How To Grow Food Without A Garden


sprouted seeds0001_3

Sprouting pea shoots almost big enough to start picking and eating. Delicious!

So you want fresh food, cheap food, home grown food. You don’t have a garden or an allotment. So what can you grow? This depends on what you DO have. Do you have or can you have a window box? Room for a pot or two at the front door? Or just windowsills? The easiest and cheapest way to start is with a jam jar and a bit of muslin elastic banded to the top. Place a tablespoon of green lentils, brown lentils (whole of course) or mung or adjuki beans in the jar and secure the muslin over the top. Soak overnight in cold water, then drain the water and leave the jar on it’s side, out of direct sunlight. Rinse the seeds twice a day. The sprouts will be ready in 4-7 days. Another method is a seed sprouter. These are little trays that stack on each other and have slatted bases so water can drain though. The same principles apply. Just rinse and drain twice a day for delicious fresh sprouts.

sprouted seeds0001_2

Lentils sprouting in a seed sprouter

Mustard, cress, fenugreek and coriander are better done in seed trays with a little compost. Sprinkle the seeds quite thickly and cover lightly with a little more compost, water and keep on a bright windowsill, though out of harsh hot sunlight. Try pea shoots. For these, get a small pot or old coffee cup, fill it with compost leaving an inch at the top. Plants some marrow fat peas (the sort you make pea soup and mushy peas with) and lay them on the compost, and just cover with a little more, then water. The shoots that develop are ready when they are three or four inches tall, and taste lovely! Just like fresh young peas. And they smell delightful. Expensive in salads if you buy them ready grown, but simplicity itself to grow at home.


Mustard seeds growing in a pot

Then there are radishes, easily gown in a small pot in good light, lettuce leaves and salad leaves (there are lots of types available to grow on the windowsill and can be cut and left to regrow several times before they are spent). Economical, very fresh and very healthy, not to mention tasty! There is another food you can grow without a garden, and that’s mushrooms and edible fungi. They will even grow in a dark cupboard. There are lots of kits available for different types of mushrooms, several of which are suitable for using indoors. Mushrooms are a great source of protein. And you get to eat them so fresh!

chilli pepper in flower

Chilli pepper in flower

Should you have space for a couple of pots by the front door there is lots more you can grow. If your spot is very sunny, then how about a wigwam of French beans or even runner beans? Beetroot, salad or lettuce, radish and even baby turnips can be grown in a pot, as can many herbs. A pot of thyme, rosemary and sage at a sunny doorstep means you don’t even have to step away from your home to pick fragrant, tasty herbs for your cooking. They smell amazing as you brush past them. And did I mention strawberries? What a show stopper to have at your front/back door. Stack one container inside another and plant around the edges to make a strawberry tower. Space saving and attractive! Back on that windowsill, my son has actually grown a dwarf, bushy cherry tomato. Chilli peppers and sweet peppers can also be grown on windowsills, as long as the sill isn’t north or east facing.

Fenugreeks and peas

Fenugreek and peas

These are things you can easily grow for yourself, organically, and know your food is the freshest, most nutritious possible, and has no carbon footprint beyond getting a packet of seeds home. Perfect! So get growing. Organic supplies can be obtained from including mushroom spawn and kits, organic seeds and plants. They have some great books too! Seeds such as fenugreek, brown or black mustard, coriander and peas can be purchased at the supermarket as foodstuffs. Try the continental shelves. By far the cheapest way and this also avoids any fungicidal coatings some companies put on their seeds intended for growing. These should now be used for sprouting!

Grow Food, Teach Others, Get Well

Garden progress0001_9

New label and pen. Tired of the ordinary ones fading, and these are on show to the public.

What a packed and progressive few days! So many seeds sown, so many improvements made. My son has been over and strimmed much of the wilderness back, at least making the ground visible and easier to navigate. The old greenhouse base halfway down the garden is now cleared of rubbish and ready to set up as a shaded seating area and I have sorted out every last container on the main patio-my main view from the conservatory, and it’s all looking really good!

