DIY food-growing projects for January through December
12 DIY kitchen garden ideas geared to give you a creative gardening activity for every month of the year. Whether you’re reading this in January or July, jump into the project of the month to discover a new way to grow your own food.
No matter if you’re a veteran or a complete novice, growing your own sometimes needs inspiration. Something to get you or your family excited to start (or continue) growing your own food. By challenging yourself to a creative gardening project every month you’ll put some fun into your grow-your-own adventure.
These projects are creative but relatively simple and many are possible with limited space. That means the majority can be grown on a balcony or small garden and a couple are actually indoor gardening projects. They’re also easy enough to get kids involved too.
Garden Ideas for Beginners
Growing your own vegetables can seem daunting for a beginner. You may know nothing about seeds, soil, or how to even look after plants. Maybe you’ve killed a succession of houseplants and jokingly refer to yourself as a Brown Thumb. Rest assured that learning how to grow food is a skill that can be learned. All you need is some creative kitchen garden ideas to get you started. The projects below are both interesting but achievable for newbies.
Remember that all plants want to live. If you give them their basic requirements of nutrients, water, protection, and sunlight then you’ll see a harvest. You’ll get even better after a little experience. Here’s some more ideas that will help you along the way:
- 15 Mistakes that Beginner Gardeners make
- Canning & Preserving Food for Beginners
- When should I start sowing seeds?
January: Make Edible Seed Bombs
By now you will probably have heard of seed bombs or may have even been gifted with a kit (I have). Seed bombs are made from a mixture of moistened growing substrate and seeds that harden into balls. The usual type are filled with wildflower seeds native to your area. The idea is that you take a walk around your neighbourhood, local park, or even countryside and throw the balls into places where the flowers can grow.
Edible seed bombs are similar and are used by some guerrilla gardeners and natural farmers. Instead of filling the seed bombs with wildflower seeds, you fill them with edibles like tomatoes, pumpkins, and other veg. In the case of guerrilla gardeners, they’d throw them into abandoned lots and non-toxic spaces. Then when the veg is ripe, you come back and pick it.
Seed bombs, also called seed balls, are a growing technique rediscovered by Masanobu Fukuoka in WWII Japan. He wanted to find a way to grow food easily without taking away land dedicated to growing rice. As an aside, he’s also the inventor of no-dig gardening which he called ‘Do-Nothing Gardening’.
To make edible seed bombs, mix five parts red clay with one part seeds. Moisten with water until just damp and then form into balls and allow to harden. You can use these to seed your own natural garden or use them as guerrilla gardeners do. Just make sure that you don’t throw them into conservation areas or wild lands.
February: Grow Microgreens
You’ve probably heard the term microgreens before but in your mind you might be picturing sprouts. Microgreens, also called shoots, are small plant seedlings that you cut with scissors when they’re small. You eat stem, seed leaves, and the first set of true leaves. After cutting, many types will re-grow and you can cut them again. This is the kind of kitchen garden idea that just keeps on giving.
February is a great time to grow these nutritious greens. All you’ll need is a bright window, warm indoor temperature, and a few materials. Once grown, eat microgreens in salads, on burgers, or in any other way that you use baby salad leaves.
You can find microgreen seed mixes but you can also use ordinary radish, pea, bean, chia, sunflower, cabbage, broccoli, lettuce, buckwheat, or mustard seeds. Those are just some of the more common. Sow them relatively thickly in a small take-away container filled with an inch of firmed down compost. Cover very lightly with more compost and place the container in your sunny window sill. Keep the compost moist but not wet and harvest when the seedling are green and leafy and 1-2″ tall.
March: Plant Peas in a Gutter
This is a new technique to me but is one that I’ll continue to use for growing peas. It really makes the entire process so easy! Not only that but the pea seeds and seedlings are protected from pests while they’re growing.
You’d start this project depending on when you should start sowing peas, for me late March. Buy a half-pipe gutter and fill it with multi-purpose compost. Soak your pea seeds in water overnight to give them a head start on germination. This step helps them to grow quicker, before mice have a chance to find the seeds.
Next, sow the gutter with your pea seeds setting each about an inch from the next in all directions. I’m able to get three rows of them in this way. Push the seeds in, firm down the compost and keep moist until the seedlings are about an inch tall. Keep the gutter under cover and elevated if possible. That will keep mice from it too — they love pea seeds.
When it’s time to plant them in the garden, the compost and peas will slide out relatively easily. There’s a video of me doing it over here. While you’re over there on YouTube, subscribe to my channel.
April: Properly plant a Strawberry Pot
Terracotta strawberry pots are common, so common that you might be tempted to skip over this project. You might have even tried growing in them before and think that they’re rubbish. Images of dried up plants and eroded compost come to mind.
That’s because most people will fill them with compost, plant through the holes, and then over or under water them. Terracotta breathes so it loses water quickly in warm weather. In cold weather it absorbs water and if there isn’t proper drainage they can also get waterlogged.
Planted and cared for properly, a strawberry pot is a great way to grow herbs, and yes, strawberries. I share tips on how to do it, along with an introduction to those beautiful pink petaled strawberries over here.
May: Grow Seedlings in Egg Shells
This is such a fun and pretty project, plus over time plants will be able to use the minerals in the egg shells to grow. It’s also one of those great kitchen garden ideas that uses up ‘waste’ and reduces the need for plastic.
