What’s the best way to ensure you’re getting healthy, organically grown foods? Grow them yourself! Of course, I understand that producing all the foods you eat isn’t a realistic goal for everyone. Some people lack the time. Others lack the space. And some people swear they don’t have a green thumb. Still, even the most reluctant gardener can benefit from growing one or two things themselves. Even if you only have a bright windowsill, a lanai, or a front porch, you can grow some of your own healthy, organic foods and really have fun doing it. My apt in the West Village of NY is a small one-bedroom, but I do have a small (but precious!) private backyard where I grow things, as well as a windowsill in my living room.
So, whether you have an entire sunny backyard for a garden or you only have a small patch of sun on a windowsill, you can grow your own organic foods!
Not sure what to grow? Here are my top ten favorites:
Mint is a super hardy herb that can grow just about anywhere. It’s one of my backyard staples to grow all summer. Along with freshening your breath, mint is great for promoting healthy digestion. Why? Because it activates your salivary glands, helping you to begin digesting as soon as foods hit your mouth.
Mint grows indoors and outdoors. It needs two things: sunlight and water, so a sunny windowsill or tabletop is an ideal location if you’re growing it indoors. To grow mint, purchase a plant and transplant it into a larger container, or ask a friend for a sprig. My acupuncturist Yvonne always gives me sprigs. Place the sprig in a glass of full water, and allow it to grow roots – about two weeks. Next, you can plant the mint in a new pot and place it in somewhere sunny. If you do this a few times, you’ll have several mint plants growing around your house.
What can you do with mint? Make mint tea! Here’s how:
- Place several sprigs of fresh mint leaves in a small tea pot or tea cup.
- Add hot water (below boiling), and steep for five minutes.
- Sweeten with stevia, if desired.
Fresh basil is one of the most delicious things to add to dishes. With a sweet, fresh flavor and wonderful aroma, basil can spice up simple foods while providing healthy anti-inflammatory properties, while also being high in vitamin K. Try sprinkling a little chopped fresh basil on sliced tomatoes and avocado, or blend it into a dressing, as in my Oil-Free Basil Lover’s Dressing. Basil is at its most flavorful and aromatic raw, so if you use it in cooking, add fresh basil at the end after you’ve removed your dish from heat.
You can grow basil on a sunny countertop, or in an herb box on your front porch or lanai. It also grows well in a full garden, if you’ve got the space to grow one. Buy a basil plant and put it in a large pot. You can trim sprigs and sprout them in a glass of water, just as you can with mint.
Sprouts are crunch, flavorful, and packed with amazing enzymes. They are also high in antioxidants and other vitamins. Sprouts are really easy to grow, and you can find sprout kits at many supermarkets and natural foods stores. They grow quickly and plentifully, and require very little space. To learn the basics of sprouting, visit SproutPeople.org or purchase a sprout kit and follow the instructions.
If you don’t want to buy a kit, all you really need are sprout bags, or a jar with a mesh covering you can put over the top, so you can rinse the seeds and tip the jar sideways into a bowl, and the water can drain out while keeping the sprouts moist. Growing sprouts involves a lot of rinsing and draining- it couldn’t be more easy. After the tails have grown (which takes varying amounts of time, depending on your sprouts) hang the sprout bags in the sunlight for an hour or so to excite the chlorophyll and activate photosynthesis, which will make the sprouts green.
Rich in lycopene, tomatoes require fertile soil, water, sunlight, and warmth. There’s just no comparison between a supermarket tomato and a freshly picked, vine ripened, home-grown tomato. If all you’ve ever had are supermarket tomatoes, then you are in for a real treat.
To grow tomatoes in limited space, such as on a deck, opt for an inverted tomato planter, which supports the tomato plant by hanging it upside down. Plant during the warm season in full sunlight and water at the roots deeply. Then slice your sun-ripened tomato and eat it raw. You’ll never look at tomatoes the same way again!
This culinary herb is drought resistant, meaning it can put up with quite a bit of neglect from forgetful owners and still thrive. Planting rosemary outdoors allows it to grow into a large bush that will meet all of your culinary needs. If you want to grow it indoors, all it needs is a bright windowsill that gets the morning sunlight. Because it is slow to grow, it’s best to buy an existing plant and cultivate it rather than starting rosemary from seed.
The fragrant herb stimulates the immune system and promotes digestion. You can chop it and add it to salad dressings, soup, or anything else where you’d like a little bit of flavor. Best, a little goes a long way so you don’t need to add very much to get great flavor and aroma. Try my East-West Baked Vegetables recipe.
You can grow a salad in a pot! It’s easy to start salad greens like lettuce and arugula from seeds. All you’ll need is a sunny outdoor spot on a deck, porch, or lanai. Greens are really healthy and loaded with nutrients, and there’s nothing that tastes better than a tender, freshly picked batch of greens. To grow greens in a planter or pot, choose a spot that gets about four hours of sunlight each day. Greens need a lot of drainage, so make sure the planter drains well. Sprinkle seeds evenly across damp soil, and cover with about 1/8 of an inch of soil. Keep the soil evenly moist as greens grow. You can harvest your greens when they are 4-5 inches tall, and the greens should re-propagate.
7. Chili peppers
Hot pepper is cleansing and anti-inflammatory. You can add them to all kinds of foods, or steep them in some hot water with lemon juice and ginger to make Detox Tea. They are also relatively easy to grow both indoors and out. Keep them in a warm, sunny spot outdoors, and bring them indoors before the first frost. Once indoors, they will continue to thrive and produce peppers if you place them in a sunny spot or under a fluorescent light.
8. Summer squash
If you’ve ever known anyone that has planted zucchini or yellow summer squash in your garden, then you’ve probably been the recipient of the gift of squash during harvest season. Squash grows quickly and plentifully, and most outdoor gardeners discover they have so much yield they don’t know what to do with it all other than leave it on people’s doorsteps.
One squash plant in a container, however, will yield a reasonable harvest for you and your family without burying you under a pile of squash. Plant it in an 18” deep pot – just a single plant – and place it in a sunny outdoor location. Keep soil moist.
Parsley makes a great addition to the GGS, and you can grow it indoors or outdoors. Because it has a fairly deep root system, you’ll need a pot that is about 10” deep. It needs a sunny window or a warm sunny spot outdoors. It also needs moist soil and quite a bit of sunlight. A south-facing windowsill or lanai would be best if you’re limited for outdoor space. In the winter, keep it back from the window a bit so it doesn’t freeze.
Birds love to eat tender cilantro when it first sprouts, but you can start it inside or even grow it there. Cilantro is wonderful in a GGS, or to add flavor to salads, dressings, and other foods. Grow it in a terra cotta pot in a sunny windowsill and water it thoroughly a few times per week. Make sure it gets about 4-5 hours of sunlight per day. You can also move it outdoors on a porch or lanai after the plants have taken root and started to grow. If it gets spindly, gently pinch it back.