Start (with) a Few Seeds


Window farming isn’t going to save the world.

In fact, if everybody decided to give it a try and used all the same plastic pots and peat soil mixes, it would be another one of those smallest of individual impacts that are a collective disaster.

Dirt?For even just noticing such balances of cost and benefit, such ecological connections, both negative and positive, however, it is more than good to get your hands into some soil.

For one, if you are so inclined, gardening is a pleasurable activity. You are outdoors and in green surroundings, or at least getting some growing greens onto your windowsill. In seeding and caring for plants, you handle something real, you engage in an activity that shows your direct influence on the world – and you also have to delay gratification and mind the balance between your ability to influence what is happening and the world’s own workings:

You plant those seeds, you care for those plants, but you are not completely in control. You cannot do whatever you want, and the results may not be exactly those you wanted. Rather, you will have to play with the needs of those seeds and plants, give them what you know or think they need, maybe ask others with more experience, and see what comes of it.

You can make the conditions more conducive to the germination of the seeds, and you can give the plants more space, more light (or shade), more nutrients – but it is much easier to do too much, be too impatient and not attentive enough and to kill them, than it is to see them thrive.

Often enough, though, it also turns out that even plants have a will to survive and thrive, and may even stay alive under the care of someone who does not exactly have much of a green thumb.

One of the best experiences in a little such modern homesteading – whether on windowsill, roof garden, or rural kitchen garden – regards the diversity of edible plants humans have (or, as one is unfortunately required to say, had) developed: Only a few species provide for most of our sustenance, but even so, there has been a large diversity of varieties within them, and there are still more species that are or have been contributing to human diets.

Chile Peppers in Polytunnel
Author's polytunnel for the chile pepper growing for ChiliCult - More than just a few seeds, but they were all started in an apartment...

Many of those heirloom varieties / landraces have been lost, but not so few are still around, being kept alive by indigenous groups, small farmers and gardeners… and as they are adapted and, in their continuing cultivation, adapting to the situations in which they are grown, there are varieties among them for many an other context.

And so, a chile pepper (these are a particular fascination of the author’s and some of the most diverse and easiest to grow – and fun – foods/spices) that was grown in and for hot and dry environments with rather more shade may be well-adapted for also being grown on an urban windowsill where it’s getting more warmth, less light, and water only when the forgetful grower thinks of it…

It’s only too commonly the case that such landraces have only been surviving in the care of gardeners less bound to market dictates for efficiency and wholesale value – and they provide a little sustenance, quite a bit of local/cultural lore and inspiration, and a lot of fascinating stories and sensuous experiences. [For the case of chilli peppers, check out]

Playing with food plants holds another big lesson. Turns out that small patches of land can, if effectively used, provide quite a bit of food – and food growing can be a lot more difficult and frustrating than many a nostalgic pronouncement makes it sound.

Aphids may even get indoors, snails in the backyard decide to chomp off the stalk of a prized herb and leave the rest to rot as if in defiance of the gardener’s best efforts.
Then again, the same herb may grow back even more strongly, and two twigs of some standard variety of it in the supermarket would have set you back $2.50 (at least) whereas the plants in the garden plot just wait for you to pick them, and in whatever diversity you found trading seeds with others…

If you want to or have to live frugally, hardly anything is more helpful than having a diversity of chile peppers and/or herbs at hand, making it easy to spice up the simplest, and most variable, of dishes – and particularly those made of greens you could also grow yourself or get cheaply, and use for some of the healthiest and most pleasurable of meals…


It’s hardly frugal, in fact, but easily a feast. A riot of colors, tastes, flavors, aromas. A contribution to good health. Skill in cooking and the pleasure of social eating.

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