Sustainable America Blog

5 Ridiculously Easy Ways to Start Growing Food

Cherry tomatoes on vine

Photo Credit: The Forum News via Compfight cc

Has the food gardening bug hit you? If you’re not sowing seeds and tending tomatoes yet, your neighbors probably are. According to a report from the National Gardening Association, one in three American households are now growing food, which is a 17% increase from five years ago. The biggest jump has been from millennials — 18- to 34-year-olds — 63% more of them are gardening!

For those of you who are now shin deep in radish greens, we commend you. Growing your own food is a great way to contribute to a more sustainable food system. But for those of us who excel at killing common houseplants, gardening can be intimidating. When do I plant what? Is my soil ok? How much do I water? It may be a fear of failure that keeps even more people from joining gardening nation.

With that in mind, we’ve rounded up five ways to ease into gardening. Whether you call them confidence boosters or gateway drugs, each of these products takes the guesswork out of the equation and practically guarantees success.


The clever little Petomato($14.99) lets you get started with hydroponics using a simple plastic water bottle. You just screw the Petomato filter on a bottle, add seeds, cover with sand, and add a few drops of water. In 7 to 10 days, sprouts will appear, and you’ll be able to watch the roots develop in the water. A great project for kids, you just need to keep the bottle full of water, mix in fertilizer, and pollinate some of the varieties. Available kits include cherry tomatoes, habanero peppers and sweet basil.


UrbMat Garden System
The Urbmat ($69) is the next best thing to having your own personal gardener. It takes care of garden placement, plant spacing, irrigation and weeds — you just need to supply six inches of soil and a garden hose. To get started, you place the printed mat over your soil, then press GrowUps Plant Starters ($4.99/six-pack) — seeds encased chili powder, compost, worm castings — into the soil. No digging required! The company claims the mat can be reused for three years or more.


Seed Tape
If you’re ready to garden in an actual garden, here’s an almost foolproof way to get started: seed tape ($4.95/roll). Seeds are embedded in a strip of biodegradable paper that you simply cover with soil. The tape ensures proper spacing, straight rows, and high germination rates. If the crop you want to grow isn’t available, you can even make your own seed tapes out of toilet paper.


Mushroom Kits
Everyone from Williams-Sonoma to Whole Foods is selling mushroom kits these days. Some are actual logs pre-inoculated with spores ($29.95) that can produce up to three years worth of mushrooms crops every two to three months with only a few soaks in cold water and occasional misting. Others, like this wildly successful mushroom kit ($19.99) from Back to the Roots, grow from a box. Either way, mushrooms can be yours, almost like magic.


If you truly want to plant it and forget it, check out SmartPots ($79.95-$129.95) from Estonian company Click and Grow. This high-tech grower uses sensors and software to deliver your plant the optimal amount of water, oxygen and nutrients. Just pop in a cartridge that contains seeds and “smart soil, ” their nano technological growth medium, and relax. It runs on a few AA batteries, and you only need to fill a water tank about once a month. You do need to make sure it gets enough light, but if your home doesn’t get good light, they also offer an LED germination lamp.

Amy Leibrock


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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.

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