How to Start a Windowsill Kitchen Garden
Updated: Jan 15
If you want to start with something that is simple to grow anytime of the year, you are in the right place!
By growing baby leaves you will experiment with how to grow plants from seed and with new tastes and textures in the kitchen. The leaves taste and feel differently when they are fresh of the plant. You will be surprised by how much better they taste compared with the same leaves that are pre-packed in plastic bags. And if you are a foodie you will have lots of fun mixing special leaves in your ultra-fresh salads, or garnish dishes like restaurants do.
What to grow?
There are many different plants to grow as baby leaves which I can categorize as follows:
Asian brassicas- Bok choy (Paksoi), Amsoy, Mizuna and more of that family are great to grow as baby leaves. There are usually green and purple varieties you can experiment with, they all look wonderful, and have a mustardy taste.
Spinach- If you like spinach try growing it for salads, the taste and texture if so much nicer when freshly harvested.
Rucola- Also belongs to the brassica family, with a spicy taste that I personally love. I grow them every year and use them in salads and every conceivable type of sandwich, they also make a good pesto.
Pea shoots- I find these an inserting addition to a salad, especially if you mix them with stronger tasting ingredients. The pea shoots have a mild taste and they are tender, as long as you harvest them on time, when they are about 5 cm tall. If you have more mature shoots already, eat them cooked.
Lettuce- There are so many different kinds of lettuce, green, purple, marbled, curly, crunchy & firm or soft, choosing which kind to grow is really about personal preference. You can start with a blend of baby leaves or cut and come again leaves named “mesclun” that way you will get a very happy colorful salad.
How to grow?
It doesn’t really matter what kind of greens you choose to grow as baby leaves, as long as you follow these steps:
Prepare your windowsill- keep in mind that you need to use soil and water, which can get messy indoors. I always place a big plastic bag I don’t need anymore (this is a good way to recycle a bag) on a clean and dry spot on the windowsill. It’s best to choose for a spot which gets lots of light, but not direct strong sun which can burn the seedlings. If you are in a cold environment or grow in winter, the best spot will have light and also warmth. A windowsill above a source of heat, such as your heating system is ideal (as long as it’s safe, of course).
Choosing a container- Baby leaves are easy to grow and don’t need a big or deep container. You can buy any type of seed tray, that should be enough to get you started. Have a pot or a window box? That’s perfect too. Want to recycle something? Many supermarkets sell snack vegetables in clear plastic buckets, these are pretty ideal. If you ordered a take-out and you have a plastic box left you can use it too. Pay attention to drainage, if the container you chose has drainage wholes you will need to place a plate under it to hold the excess water. Since you are growing simple leaves it’s actually ok to choose for a container without holes, just make sure to water gently and let the water absorb well before watering more.
Soil- Use a fine type of soil for seedlings, and always organic soil that is expressly suitable for growing food.
Sowing- fill the container with soil and place on your prepped windowsill. Take a small amount of seeds in your hands, and scatter them across the soil. If you just sowed a whole seed packet in one go, you over did it, it should look like in the picture on the right. Press the seeds into the soil to make sure the seeds have contact with it. You can also scatter a super thin layer of fine soil on top, just to make sure the seeds are covered.
Watering- water immediately after sowing. Watering must be gentle since the seeds are small and can wash away. Keep the soil moist to ensure good germination. Generally, water when the soil feels dry, or when it looks like the seedlings become floppy.
Harvesting- Harvest the leaves when they are young and tender. Pick them with your hands or cut them with clean scissors, in any case don’t pull off the plants from the soil as long as they are productive, this way you can harvest the same plants multiple times.
Productivity- If you see that the plants start to develop flower buds and prepare to flower, it’s time to sow a fresh batch of seeds. After they flower, leafy greens become too firm and taste too intense. Lettuce becomes too bitter, rucola too spicy and so on.
I hope this guide will motivate you to start growing your own food, good luck! And if things go wrong, remember you can always start over, and ask for advice here. I can’t wait to see what you managed to grow!