My main source of pride is the trays and trays of seeds and seedlings, and the sprouted seeds we had with our salad tonight, flavoured with edible chive flowers and lemon balm leaves. Herbs add depth to what could be pretty boring lettuce!

Seeds sown? In the vegetable bed Rick cleared for me: Carrots – Nantes 5, parsnip Tender and True and beetroot Boltardy. Out on the patio in modules we have most other things, like lettuce, spring onions, garlic chives, loose leaf salad, sugar snap peas, runner beans, dwarf French beans, climbing French beans, chard, and more. Strength may be lacking but determination certainly isn’t. Bit by bit the garden I thought may go to ruin this year because of recuperation time is getting done because I need to incorporate it to recover! My doctor last week prescribed anti-depressants. But the ones IN the soil (yes, scientists have found antidepressants in the soil) seem to be working for me. Now I’m gardening again I’m happy again!

Being keen on conservation and organic growing, we had two linked water barrels taking the water off the house roof. They have both now developed bad leaks, so my plan is to cut them in half (his job) and turn the bases into planters for my demonstration front garden, then use the others as raised beds in the back. I’ve seen this done before and they look great, and there’s no plastic waste, just up cycling! We still have to get new water barrels, though. I also have an old council composting bin which can be re used as a potato barrel next year. For now it lives behind the shed. And I bought special black labels and a white maker pen for labels that stand out and won’t fade. So they say. Time will tell.

Up the path by the greenhouse

View back towards the house, newly sorted patio looking good!

Raspberries planted last year, good crop expected!

Raised beds. One cleared, but work needed on the rest

Wire doggie protection for my seedlings.

My newly sorted and tidy patio. At last somewhere nice to sit.

View from my bench down the garden

Growing Enthusiasm For Home Grown Food

It’s been a long time since I posted here. I’ve kept promising you more and then my health has let me down and I’ve had to stop. But now, following a proper diagnosis and major surgery, I feel I can start again. I’m improving by the day. So after a very long period where I haven’t been able to do anything related to gardening or anything else much, I’m back. This weekend was spent at a Master Gardener’s induction course. Master Gardeners are a group of volunteers who pass their gardening skills on to those wishing to grow their own food. If you are interested in what they do you can find them at So my enthusiasm has returned. I came home from the course and sowed macro greens. Fenugreek, pea shoots and green lentils have started the ball rolling, and today in the greenhouse I’ve sown spring onions, Kohl rabi, dwarf French beans, parsley, basil, coriander, red lettuce and garlic chives. The idea is to fill my front garden with pots of herbs and other edibles to demonstrate how easy it is to grow food even in a small space. My house happens to be on a very busy main road and opposite a corner shop, so people stop outside my place for the shop, and lots will see what I’m up to. I hope to inspire others to grow food.

Pea shoots are new to me. And what a revelation! They taste so strongly of peas. Delicious and such and easy thing to grow on the windowsill even in winter. Take one pot, paper or plastic cup, add compost and plenty of marrow fat peas, water and stand back for a couple of weeks. Then presto, fresh pea shoots for your salads. Yet something you pay a premium for at the supermarket restaurant. Who needs plastic packed veg when you can pick them so fresh and so cheaply? Marrow fat peas are about 80p for 500g and one packet used in this way will last you for ages! Far cheaper than buying peas grown to sow. In fact, when sowing seeds to eat as macro greens, packeted veg seeds often are coated with fungicides etc so it’s best to use supermarket edibles, like the marrow fats, fenugreek and coriander, or buy organically prepared seeds.

In the meantime, here are some photos of the garden today, including my overwintered Japanese onions which sadly are showing signs of onion rot, so although these are useable they are small and I won’t be able to grow onions again. Garlic will have to be consigned to pots. I can’t do without garlic!

