Monday, 3 June 2013

Grow Your Own

One of the few drawbacks of our very nice flat is its lack of private outside space: no garden, no balcony, not even a window ledge. There are generous open, grassy areas shared by our block and the others in the street, and a big park just around the corner, but there's nowhere to plant anything of our own. I often have a bowl of mung beans sprouting in the kitchen, and wanted to try my hand at growing some leafier veg indoors.
Pea shoots are just small pea plants. The dried snow peas I bought (from Infinity Wholesale, but also available directly from Aconbury) are sold especially for growing for salad, but I wonder if ordinary dried peas might work too (I never buy the expensive little sachets of mung beans for sprouting, I just use the ones that are sold for cooking). Pea shoots need soil or something similar to support them - instructions for all kinds of sprouting can be found here. I tried growing a batch on damp kitchen roll, thinking of those primary school cress and broad bean experiments, but the peas just rotted (very stinkily).
With no outside space, I didn't want to buy a big bag of soil, and there's also the peat problem with most potting composts. I found an alternative in my local Oxfam shop: a 'brick' of dry coconut husk fibre compost. I'm not 100% happy with this solution because it's been shipped half way round the world; plus it's from Sri Lanka and I don't know whether the boycott should include fair trade produce as well as everything else. But... it's peat-free, comes in plastic-free packaging, and is small and dry enough to live under my kitchen sink without causing trouble. When it's soaked in water the block (about the size of a normal house brick) expands to make 9 litres of compost, so I crumbled off a small amount to use. It's not really designed for using bit by bit, but it wasn't too difficult or too messy to scrape some off.
I planted three layers of well-soaked peas in an old glass container on a sunny desk. I kept the lid on it for the first week or two, so it was like a tiny greenhouse. I think it took about six weeks for the shoots to be big enough for eating. I should have eaten them all as soon as they were ready - the ones I left longer didn't improve. Supposedly they sometimes shoot up a second time after cutting, but mine didn't, they just shrivelled away; perhaps a container with drainage would have made for healthier plants.
Growing your own salad means you get to eat it as fresh as can be, plastic packaging is limited to one small bag for the seeds, there are no weird chlorine washes or any of the other nastiness associated with bagged salads, no carbon-crazy refrigerated transport, and it's miles cheaper than buying it ready-grown. I reckon this batch was equivalent to a medium organic salad bag from the supermarket, and it took about one twenty-fifth of my packet of seeds and maybe 10% of my compost block (of course the soil can be reused). I reckon the cost must be somewhere under 50p, and I got some fun and a little sense of connection to my food into the bargain.
Do you sprout seeds or grow your own greens indoors? What are you favourite beans and seeds to grow? Got any delicious pea shoot recipes? Tell me, tell me!