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Five ways to grow food when you don't have a garden

Sprouting beans and re-growing green onions are two easy, cheap ways to grow food in your kitchen. Photo by Rebecca Cuttler.

The fall and winter months can be a difficult time to grow anything. Especially in Vancouver, where many of us have a desire to eat more locally grown food but lack access to a traditional backyard space. What’s a would-be gardener to do?

It turns out that condo-dwellers have some surprising advantages when it comes to growing food. Vancouver is famous for its dark skies. How do you get more light? You build up. The big windows and high balconies in most high-rises can afford some amazing opportunities to grow food when house-dwellers can’t.

I once worked out of an office with south-facing windows. It was only on a third floor, but that was enough elevation to give me extra sun. I started all of my seedlings – kale, broccoli, even tomatoes – on the ledge beside my desk without the need for supplemental light. My co-wokers made fun of me, but actually I think they loved it.

Here are five garden projects you can do indoors, year-round, when you don’t have a garden:

  • Grow sprouts. My favourite way to prepare beans and lentils is by sprouting them, then steaming them. They taste great, and, in my personal opinion, are easier to digest than canned or traditionally cooked beans. While this isn’t a gardening project in the conventional sense, it’s a way to bring life into your food through the power of germination.

  • Grow basil on your windowsill. Full-size plants can be purchased from many grocery stores. You can also start them from seed quite easily: just sow the seeds in a big container with indoor potting mix. Basil is delicious on everything from pasta to Thai curries, and because it’s expensive to buy and has a short shelf life, growing your own is a smart choice.

  • Re-grow green onions. I love green onions, aka scallions, almost as much as I love basil. I chop them up and put them on everything. The next time you buy green onions from the grocery store, set aside the white parts and stand them them in a small cup with water with the cut-off ends sticking out. Leave them on your countertop, changing the water every few days, and the green parts will grow back miraculously in a week or so. You don’t even need much light.

  • Grow mushrooms. Mushroom-growing kits are becoming easier to find at grocery and gift stores. It’s a fun project for the dark winter months.

  • Use an indoor herb or vegetable growing kit. Home hydroponic and aquaponic kits are becoming a more easily available choice for apartment-dwellers, with options ranging from DIY projects to stylish but costly products. Looking for a more basic and traditional approach? Purchase a basic seed-starting kit with an adjustable-height artificial light, available from any garden supply store, and start some herbs in potting soil.

Growing food, even if it’s a small amount, is a beautiful, fun and creative experience. The subtle shift from being a consumer to being a producer can have profound effects. These activities may not give you the same yield as a full-size, outdoor garden, but they can spark the excitement that comes from connecting with our food.

Rebecca Cuttler is an urban gardening teacher, member of the Vancouver Food Policy Council and board member of the Environmental Youth Alliance. Join her on Roundhouse Radio 98.3 FM every Tuesday afternoon at 5:00pm for Fabulous Urban Gardens on “Home” with host Jana Lynne White. She blogs about urban food gardening at

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