Crocus in Flower last month


chives in full flower

alpine trough

border by the patio


border by the greenhouse

lupins in their second year from seed


Stunning Iris

Wet, Wet Wet And Lichen

Lichen Macro

Lichen Macro

3rd January

Rain, rain and more rain today. Overcast skies and no chance of outdoor photography or gardening. So I got the macro extension rings out, some lighting and a bit of lichen on a twig that fell off the crab apple.

Birds are flitting all over the feeders, but there is no chance of capturing them today. Light levels are too low and my camera would get soaked.

But I do have the seed and plant catalogues that arrived yesterday to drool over. I have enough seeds already to fill the whole town, but can’t help myself from wanting to try one or two new varieties of vegetables, so sooner or later I’ll probably get a few more packets. I have friends locally who no doubt will do swops and we’ll all end up with more food and flowers.

The macro shots have given me ‘food’ for thought, which I will write about in my ChrisCaff photography blog. The title already swirls around in my brain. So What Do You want To Focus On?

Join me there.


Elusive Birds, Flowers In Winter

White Hellebore in Flower 2nd January

White Hellebore in Flower 2nd January

This morning was quite a treat. While there was still sleep in my eyes, pouring the first coffee, I was treated to the sight of goldfinches happily feeding. Then, as I stood watching though the kitchen window, a flock of long tailed tits descended. I haven’t seen them for a long time. So I set up my brand new radio remote for my camera and attempted to get some shots to show you, but the light levels are far too low to capture anything but a blur. I went back out to retrieve my camera and while I stood there, right in front of the feeders, a long tail came down, fearless, fed in front of me and sang. Just a foot away from me. I could see his delicate, tiny legs, the downy feathers of his body and his eyes met mine. Such a delight, and a huge antidote to the chaos of the world we’re forced to live in. These are the moments worth living for. My poor dog Daisy was forced to wait to be allowed in the garden until the birds left for a while.

It’s too wet to do much on the garden, but making room in the conservatory will enable the sowing of early cauliflowers and salad, which after the excesses of Christmas  stodge, I’m craving.

Wandering around, I found there are still things flowering. So here are a couple of them. I’ll try again to get some photos of the birds, once light levels increase and there’s no danger of my precious camera getting wet. I hope to capture lots of wildlife, once they wake up after their winter sleep.

For now, enjoy your garden.


Bergenia in Flower 2nd January

2016 Welcomed With Open Arms. New Year, New Start

Viewing platform, Eden Project, Cornwall

Viewing platform, Eden Project, Cornwall

January 1st 2016

Happy New Year out there.

Well, it’s a brand new start again today. After a year of torturous health problems I can finally move on and look forward to achieving what had to be put on hold. So I have plans. Not huge ones, but this is the year I concentrate on achieving some of my own goals.

I started well. I considered the real start of my new year to be Yule, the 21st December. And I’d planned Christmas as the Eden Project in Cornwall. For those who haven’t heard of it it’s an educational charity promoting balance in nature, a better understanding of our eco-system and research. It rivals Kew. Built from an old clay pit, dead and disused, it contains two huge biomes that house thousands of plants from around the world. You can find out much more at

Anyway, we went for Christmas, and had the most wonderful time. Astoundingly, there were outdoor fuchsias, roses and other plants in flower, and wild strawberries in fruit. We’ve had strange seasons and they are obviously confused. Flooding over the north of England and Scotland have blighted many people’s Christmas, and we are lucky not to have had such severe weather here. Close to my home town folk were evacuated following unprecedented rainfall – two months worth in 48 hours. Poor things!

So now for my plans. The garden is in a mess due to this year’s neglect. I need to get fit, so that will be the main focus. I want those raised beds stuffed with goodies. And now my neighbour has erected a new fence, I can plant along it some fruit bushes and some native shrubs. Building is happening on the fields behind us and there have been burglaries of sheds, so we’re are trying to make the place as secure as we can. Thorny shrubs will help. I’m on my own with it all. No-one else has any enthusiasm for it, so all progress and achievement will be mine. Eventually, I’d like to get my garden up to Yellow book standard. The yellow book is a listing of gardens open to raise money for charity, and they have pretty high standards.

