For those of us with minimal outdoor space who still want to grow a few herbs and even a handful of vegetables, window box gardening can pack a surprising punch. If you have a south-facing window that isn't obstructed by an overhang, you can grow herbs and vegetables that like full sun right outside your window. If you don't have such a fortunately situated window, you can still plant in window boxes or other small containers and arrange them on sunny stoops or terraces or, in a pinch, even indoors with supplemental light.
A wide variety of herbs can do well in window boxes. You won't get the enormous growth you might get in a garden, but with many herbs, a little goes a long way, anyway. Since it's no secret that I'm more of a connoisseur of cooking and eating than gardening, it won't surprise you that growing a few flavor-packed, easily maintained herbs close to my kitchen has been one of the most rewarding gardening endeavors I've tried.
One simple trick will go a long way toward a successful window-box herb garden. Plant herbs with similar soil and water needs together. For example, rosemary, thyme, sage, and lavender thrive in well-drained soil and do not like to be overwatered. Try planting them together. In another box, basil, cilantro, and mint—which can easily grow out of control if not contained—will keep each other in check. Try adding some marigolds to the mix to keep pests away, or pansies, whose flowers are edible when grown safely. Chives, bay laurel, parsley, and many more herbs will also grow well in boxes.
A surprising number of vegetables grow well in containers. Since window boxes aren't huge, though, it's important to be aware of the depth and breadth that a plant will need. Small varieties of vegetables can often be the most intensely flavored, so the size restriction can be a source of inspiration rather than frustration if you plan carefully.
Lettuces, especially those that grow as leaves rather than heads, are a great choice, as are other leafy greens like kale and chard. Small varieties of both sweet and hot peppers, cherry and other small tomatoes, radishes, short varieties of carrots, and even strawberries can thrive in window boxes.
Since there's minimal soil per plant in a window box, it's extra important to learn what each plant you choose needs from the soil and to periodically replenish and feed the soil throughout the season.
Although there is virtually no limit to the edible gardening you can do at home—even in a window box—with a little bit of persistence, ingenuity, and love, there is a clear limit to my personal knowledge of what you can do. And as it turns out, we've pretty much reached that limit. I hope this mini series has whet your appetite for edible gardening and answered a few of your questions. See you next week back in the kitchen.
About the author: Carolyn Cope writes Umami Girl and manages a CSA in New Jersey.