Fancy helping to save the planet while saving yourself cash? Try growing your own food at home – it’s not as hard as you think!
You might think tending to a garden or allotment is something only retired people do, but growing your own produce at home when you’re a student can save you a tonne of cash (and it’s actually pretty fun too).
And the best part is, you don’t even necessarily need a garden to grow your own food – you can easily grow a few of your staple edibles indoors.
We’ve compiled our top ten greens you can easily grow in your garden (or house!) and added a few pointers on how to get started too.
How to grow fruit and vegetables at home
First things first, you don’t need to have a lush green garden to grow all sorts of tasty delights for you and your flatmates.
A little bit of space on a window sill will work just fine for small things like herbs, lettuce and cress, and you can grow smaller veg like tomatoes in plant pots in the kitchen.
If you do want to venture outside but you have limited room for planting, a hanging basket can give you above-ground growing space – and only costs about a fiver.
If you’re lucky enough to have a garden with some soil and space for digging, go ahead and start planting (but perhaps check with your landlord and neighbours first!).
You can also grow things like tomatoes, strawberries or potatoes in grow bags, as long as you have some outdoor space. They can cost as little as £3 and will have all the nutrients your plants will need.
For more deep-rooted vegetables such as carrots or potatoes, you can also try using a garden dustbin. Sounds stupid? Totally works.
Finally, you could always see if your university has an allotment you can use. More than 20 different institutions have signed up to the NUS Student Eats programme where you can grow your own fruit and veg, and local councils may also have shared allotments you can hire too.
What do you need to grow food at home?
Gardening might sound like a hobby that comes with a whole host of expensive kit, but you really don’t need much to get cracking on growing food.
If you’re growing indoors, you’ll really just need some appropriate pots, seeds and good quality soil, but that really is about it.
A spot of fertiliser will help speed up growth and keep your soon-to-be-scran at its best. You could use Babybio for this, but it’s a bit expensive so a regular dry fertiliser (such as Growmore or blood, fish & bone) is decent for any veg, and only needs to be used a few times a year.
You’ll only need to invest in hardcore things like shovels or trowels if you’re going to be putting stuff in the ground of your garden, but you can get these fairly cheaply on Amazon too.
10 easy to grow foods
Onions and garlic
As the ultimate staple ingredient to… well, just about everything really, growing garlic and onions at home can save you loads of cash.
Not only are they super easy to grow at home, but if you store them correctly, onions can last up to eight months and garlic bulbs will keep for months in the freezer (you can break off just one clove at a time to use).
How to grow onions and garlic
To grow these at home, look out for those green shoots (the one that normally mean your bulbs need binning) and plant them as whole onion bulbs or single garlic cloves in well-drained soil (either in the ground or in a large grow bag).
Try to make sure they’re in soil by around spring or autumn and leave them to do their thing (remembering to water them of course).
Whether you prefer to roast ’em, boil ’em or mash ’em, these beauties are a staple of all sorts of yummy stuff and you can easily grow them in an old garden dustbin.
The great thing about potatoes is that they’re happy to grow just about anywhere so long as you have a few basics covered.
How to grow potatoes
Fill an old bin, a grow bag or even an old potato bag/sack half full with compost. Then, plant one or two whole potatoes in there. The trick is not to plant too many, as they need a lot of space for the roots to sprout and grow, so if they’re too packed in, this won’t work.
Once you start to see the green shoots emerge above the soil, cover with a bit more compost, wait until they emerge again and then repeat.
Continue this process until the bag/bin is full, and 10–20 weeks later, your potatoes will be ready for eating (when the foliage starts to wither, they’re ready to be dug out). Remember to keep those babies well watered!
Make sure your bin/bag is propped up on top of some bricks to allow water to drain out, and if you’re growing them inside, cover the bottom of the bin with stones before you add your soil so excess water will drain to the bottom.
Fresh herbs can make even the most boring of meals super tasty, but the problem is they can cost a fair bob and are difficult to keep fresh long enough to get your money’s worth (although these food storage tricks should help!).
