How to make 2019 the year you grow your own food indoors

Eating & Drinking
5 minute guide

At the beginning of the year many of us are being more mindful about what we're eating, whether that's due to Veganuary or pledges to support more locally grown produce like the farm to table movement. But have you considered growing your own organic food indoors? Yep, indoors.

Sophia Cheng, journalist and sprout-growing convert, talks us through three options.

Sophia Cheng 17 January 2019

The renowned eco-activist Dr Vandana Shiva believes that "as earth citizens we have a duty to grow what we can."

Not all of us have the luxury of a garden or the know-how to grow vegetables the traditional way; not to mention cold, dark days are not the most conducive conditions to start planting. 

Shiva suggests that shouldn't stop us; "even if we live in an apartment building and there is only one window sill. Adopt one plant, adopt one seed and grow it."

Here are three easy solutions to growing your own organic food; from lo-fi options to high-tech hydroponics for your home.

How To Grow Food Indoors

Have you ever tried to grow sprouts at home?

Photography | Sophia Cheng

Low-tech, quick and easy sprouts

For those with the smallest of spaces and the least patience sprouting seeds are a great option. 

Even the least green-fingered among us can grow sprouts, they’re incredibly nutritious to eat. The germination of the seed kickstarts the energetic growing process, proteins are broken down into amino acids and a sprouted seed is a raw food that is packed with vitamin B & C, as well as veg protein, iron and antioxidants. 

You can grow all manner of sprouts from the mung bean (known commonly as bean sprouts) to pea and radish, simply using an old glass jar, cheesecloth and elastic band. 

The key part is to make sure you're using beans specifically for sprouting. After soaking the seeds overnight, the process is as simple as rinsing them once in the morning, once in the evening and leaving the jar upturned in the meantime so that excess liquid drains out. After three days (or less depending on the seed) your sprouts are ready. Fresher and crunchier than you'll find in any shop. Best eaten raw, they make great toppings for stir-frys, soups, salads or as a snack on a cracker and stay fresh in the fridge for up to a week.

Dedicated sprouting products are available to buy such as a tiered sprouter like this one or even an automated machine like this. Treehugger also has good instructions for a DIY grow your own sprouts jar

I was inspired by Vandana Shiva's words but limited by time and space as a digital nomad, so I decided to grow my own sprouts for the first time. And I was surprised at just how easy they are to grow, here's my photo diary for proof. Once I'd made it part of my daily routine I was growing mung beans continuously in a dedicated sprouting jar I'd found at a local vegan fair and timing stir-fry night with harvesting.

How To Grow Food Indoors1
“You simply drop in the plant pods, add water and turn on the light - that's it”

As easy as Click & Grow

Using the concept of the coffee capsule but for plants - this might just be the easiest way to grow your own veg! 

Estonian entrepreneur, Mattias Lepp, was inspired by NASA soil technology and wanted to challenge the way we grow food here on Earth. After years of trial and error, a very successful Kickstarter campaign and further iterations, The Smart Garden was launched in 2018. You simply drop in the plant pods, add water and turn on the light - that's it.The Smart Soil releases the nutrients as the plant grows and in one to two weeks the pods start sprouting under LED energy efficient lights. Most plants take two to three months to grow, although some take six. No seeds are wasted and there's no nasty substances used.

The Smart Garden comes in two sizes, so you can grow three or nine plants simultaneously. 

With more than 30 plant pods, you can grow your own pak choi, sweet peppers and kale as well as herbs and salad leaves. Click & Grow now offer a plant pod subscription service so you'll never be without fresh herbs too. Perhaps more importantly is a supportive community of ‘Click and Growers’ so you can learn and share experiences. 

Jane from Somerset is trialling her Smart Garden, “I’ve always thought about growing my own food but never felt confident enough. It was so simple to set up, After five days my basil and mini tomatoes have just sprouted!”

And if you're feeling confident when the plant has reached its life cycle in the pod you can transfer it into real soil to continue its growth.

One million pods were planted last year and with a recent $11 million investment from a variety of funders, including Ikea, I expect hyper-localised hassle-free gardening to become much more common.

Fully automated indoor greenhouse anyone?

Taking home-based hydroponics to the next level is a brand new product, Natufia

Another Estonian startup that launched last year, this stylish indoor garden is similar sized to an average home refrigerator and can grow 32-64 plants for a continuous supply of organic traceable food all year round. You can select from a wide range of seeds or even use your own. 

The seeds first visit the nursery drawer before being transferred to one of the ceramic cups. A fully automated system means the growth conditions are controlled by smart sensors for temperature, nutrients, humidity and even the pH levels of water. Water cascades down through each ceramic cup so all you need to do is watch and wait. Music is even played to the plants to keep them relaxed. 

Co-founder Lauri Kapp was frustrated by the mass food industry and a deeper sense that as we become more urban as a species we are losing our connection to food growing. 

He sought an automated solution: "So many people living in cities, these people don't have the luxury of growing their own food, either they don't have the space,time or the skills, so we figured that our technology could resolve that.

With a price tag of £10,000 this indoor garden doesn't come cheap. But it’s worth noting that it was originally created for chefs of high-end restaurants that also works for the high-end consumer. Natufia are confident however that it earns itself back in less than 3 years. When you consider the space you’d need to grow up to 64 leafy vegetables in urban environments with the simplicity, it may well be a worthwhile investment."

As the debate over agricultural land use rages on, it is encouraging to know that at a consumer level, vertical farming and home hydroponics are becoming more mainstream and affordable. Organic leaves and vegetables with zero waste and zero mileage may soon be in every home and apartment. What would the ripple effect be on our wider environment if we all truly appreciated nature’s ability to provide for us?

Sophia Cheng is a sustainably-focused writer and communicator who specialises in social and environmental storytelling. She aims to practise what she preaches and hopes her words motivate people into action. Find more of her work at With Many Roots.

Come and meet other people who want to grow their own in our Facebook community

Posted in Eating & Drinking

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