Windowsill gardening: Alleviate your self isolation boredom

Whether you’ve never managed to keep a cactus alive, or are a gardening pro, are self-isolating on your own or with your family, here are some things you can do while you self-isolate during this Covid-19 pandemic. Add a little greenery to your home and grow your own food – indoors or outdoors. Try these ideas with children – get them into gardening too!

Planting potatoes in containers

Seed potatoes are available in the spring in garden centres, but you can just use shop bought ones the size of an egg. Do the planting in late March to April.

C:\Users\will\AppData\Local\Temp\8e0bce98-d180-4e1e-be5d-b4fcca0c2f3c.JPG Sprout your potatoes by putting them in an egg box and placing the box in a cool place where they get some light.

  1. Chit or sprout the potatoes by putting them in an egg box in a cool place where they get light. The ones here are really a bit over-chitted so they might get damaged in the planting, but the little sprouts on them will do the job.
  2. Fill the bottom 12cm / 5in of your container. Use normal general purpose compost from the garden centre or good non lumpy soil from the garden. Simply place the chitted seed potatoes on the surface of the compost. Your container can be a large pot, a sack or even strong plastic shopping bag about 50 cm / 2 ft high, but it must have drainage holes. The size of the container will determine how many seed potatoes to use. For containers about 30cm / 1 ft in diameter (the minimum size of container) use one seed potato. For a 75cm / 2ft 6in container we used 3 seed potatoes.
  3. Cover the potatoes with 12 cm of garden compost and then water well.
  4. Mark the variety of the potatoes. If frost is forecast, cover the container with fleece, or bring inside the back door overnight.
  5. This step is easy. Simply wait for the potato plants to appear about 10cm/4 inches above soil level.
  6. Cover again with compost or soil so that only the top tips of the highest leaves are showing. Repeat this until you reach near the top of the container.

1. Potatoes in containers need watering frequently in warm weather. The large canopy of leaves loses lots of water which needs to be replaced often. So keep the compost lightly moist during this period, watering whenever necessary.
2. Keep adding soil until it is at the top of the container. You can mix in some fish, blood and bone fertiliser gently every month as you add soil. Don’t use Miracle Gro or Growmore as they encourage lush top growth rather than new potato growth.

How to pick your potatoes:
Worm your hand into the soil at the edge of the container to find chicken or duck egg size potatoes. Try not to disturb the plant too much and settle the soil afterwards. It will now continue to produce more spuds. If this is difficult, you can wait until the plants have flowered, and then, hoping that they are ready, take drastic action….tip the whole pot out to get the potatoes!

Enjoy the spuds fresh as they taste so much better! Fresh picked and early ones don’t need to be peeled; just wash or scrape them before cooking.

You can grow potatoes from a peeling or a piece of a potato as long as it has an ‘eye’.

For the scientifically minded, you could try a comparison or methods of growing spuds. The chitted growth emerges from an “eye”, which you can see on the photos. It is possible to grow spuds from a piece of the potato, providing there is an eye; even from a potato peeling with an eye. The latter will probably take longer to grow. Try a comparison between the different methods.                              

Which method takes longer?
Which method grows the most weight of more potatoes?                
Why might a peeling take longer to grow potatoes?

Grow cress on a windowsill

Growing cress takes 10-12 days.

  1. Use either a saucer, a small clear plastic container or a shallow dish and line it with 4 layers of kitchen towel.  
  2. Pour on a small amount of water so it is totally absorbed and pour off excess.
  3. Scatter cress seed onto the paper, not too thickly, approximately a millimeter apart and put in a sealed plastic bag in a dark place.
  4. Check daily and keep moist but not soggy.
  5. Put onto a windowsill that gets light when the seedlings are 1 cm tall.
  6. After about 6-8 days, eat the cress with salad, in pitta breads or in egg sandwiches.

Carrot tops on a windowsill

  1. Cut off the fat end of a carrot, about 2 centimeters and place on a saucer or small bowl of water.
  2. Place the container on a windowsill that gets some light.
All you need is the top of the carrot.

Article and all photos in the article by Cherry Foster
Feature photo of cress by Milada Vigerova

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