Save egg shells after you use them, gently washing them out and letting them dry. Fill them with potting compost and direct sow vegetable seeds inside. Keep them moist and then plant them in the garden when your seedlings have a set of true leaves. The leaves you see in the photo above are just the cotyledons, or seed leaves. These will eventually drop as the seedling produces true leaves. I also think it’s best to crack the shells quit a bit when you plant them out. It helps the roots to expand.
Word of advice: do not over water the egg shells since there’s no drainage. If you look at the bottom right egg shell you’ll see that there’s water on the surface. I had to try soaking that up with a paper towel as best as I could to stop the plants from drowning. Here’s more ideas for growing seedlings in recycled containers.
June: Grow greens in an upcycled container
Speaking of recycled, you can used all sorts to grow your own food. One of my favourite ‘pots’ is an old Belfast sink that I found abandoned. It weighs a ton but the drain gives it a perfect outlet for water (go figure, right?). I’ve had mine for years and have grown all sorts of edibles in it including herbs, lettuce, and last year aubergines (eggplants).
Old buckets, wheelbarrows, plastic milk jugs, and wooden crates can all be used in your home container garden. I know that reducing the amount of plastic in our homes and gardens is on everyone’s mind at the moment. However, giving plastic a second life is better than throwing it away. Here on the Isle of Man we have a fantastic group of volunteers called the Beach Buddies who regularly clean up rubbish from the beaches. A common piece they find are plastic fish boxes and they’re brilliant for growing salad leaves in.
If you like a more vintage feel though, sinks can be a really great addition to your container garden. I have an entire piece on ideas for finding them and planting them up over here.
July: Start a Vertical Herb Garden
Herbs can be incredibly hardy and some even thrive when neglected. That makes them a great starter plant to try growing, especially if you enjoy adding rosemary, mint, and sage to homemade recipes. I have a herb bed in my larger allotment garden but I also have herbs growing in pots and containers around the house. One of the best ways I’ve done so is in a vertical planter. Just like in a herb spiral, you could put plants that require less water at the top and ones that require more at the bottom.
August: Grow Radishes
Many people only think about growing radishes in spring. When summer arrives you stop sowing them since they have a tendency to bolt. However, you can start sowing them again at the end of the summer. In the last part of August begin sowing seeds again, little and often, and keep sowing right through September. They love growing in early autumn as much as they love growing in spring.
Radishes can also be grown in shallow containers. Larger ones, like the French Breakfast variety above, need a good six inches of compost but smaller varieties only need half of that. You can also grow radishes in the same containers as lettuce and other greens.
September: Save Tomato Seeds
Tomatoes are relatively easy to grow and if you’re careful about cross-pollination you can save your seeds from year to year. It’s easy! Start with your best heirloom tomato and scrape all the seeds out onto a paper towel. Let them dry and then plant them, paper and all, the following year.
In doing your research on saving seeds you might come across a method that requires fermenting the tomatoes. I personally think it’s a waste of time. There are far better things to do with my (and your) time than faffing about with unnecessary tasks.
If you’re a complete newbie you can still save tomato seeds. Start with an heirloom variety from the farmers market and follow the same method. Your tomatoes might not be 100% true to their type but then again you could have an absolute winner. You might want to stay away from supermarket tomatoes though — some may be genetically modified.
October: Grow Mushrooms
As we move into the cooler months veg that has had a head start will hang on under cover. It doesn’t grow much though which is why sowing seeds after September can be a waste of time — unless they’re being grown indoors of course. Another delicious edible that you can grow indoors is mushrooms.
October is a great time of the year to forage for wild mushrooms like Porcini. It’s also a great time to start a mushroom culture from a kit. The ones in the photo above are from the Ballard Farmers Market in Seattle.
The way they work is simple. They’re essentially a block of compressed sawdust, straw, or another substrate that’s already been seeded (inoculated) with fungi spawn. You give them a little light, warmth, and moisture and they produce a few crops of mushrooms for you. Neat, huh?
November: Plant Garlic
The traditional day to plant garlic is the shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice or first day of winter. Most people like to get theirs in earlier though, especially if they have colder climates. If you plant your garlic in autumn it will grow a little and then hunker down over the cold months. In spring it will shoot up and give you crops well before any spring planted garlic. Learn more about growing organic garlic.
Though it’s possible to plant garlic purchased from the supermarket, it’s better to plant higher quality garlic. Order it from a trusted seed supplier or from your local garden centre.
December: Harvest Christmas Potatoes
This project begins in March, continues in August, and culminates with a harvest of new potatoes on Christmas Day. Intrigued? What you need to do is save ‘first early’ seed potatoes in the fridge in spring. They need to be first earlies since these mature quicker than any other type. There are plenty of varieties of first earlies to choose from too.
Leave the spuds in the fridge until August — this tricks them into staying dormant. Then plant them into containers as you would in spring. Three to a pot is more than enough. Keep watered and under cover in a polytunnel, greenhouse, conservatory, or porch. Freezing weather will kill the leaves so keep that in mind.
On Christmas, dump out the containers and find a harvest of tender spuds to serve up with dinner. What better gardening gift is there than that? You can see me talk about and harvest last year’s Christmas potatoes in the video below. Please feel free to subscribe to my channel.