5 Mini Countertop Gardens That Yield Big Results

Window garden

Window garden. Image courtesy of Rebecca Sims.

A desire to grow your own food doesn't always come with a backyard or patio that's suitable to do it. Cold weather, lack of sunlight, no time to tend to plants, or just simply lack of useable outdoor space might make you think that you'll never be able to exercise that green thumb.

Until now. A variety of indoor growing kits now let everyone have the opportunity to grow plants, with no excuses.

In fact, countertop gardens can be better for the environment. The designs are engineered to be so self-sufficient and take up so little space that there is no room for waste. Soil-less growing mediums mean less pests, reducing the use of pesticides and disease-control sprays. Controlled temperatures and weather conditions mean less stress and damage to the plants, too. Water usage is cut down dramatically, since water is often recycled in a system. Plants grow faster and in less space, allowing you to maximize your output and consume more produce grown in your own kitchen.

If you're searching for innovative gardening ideas that go beyond a pot, soil and some seeds, check out these 5 mini countertop garden options:

  1. If you've got a sunny location and a spot of surface space, then you can start harvesting ingredients for your next meal. How about mushrooms for a stir-fry? In just ten days, you can have more than a pound of mushrooms if you use Back to the Roots' Mushroom Kit which grows organic mushrooms in a box that you simply set on a table and water twice a day.
  2. You're going to need some herbs to flavor that stir-fry, of course. So why not add a conversation piece to your countertop and harvest some food, too, with Back to the Roots' Water Garden. This aquaponic garden grows organic herbs and lettuce on the top of a fish tank. The cute fish's poop helps fertilize the growing plants in a closed-loop system that gives the kids a pet and you some cooking ingredients.
  3. Fish farming too weird for you? Then go totally hands-free and seriously eco-chic with the hydroponic plug-in planters from Modern Sprout. These minimalist modern planters will grow three different plants with virtually no effort from you. Just program the container for self-feeding and self-watering and you can indulge in lettuce, kale and chard year round.
  4. Sprouts are among the easiest and fastest edibles to grow, and add a nutritious topping to sandwiches, salads and smoothies. Sprout kits and towers can help you maximize your space to grow these microgreens quickly and easily.
  5. Among the biggest problems with indoor edible gardening is lack of enough sunlight. Yet artificial light can grow strong and healthy plants and allow you to position a countertop garden wherever is convenient for you, not just where the sun happens to shine. Indoor kits with grow lights offer a ready-made system to start growing plants, usually with a self-watering feature. A less expensive option is to simply buy lights on your own and position them over pots with soil.

This article sprout ideas in your mind?  You'll also want to check out our feature on the Aqualibrium aquaponic garden.

Got something else you use in your home? Share your experiences with us on the comments section below.  

Feature image courtesy of Jim Lukach

Pulp Free: Soak Up Kitchen Waste For Good With Unpaper Towels

It's common knowledge that the use of paper plates and plastic silverware is wasteful. Real plates and silverware are a staple in most kitchens. But what about other disposable products like paper towels and napkins?

According to the Energy Co-op, 13 billion pounds (6.5 million tons) of paper towels are used each year. That equals out to more than 45 pounds of paper towels per person, each year. That’s a lot of unnecessary waste.

There are many reasons to choose reusable products in the kitchen, besides simply reducing waste that ends up in our landfills. It's time too break up with paper in the kitchen.

Save the Trees

Paper towel roll.

Paper towel roll. Image courtesy of Maggie Osterberg

To make one ton of paper towels, 17 trees are cut down and 20,000 gallons of water are consumed, according to data collected by People Towels. That means more than 110.5 million trees are cut down, and 130 billion gallons of water is used, in the production of paper towels every year. That staggering number should be enough to quiet the naysayers that argue reusable paper towels and napkins increase water use through extra laundry.

Save the Environment

Most paper towels have that nice, bright white color thanks to chlorine bleach, which is not good for the environment. During the bleaching process, chemical reactions occur that produce dioxins, organochlorines and many other toxic chemicals. Those toxins have to go somewhere when production is complete. Unfortunately that means they’re released with wastewater into our rivers and streams, or into “containment” ponds that don’t always do the best job at containing the toxins.

