Houseplants to eat, house"plants" that make no sense, and the bulb-clock runs down
Eat your decor
Eat your houseplants
Since moving to our small urban farm, I have slowly transitioned our growing game to those plants that serve a specific purpose. Sometimes the goal is merely "be pretty," and that's fine, but I've been focused more and more on plants with edible qualities.
In addition to the many outdoor food plants we have here, I have also explored using houseplants for consumption purposes. Most RealBestLife readers are somewhat interested in urban farming, sustainability, self-sufficiency, and agriculture but aren't yet at a "sell your house, move to a few acres and fill your yard with chickens, ducks, and goats" place in their lives. Yet.
Adding a few plants that serve dual purposes as decoration and ingredients in the kitchen is a great way to dip a toe in without the commitment.
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Herbs and greens
Over our kitchen sink, we have a nice east-facing sunny ledge. It gets early light and is the perfect home for various indoor herbs and greens.
Basil, mint, and rosemary are my favorites. They forgive almost any level of a green or brown thumb. Mint particularly will not die. If you plant mint in your garden outside, expect it to take over any area you give it and then some. Remember that 80s horror movie "The Blob" about a blob of goo that keeps expanding and takes over everything in its path? Mint is the plant version of The Blob.
Greens best eaten early are also a constant visitor on our kitchen ledge. Arugula and microgreens are easy as they taste best when they're young and don't need heavily developed root systems. You can plant them in shallow pots and dishes. They pop up quickly and are a great addition to whatever you're cooking.
Although I am not a fan of broccoli or radishes in real life, broccoli and radish micro-green sprouts are much yummier than their big brother counterparts. Sprouts are easy to grow in a mason jar.
Simply pour seeds into the jar and affix a sprout top (which is a thing you can buy) or secure a small piece of screen with the jar ring to the top. Rinse the seeds two to three times, filling the jar with water, then pouring it out. Next, fill your jar again with water and allow the seeds to soak for 12 to 24 hours.
Drain and rinse your sprouting seeds once a day until your sprouts have the desired size and consistency. They'll start to sprout in 2 to 3 days and grow quickly. I prefer to eat them at about a week. Remove the sprout top or screen and spoon your seeds out of the jar.
If you've never had them before, try frying up some sprouts in a few spoonfuls of bacon grease. They have a crunchy quality, and radish sprouts have a slight spice that perfectly offsets the bacon flavor. Of course, very few things are not better fried up with a bit of bacon grease.
I have also tried a few less-traditional consumables as houseplants that have done surprisingly well:
I stumbled across and started growing the Chinese Keys Galangal Ginger aka Fingerroot in a pot. So far, I have only cut off a few leaves, chopped them finely, and added them to salads. They have a beautifully subtle ginger flavor. I keep it out of direct light, water it often, and added a few coffee grounds to the soil because it grows in naturally acidic areas. It's already sent off a shoot and has more than doubled in size since I got it. I got mine at Wellspring Gardens and have bought several plants from them that have all been well-packed and shipped. Because they go dormant in the winter, I'm looking forward to spring now that the root system is established.
Yerba Mate is a South American holly plant used to make a caffeinated tea-like drink. I planted mine in a large pot, and keep it in a sunny spot. Ideally, the plant gets about 4" of rainfall a year, so I water it about twice a week. It's hugely forgiving and grows quickly. With my last in-house yerba mate harvest, I took all my harvested leaves, put them in the dehydrator for 24 hours, and then ground them up with my coffee grinder. It made for a delicious tea drink. Yerba mate is traditionally consumed out of a hollowed-out gourd with a straw strainer.
You probably know shiso leaves as the garnish that comes with sushi. Shiso has a minty and subtly anise flavor. Shiso comes in green and red (purple) varieties. In my experience, it is fast-growing and hardy. Besides its use as a garnish, Shiso can also be used for tea, pesto, or even in salads.
Lemongrass is an easy indoor cultivator. Mark loves to run over and cut off a clump to chop finely and throw in soups and broths. Although it's a pretty stabby grass (my boys can turn anything, including houseplants, into weapons) - Lemongrass can also make delicious teas.
The far other end of the houseplant spectrum
I can't be the only one: fake plants freak me out. By the way, if you're one of those people who has silk plants atop all your cabinets and tucked into every corner, I'm sorry, but I think it's a weird and confusing decor choice. Why keep a representation when you can have the real thing instead?
Even stranger to me is the new trend of creating fake plants that have a slight browning around the edges. They are designed to look imperfect enough to fool people into thinking they're the real thing. These fake plants aren't inexpensive. You could slowly kill 3 to 4 live houseplants for the price of a single artificial dying plant.
I understand the inclination to lean into things that are low maintenance. However, some houseplants are so easy to keep that they might be fake in terms of time and effort. If you're looking for some plants of your own to kill very slowly, try succulents, cacti, and rubber plants - all seem to revel in plant abuse. The more you forget to water them, the happier they seem to be.
By the way, if you are a person who has fake plants and thinks I'm entirely off-base, please comment on this post and explain the appeal to me. I genuinely want to understand this phenomenon.
Running out of bulb time
"Bulbs need so little and give back so much. They start off homely, even ugly, and return transformed."
– Lauren Springer Ogden
The clock is quickly ticking down to get early spring-flowering bulbs in the ground. Any bulbs that need the chill of winter to emerge victorious in the spring sunshine must take their dirt naps almost immediately. My neighbors Pam and Marcie (who I have written about before) brought over a whole garbage bag of iris bulbs.
Now is the time for crocuses, tulips, even peonies. Check your USDA hardiness zone and get some of those suckers in the ground. You-of-six-months-from-now will never regret the time that you-of-now spent spading those promises of future beauty into the chilling soil. It takes so little to give you so much.
Ralph Waldo Emerson was ahead of his time: "My hoe as it bites the ground revenges my wrongs, and I have less lust to bite my enemies. In smoothing the rough hillocks, I smooth my temper." I'm making a new rule for myself: before I shoot off an angry response online, I will plant something first. Based on Twitter this week, you might lose sight of my house through all the flowers come spring.
I’m doing another urban farming Ask Me Anything! (Here’s the last one - check it) If you have any questions, leave them below.
Also, I know I ask this every week, but if you would please PLEASE recommend this to your friends I would be so appreciative! It’s crazy how fast this has grown, it’s humbling my little blog about chickens and goats has grown into a community. I love it. The fastest growth has come from friends telling friends.