What to Grow Indoors, on Balconies and Windowsills Now, to Reap the Rewards Later

Start on a sunny windowsill then move your crops to outside pots. A balcony’s big enough and the fresh flavour burst will be amazing. Writer Lewis Grizzard said: “It is difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a home-grown tomato.” You learn to appreciate amazing fresh flavours when you grow your own food — and with no plastic wrapping it is a guilt-free trip.

Even if you only have a narrow 10th-floor balcony or a small concrete patch out back, you can grow so much in pots, including sweet cherry tomatoes, crunchy lettuce and fiery chillies.

It’s time now to start sowing your crops inside. In about a month when the seedlings are bigger, you can plant them outside in larger terracotta pots to grow on to maturity. For now, a windowsill, counter top or bit of floor is fine as long as it’s warm and gets lots of natural light.

Any small pot will do, from small 9cm plastic ones from garden centres to recycled yoghurt pots and coffee cups, as long as you make a few drainage holes in the bottom. Plastic lids from food pots make good drip trays to save your windowsills.

Use any multipurpose peat-free organic compost from the garden centre. New Horizon Peat Free Compost (£5 for 50 litres, Homebase) is excellent or, if buying online, try Wool Compost for Seeds (£7.99 for 12L plus delivery, Dalefoot composts), made in the Lake District from bracken and wool.

With all seeds, sow roughly as deep as the seed is large, then keep the compost moist after sowing. I use an old plastic water bottle with holes pierced in the lid to sprinkle the surface every day or so.

You could also cover the tops of the pots with clingfilm to keep the moisture in until the seeds germinate. Then take it off so they can get some air.

1. Tomatoes

If you sow only one seed, make it a Sungold tomato (£2.99, Suttons). The orange, cherrysized fruits, in a different class to anything you can buy in the shops, are sweet but with just the right balance of acidity.

Classic red cherry-sized Gardener’s Delight (£1.95, Sarah Raven) is also a winner. Each plant will eventually need a 30cm diameter pot and a cane or railings to tie to as it grows.

Cherry-sized Gardener’s Delight tomatoes are heavy cropping and easy to grow. Sow now and plant out later in 30cm pots with canes for support. (Thompson-Morgan)

2. Chillies

Just one plant will keep you in fiery fruits for a season. Chilli fruits look beautiful when ripening and don’t need a big pot if you choose compact varieties. Try Apache and Thai Hot (£3.00/£2.40, South Devon Chilli Farm).

A 20cm diameter pot is big enough and an average window box could fit three. As you’d expect, chillies like a hot spot.

3. Aubergines

Baba ganoush fans, choose carefully. Many varieties of aubergine don’t grow well in pots, but these do: try Pinstripe (£2.99, Suttons) or Patio Mixed (99p, Thompson & Morgan) for stripes and unusual colours; Money Maker no 2 (£4.95, Sarah Raven) or Ophelia (£2.99, Marshalls) for your classic dark purple version.

You’ll need a really sunny, sheltered spot outside. Each mature plant will eventually need a 30cm pot, or squeeze two in a large, deep window box.

Chillies, aubergines and tomatoes are ripening here in one big outdoor barrel, making an attractive mini kitchen garden display with the promise of mouthwatering produce

4. Perpetual Spinach

The key is in the name. This isn’t the usual summer spinach but one that’s in it for the long haul.

Sow this delicious leafy green now, sometimes called spinach beet (£2.99, Thompson & Morgan), and you’ll be picking off leaves from the same plants until the end of autumn to stir-fry, steam or throw into salads.

Sow five seeds in small pots then plant outside into window boxes, hanging baskets or larger pots.

5. Lettuce

No crop is as versatile for small spaces as lettuce. Sow any variety 1cm apart and cut the leaves when small. Or start off each seed in its own pot and grow it on to maturity. A 30cm pot will fit about five mature plants.

Great for pots is the compact Little Gem, a mini cos lettuce with crunch (£1.75, Suttons) and also Salad Bowl (£1.95, Sarah Raven).

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