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Extra time on our hands during quarantine has proven that we home cooks certainly like to embark on projects. We’ve attempted sourdough starter, regrown our scallions from chopped bulbs into soaring stalks, and baked plenty of chocolate chip cookies. So if you’re looking for a new project to tackle, may we suggest starting your own personal windowsill garden? 

Related Reading: You Can Grow Your Own Potatoes Even If You Don’t Have a Garden

Perhaps you’ve killed a plant or two on your windowsill or attempted to keep that fresh basil alive you picked up at the store, to no avail. Being a farmer, after all, is hard work, and we definitely know it’s neither easy nor effortless to run a full-fledged farm. But it certainly is possible to start a little edible garden on your windowsill.

To gain some tips, we spoke to gardening professional John Tullock, a lifelong gardener who instructs folks on learning to take care of their gardens. He’s the author of “Grow Food at Home,” a comprehensive manual for growing herbs, fruits, and vegetables like beets, cucumbers, and lettuces, in your backyard, patio, or even on a windowsill.  

Grow Food at Home: Simple Methods for Small Spaces, $13.41 on Amazon

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Ahead, John shares seven tips for successfully growing and maintaining a garden on your windowsill.

Maintain a Steady Light Source

John emphasizes that the most important thing in starting a windowsill garden is light. He suggests choosing a window that is south facing—as that will provide the best and strongest light to be able to grow—but if you don’t have that steady natural light, you can also invest in a good-quality LED light unit. “Without [an LED light] or a good south-facing window, you’re going to be limited to growing cilantro and arugula,” John says.  

Don’t Want to Invest in a Lamp? Try Aluminum Foil

“If you don’t want to make that investment, you can do things to maximize the exposure of the plants to the light you have,” John says. For example, you can place strips of aluminum foil on the side of the plants opposite the window to reflect light back onto the backside of the plants. John says that even adding something like a desk lamp can make a difference. 

Kathrin Ziegler/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Purchase a Planter Box

Measure your space, then select a planter box that’ll fit on the windowsill. “I like using the elongated box because it has more room for plants than would be the case if you lined up ceramic pots,” John says.

Rectangular Succulent Planter Wood, $21.62 at Home Depot

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Follow the Regular Passage of Seasons for Growing

While you don’t have to rely as much on the weather outside for an indoor garden, John explains that it’s not a good idea to start planting when the days are at their shortest if you’re depending on natural light. “It’s best to grow things in spring and summer and into fall,” he says. “The days in January and February are going to be too short and it’s going to make it really difficult to grow without artificial lighting.” If you’re relying on artificial light, John says you can grow anytime you wish.  

Start Planting with Easier Produce

Some herbs and vegetables are much easier to grow than others. John recommends mint, parsley, mizuna, tatosi, baby bok choy, and lettuce, particularly the bibb and Boston variety, as those do very well with sub-optimal sunshine. “In general, plants that we eat just the leafy part of are going to be more shade tolerant than fruits or veggies like tomatoes,” John says. 

Related Reading: Where to Buy Fruit and Vegetable Plants Online

Don’t Overwater

Johner Images/Getty Images

Perhaps the biggest failing of indoors plants is overwatering. But John has a good trick for knowing when (and when not) to water. Wait to water until you can stick your finger an inch into the growing mix and it feels dry. The surface of the pot will look dry, and when you press your finger into the soil it’ll feel dry about an inch down. “That’s the best time to water,” John says. “If it feels moist, wait a day, and check again.”

Mail Order Seeds Online

If you’re not too sure where to pick up seedlings, and you don’t want to head to the store or your local gardening center, John recommends Burpee and Park Seed Company, who both offer hundreds of varieties. 

Room to Grow?

How to Start a Vegetable Garden: 5 Tips for Beginners

Header image by s0ulsurfing - Jason Swain/Moment/Getty Images

Amy Schulman is an associate editor at Chowhound. She is decidedly pro-chocolate.
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