Maybe they'll grow, maybe they won't. Either way I'll have learned something about my garden. It's an exciting thing to me to think about eating food from seeds saved, not bought. It feels like the ultimate DIY, a very satisfying project.

And, your answers: On the right, coriander seeds from cilantro. On the left, dill seeds. The dill seeds are tiny and I think I have a hundred or more. I'm excited to see how they turn out next summer.

City Garden: Growing Cilantro at Home

My mind was blown when I learned that coriander seeds and cilantro seeds are one and the same. Right?! It feels like the best little garden-y life hack. I use cilantro all the time, especially in the summer, but the bunches from the grocery store always contain way more than I can use and usually come with a plastic tag to boot. I was excited to learn that you can plant seeds in succession and harvest cilantro all throughout the summer. I'm planning to plant some of my own this week.

Any tips for this first time cilantro grower? Are you growing anything this summer that's going particularly well? PS - August?! How can that be already? Hope yours is a good one.