Anyway, inspiration comes from our trip. Eden puts on a special show at Christmas, lighting the tropical biome, putting on entertainment and taking people on a quest. We spent three days there, and I even saw real reindeer for the first time in my life. I took a lot of photos, so here are a few.


Recipe for Eden


Bananas growing inside the tropical biome, Eden Project, Cornwall


Fuchsias in Flower at Christmas. Eden Project, Cornwall


Produce and Plant display, Eden Project, Cornwall


Compost. Choose The Best.

Healthy Plants In Clover Compost

Healthy Plants In Clover Compost


Cheap Compost, Small, Unhealthy Plants

I’ve put two photos before you today, having noticed the difference between two lots of seedlings treated in exactly the same way. They were sown in the same seed tray, then pricked out into modules. They are verbascum seedlings which I’ve never grown before. That doesn’t matter. What does is the noticeable difference in size, development and vigour. The only thing making a difference here is the compost. One is Clover, the best I can find and recommended by my favourite garden centre. The plants growing in this are coming along well and the difference between them and the supermarket, three bags for a tenner compost is marked. The plants grown in this are small,  pale and not growing well at all. It has very little nutrient and the plants don’t like it. Fortunately I have plenty of healthy plants and can afford to throw out the weaklings if needed. I’ve noticed a lower germination rate in seed trays, too, with the cheap compost.

When choosing compost, make sure it’s the right one for the job. Seeds don’t need food to germinate, and at first you want good root development, so making the roots stretch looking for them is no bad thing. But once they are pricked out to grow on, they need more food. So start them in a GOOD QUALITY seed and cutting cxompost, then pot them on into more appropriate, again quality compost. Standard all purpose will be fine for young vegetables, garden annuals and perennials that don’t have specific requirements such as being acid lovers. We can delve more into the mysteries of acid and alkali loving plants in another post. For now, just remember that poor quality compost will waste your time, money and seeds. Buy the best you can afford and avoid disappointment.

Have you experienced problems with your growing medium?

Garden Makeover Progress And A Grass Snake

Cherry Blossom

Cherry Blossom

The garden makeover continues more slowly than I’d like, largely thanks to illness requiring antibiotics. However, it is coming along. My son has been helping out, and the veg beds are almost ready for planting up with broad beans, potatoes, khol rabi, cabbage, turnips and the peas just showing through the compost in modules. I haven’t even tried to sow peas in the ground as my earliest sowing of beans were eaten by mice. Starting plants off in modules deprives them of the chance to take the seed for breakfast before they’ve even had time to germinate!

Around the pond I have begun planting, adding some cowslips in the shady spot close to the fence, an iris in addition to the ones donated by my landscaper,  geranium Phaeum Samobor,  with a lovely deep pink flower which should supply some fairly dense cover for the wildlife. It grows about 60cm high, so may need some support, especially as I want to grow small, more delicate plants close by. I don’t want them smothered or the geranium to flop and leave a hollow centre. I’ve also put in three astilbes that begun as one plant last year and  I split into three. I spotted vine weevil as I was planting, so watered in some Nemasys, a natural predator of the little horrid beasts. Once watered in, the tiny nematodes swim through the soil to find vine weevil larvae and destroy them, so hopefully they will be cleared and cease to eat my plant roots.

I’ve ordered online some oxygenating weed for the pond, which is going a bit green due to my delay in getting to an aquatic centre. Once I have all the plants for the pond I’ll let you know what they are and why I chose them. For now it’s just elodea crispa to take up some of the nutrients in the water and reduce the amount of algae growing. I hope to but the rest of the plants this weekend if my partner can spare the time to take me as driving isn’t an option until my cataracts are removed. I will of course choose one water lily, but there are so many to choose from I’m going to need a bit of advice!

