For many of us, finding something growing on our kitchen counter is less a sign of horticultural prowess and more an urgent message from the mold gods that we really need to clean behind the toaster more often. But if the weather outside is turning frightful, or you simply don’t have the outdoor space to bring to life your urban farm fantasies, it might be time to start looking to those kitchen counters (and sunny windowsills) as more than just storage and decor space—they can serve as garden space, too.
Indoor gardening isn’t just a practical way to have some basil on hand when the pesto craving strikes. It’s an amazing way to teach kids that food grows from somewhere other than a supermarket shelf, and it’s, dare I say, kind of magical. Case in point: I, a fully grown adult woman, I have found myself on more than one occasion racing to the kitchen counter like a kid on her birthday to see if my oyster mushrooms have “pinned” yet. Simply put, there’s nothing quite like dutifully adding some teaspoonfuls of water to a tiny can of dirt and waking up to a fresh sprout, or tasting the first tomato you grew… in your apartment… in December.
Truly a worthwhile hobby for anyone of any age, caring for indoor edibles is especially great for kids. And it’s surprisingly simple. All you need is a container, some good soil, and a few seeds (you can even use seeds from fruits and vegetables you already have in your kitchen). If this is your first foray into countertop agriculture, a growing kit can definitely help you and your kiddos ease into the process with guaranteed results. I chatted with Nikhil Arora, co-founder of Back to the Roots—whose line of easy and fun mushroom, tomato, pepper, microgreen, and herb grow kits I’ve been using to foster my inner Old Macdonald while sheltering at home—and grabbed three tips for getting littles into the art of indoor farming.
Make it Fun—and Messy “Let them get their hands dirty. There’s a certain innate joy to planting and playing in the dirt. It’ll be worth the extra cleanup later if you let them feel more ‘free’ when gardening!” Back to the Roots uses organic living soils in all of their gardening kits—which means they’re not made of synthetic ingredients and they haven’t been fumigated/sprayed with highly toxic chemicals—but if you go the DIY route, be sure to find potting soil that’s free of harmful chemicals so kids can get dirty, worry free.
Opt for Plants with Fast Growth Nikhil suggests choosing quick germinating plants to start to create that feeling of instant gratification and accomplishment early on—the positive reinforcement of early results will keep them engaged. Mushrooms are a great place to begin, as certain varieties grow from start to harvest in just 10 days, and many peas and beans will grow over 12″ in just the first 2 weeks!
Make it Tangible “Connect the dots between the food they’re eating and the seeds they are planting,” says Nikhil. Growing watermelon seeds? Go to a store and buy watermelon, and cut it up and show how one of those small tiny seeds can grow into a big watermelon! “In fact, the BEST way to do it is to use one of those seeds to grow the next fruit. No better way to demonstrate life cycles than that—and it’s tasty.”
I’ll be the first to admit I often let houseplants go a little too long without water (I’m so sorry, plants I’ve killed, please forgive me) so one of the coolest things about Back to the Roots kits is the automated text reminders to water and care for the little growing greenies. In a time when we’re all balancing so much, a friendly reminder from your friend in the plant business to spritz your oyster mushrooms feels like being taken care of—and kids will like feeling like they’re getting messages straight from the farmers themselves.
While houseplants have bloomed into a fully fledged mega trend, I haven’t seen many #planstagram collections featuring edible specimens. And—let’s face it—those stunning fiddlehead ferns, philodendrons, and ponytail palms beloved by indoor gardening influencers require a ton of labor and just don’t give much back (plus they aren’t always kid friendly). Isn’t it about time your indoor plant babies contributed a little back to the household and let everyone in the household pitch in to their care?