Having a nice selection of herbs in a window box, outside in pots or in a hanging basket will be a great addition to your cooking essentials.
How to grow herbs
You can either grab some seeds from a garden centre or buy a potted herb plant from the supermarket (you can often find slightly peaky-looking ones in the reduced section – take them home and replant in your window box and they’ll come back to life!).
Basil, chives, parsley and sage will grow happily in a sunny window box or in a plant pot by the window, and oregano, thyme, mint and rosemary will all do well both indoors and outside in a garden.
Who doesn’t love a juicy strawberry in their breakfast cereal, on porridge or sliced up in a gin and tonic?
How to grow strawberries
You can plant strawberries in pots, grow bags or the garden, as long as they don’t get too waterlogged.
The bonus here is that if you look after them they’ll keep producing fruit year after year.
The great thing about salad leaves is that you can pretty much grow them all year round if you pick different varieties according to the seasons.
How to grow salad leaves
Grow them in the ground if you have space, or in a window box if you have a loose leaf variety. To spice up your salads, you can also grow spring onions and radishes in plant pots too.
Another amazing thing about salad is how quick the leaves grow – plant seeds in the summer months and you will have leaves big enough to put on your sandwiches in 3–4 weeks!
If you find the slugs are eating them before you, some crushed eggshells or salt around your plants will help ward them off.
Chillies and peppers
Hot or not, peppers and chillies are a great way of spicing up any dish – and they’re pretty easy to grow, too.
How to grow peppers and chillies
The plants will do just fine in a small pot by your window.
You can grow a variety of different types by seeds – just stick to one a pot and water them little and often. Easy peasy.
Celery is one of a few mind-boggling veggies that can reproduce themselves if you just eat what you want then stick their roots in some water when you’re done.
How to grow celery
All you have to do is put the root in a shallow bowl or cup of water by a window sill, making sure it’s not totally submerged (but spraying the top with water occasionally so it doesn’t dry out).
A good idea is to stick some cocktail sticks in the sides and rest them on the bowl edges so the top doesn’t go underwater.
Amazingly, after about a week a new little celery head will pop up, and at this point you can transfer it into some soil in a pot or grow bag. You’ll have a whole new edible celery within a few weeks!
There are loads of other foods you can regrow from scraps, such as avocados, spring onions and ginger.
Tomatoes are a student staple, so why would you not want to grow them yourself?
How to grow tomatoes
You can either buy tomato seeds and plant them, or opt for a young plant that already has a vine if you want to start producing sooner.
Once they’re of a decent size, you can transfer them to your grow bag, or you can buy special varieties for hanging baskets too.
You might have to use a wooden stake and tie the vine to it with garden wire so the plants stay upright, and investing in some tomato fertiliser will keep them happy and healthy.
Once they’ve started to turn red, pick them (it’s fine if they’re still a bit green/unripened) and pop them on your window sill until they fully ripen. Putting your tomatoes in the fridge is a storage no-no!
For the ultimate in easy-grow food, you really can’t get much quicker or easier than cress.
How to grow cress
Grab an old cress pot leftover from one bought previously at the supermarket, or any cheap and shallow plastic pot, and whack in some soil and seeds. Pop it in a sunny spot by the window and keep it watered. Bingo.
Cress is so easy to get going that you could even plant some in an old yoghurt pot, or empty egg-shells if you’re feeling really creative.
Rhubarb is great. You can boil it up to make pies, crumbles or just whack it with some custard and it tastes great (although never eat it raw or you will be left with a serious stomach ache!).
How to grow rhubarb
The easiest way to grow rhubarb is to get some young plants from the garden centre and plant them either in part of your garden or in a large pot.
They do need top-notch soil, so this is where you might have to spend a bit of cash, but rhubarb tends to grow in abundance once it gets going so you should get your money’s worth!
Once you’ve started building your edible empire, make sure you work out how best to store your food so it lasts longer too.