My cherry blossoms are just beginning their spectacular yearly display. The colours are just to die for, and always make my heart sing. Lungwort, cowslips, primroses, grape hyacinths, heathers and more are attracting and feeding bees and butterflies already, despite the garden only being half finished. The bees don’t care that some plants are still in pots. They visit them anyway.

My partner has returned from walking our dog as I am writing this and had an exciting find in the local woods. So here it is! A grass snake. It’s great to see we have plenty of wildlife in the area. I’ve never seen a grass snake in the wild, so I’m envious I wasn’t there, but pleased at the same time. I hope as they are around they’ll come to visit my garden. The addition of a pond can surely only help to attract animals in. The snake was on a path right next to a stream.

Grass Snake

Grass Snake

Tomorrow I hope to be planting the brassicas I’ve mentioned and protecting them under fine netting which will keep out cabbage white butterflies, pigeons and the pheasant. Hopefully that will mean more crops for us and less for the pests!

Healthy Broad Beans About To Be Planted

Healthy Broad Beans About To Be Planted

Well, I did plant those vegetables. We will have food this year from my brand new beds. I’ve put in my sturdy broad beans, cabbage, turnips and khol rabi. They are all under protection from pigeons and cabbage white butterflies. It’s a relief to get them out of their modules. The greenhouse needs elastic walls! It’s burgeoning with the seedlings, cuttings and overwintered fuchsias that can now be moved into the cold frames vacated by the first veg.

The New Vegetable Bed Now Planted.

The New Vegetable Bed Now Planted.

My Overflowing Greenhouse

My Overflowing Greenhouse

I’ve also spent some time clearing weeds from the back of the main border, digging up even more Spanish bluebells and rescuing seedlings I want to keep before ordering some topsoil. The soil in the main bed is sadly lacking in quality from the rest of the garden and needs building up, both in height and nutrients, so next week my son will help get the delivery from the pavement and spread it so I can continue planting and filling gaps. I have quite a few waiting in the wings. Phew! Busy busy. How does your garden grow? Please talk to me, or I’ll feel as if I’m talking to myself. Never a good thing!

Back From The Brink – A Conservation Success Pyg Nymphaea Thermarum

NYMPHAEACEAE, Nymphaea thermarum, 2010535, Bonn, Rwanda

NYMPHAEACEAE, Nymphaea thermarum, 2010535, Bonn, Rwanda

Naturally, as I’ve just installed a pond I have been researching plants to furnish it. In doing so I came across an interesting conservation success. Pyg Nymphaea Thermarum  is the smallest water lily in the world and the rarest. In fact in the wild it is now extinct. Its pads, or leaves, measure only about 1cm across, which is less than 10% of the next smallest species in the genus. It came from Rwanda, where it grew in thermal spring water that cooled to about 25 degrees. The thermal spring was over-used by farmers and in 2008 it dried up. As this was the ONLY place where this lily grew, it eventually, tragically died off. German botanist Eberhard Fische, seeing the p[ant was in trouble sent some plants to Bonn Botanic Gardens. However, they could not persuade seeds to germinate and the plant’s existence hung in the balance. Carlos Magdalena, at Kew, only discovered the solution when down to the last twenty seeds in the whole world AND one of the two remaining plants had been eaten by a rat. It turns out that most of this genus germinate in deep water, but Pyg needs co2 to germinate, and once that had been discovered, eight healthy plants were raised from seed. This little survivor now has the potential to become a houseplant! Back from the brink, this is one conservation success! I still haven’t chosen a water lily or stocked my pond with plants. That will happen this weekend, when I make a special trip to a large water garden centre I’ve had recommended to me, but I’ve had an interesting time reading!

Photo from the Kew website.

Raised Beds, A Wildlife Pond And Flowers For The Birds And Bees.