Save the People

In the end, the dioxins released into our water system end up in our bodies. According to the World Health Organization, more than 90% of human exposure to dioxins is through our food, mostly meat, dairy products, fish and shellfish because dioxins are stored in the fatty tissue of animals. This exposure is a huge concern as dioxins can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer.

Fortunately there is a better way. Reusable paper towels and napkins are readily available on the market, and they're very convenient too. It’s even easy to make your own! Check out this tutorial for ideas on how to make your own 'unpaper' towels from things you already have around the house.

If you’re not the DIY type, you can find many great brands of 'unpaper' towels and cloth napkins, like those from Gina’s Soft Cloth Shop. This brand is a great choice because they are made from high quality GOTS Certified Organic Cotton, and they’re serged around the edges for a clean finish.

Unpaper towels by Gina's Soft Cloth Shop

Unpaper towels by Gina's Soft Cloth Shop

If you haven’t already, put switching from disposable paper towels and napkins to reusable unpaper towels on your Green Resolutions list for this year.

Feature image courtesy of Atomic Taco

Cinch Up Kitchen Waste With These 3 Green Household Products

kitchen tools at the table

Kitchen tools at the table. Image courtesy of kate hiscock.

I am an enthusiastic proponent of the idea that we can happily do without an incredible array of things in the name of living an Eco-friendly life, but of course we do still need things.

Being green doesn't mean martyring yourself by suffering without these necessities – everything from basics like clothing, food, and shelter, all the way to the seemingly endless minutiae of random objects that makes our lives possible: pens, tweezers, mirrors, coasters, headphones.

But if we can't do without them altogether, there are often ways we can improve how we acquire, take care of, and dispose of these necessities. There is almost always a greener option just around the corner.

A recipe for waste reduction

Kitchens can be laboratories of living but they can also be wasteful.  Put a lid on kitchen waste with these 3 green household products (replacing commonly used kitchen products).

Biodegradable Garbage Bags

Garbage bags are really bizarre when you really think about it – we buy them specifically to throw them out! Reducing the amount of household garbage you generate by ensuring that you recycle, compost, and avoid excess packaging where possible can cut down on the number of garbage bags you use each week, but the waste you do have will still need to be contained somehow.

This is where biodegradable bags come into play. Rather than being made of plastic, which will sit inert in landfills for thousands of years, biodegradeable bags like those made by US-based ReUseIt bags are made from 100% recycled plastic and state that they biodegrade in landflls within 1-2 years.

Dish Scrubbers

Did your Grandma have one of those cheerful nylon scrubbers always sitting happily inside of its froggy holder on the side of her sink, too? The simple nylon scrubber has been a staple in many kitchens for years, but Eco-friendly alternatives are ready to take its place.

From simple solutions like scrub pads made from walnut shells or coconut coir fiber-based scrub pads to elegant long-handled bamboo brushes with natural bristles the options for plastic-free scrubbing are endless. Plastic-free options reduce waste in production, and due to their natural materials many of these options can be composted after they wear out. See, that's already one less thing taking up space in your (biodegradable) garbage bag!

Plastic Wrap

How did we ever live without it? It can be tough to imagine but there was a time before plastic wrap and disposable ziptop bags, and there can be life afterwards, too! Reusable glass containers are great for leftovers, but when you need to seal a bowl, wrap a slab of cheese, or keep the end of a cut cucumber fresh, I love to use a reusable beeswax wrap called Abeego.

I discovered Abeego at a farmer's market in Victoria, Canada a few years ago and it has been a staple in my (mostly) plastic-free kitchen ever since. Natural cotton and hemp fibers infused with beeswax and tree-resins create a flexible, pliable, reusable sheet that can be molded to fold up leftovers, cover an open container, or hold a sandwich.  Easy to wipe clean and compostable when it wears out after a year or two, Abeego is an all-in-one solution to replacing plastic wraps and other disposable products in your kitchen.

Feature image courtesy of Bryan Lee