The landscapers I brought in to get the garden bones in place have now finished. There is still a mass of work to do, but now it’s manageable. With a little more topping up in my new raised beds I can set about planting out broad beans waiting in the cold frame, potatoes chitting on the windowsill and all manner of other vegetables. The plan is to edge my plot with four feet high trellis, then train fruit against it. I hope to have raspberries, loganberries, a thornless blackberry and other soft fruits.

Although the new veg beds appear to my partner to look like not much more space than before, as the beds are only four feet wide, I can reach in from the sides and not have to tread on the soil. This is advantageous for a number of reasons. I will be able to cope better with weeding and planting (and of course harvesting) from the path. The vegetables can be spaced closer together, as there is no need to leave room for walking between rows, and now more of the garden is available for other activities. Now that we have the pond, my dog Daisy is going to have her own paddling pool. She loves water, so I can’t expect her to NOT play in some, and I’d rather it wasn’t my wildlife pond. Chasing the hose pipe to bite the water is her favourite game! That will be taking place well away from my new flower borders. In fact I’m going to have to protect plants from her bashing them until her play area is established. That will be fun!

Here Is here we are placing the raised beds, once the shed has been moved into dead space under the trees.

Here Is where we are placing the raised beds, once the shed has been moved into dead space under the trees.

The Shed now gone, raised beds can be built.

The Shed now gone, raised beds can be built.

And here they are, my super access raised beds which I hope will help feed us!

And here they are, my super access raised beds which I hope will help feed us!

I’ll do a separate post talking more about the pond, but basically it’s 6’8” x 4’6”, and 2’ deep at its deepest. We’ve made a shelf for creatures to get in and out, as I went for a preformed liner to avoid Daisy piercing the liner. So to compensate, wildlife need an escape route as these ponds don’t have the gentle slope you can make with a butyl liner. I have a visitor arriving soon so it will be Tuesday or Wednesday before I can go and buy more plants for the pond, or start the work on the garden. Mike, the landscaper who installed it, kindly brought me some irises to start me off. I have yellow flag in the pond, a British native that dragonflies love as the sword like leaves make great perching spots while they hunt. We’ve already had an official pond visitor. A toad! How cool is that?

The pond under construction

The pond under construction

Pond Completed, Apart From Some Planting.

Pond Completed, Apart From Some Planting.

I’m really pleased with the path, and glad I chose gravel. It gives me great grip when walking on it, and I am trying to age proof this garden so I can keep going on it when I’m even more feeble! Paving tends to get slippery and bricks were not an option due to time and cost. Although it all looks very stark yet, I’m sure once the planting is in place it will all soften down. I have three arch supports to place, too, which I hope will support some of the climbing plants I want to grow. Runner beans and bottle gourds, maybe even a couple of butternut squash, which I love.

My imagination is now running riot. Although I had the overall vision in mind when I set the landscapers to work, they have put in the bones. I now have to flesh it all out. My greenhouse is bulging with plants, but I have a feeling they won’t actually go far once I plant them all, so I need to sow more, grow more, take more cuttings and buy more plants. But this is the cool part, the pleasure of choosing and placing. Follow me this season to see great changes and how I make them. I’ll ensure plenty of information for you to have a go or not, because I’ll also tell you if things go wrong and why. Then you can avoid MY mistakes.

Remember the lilies from my last post? I’ve treated myself to some nice containers and planted them up, topped with gravel and now have to wait. Photos when there is something to show you! Some of the specialist seeds have germinated, too and are now being careful tended by yours truly. I’m particularly pleased to see papaver horridula seedlings adorning a pot. From what I’ve read, these hymalayan poppies are not easy to grow. They need an acid soil, which I have, so hopefully I’ll be able to raise them to maturity. Others are proving more tricky, but I am slowly getting results. Ultimately I have a lot of space to fill and seeds are far more economical then buying plants, so the more success I have the sooner the garden will be buzzing with bees and butterflies attracted by all my lovely flowers.