Whether you view your RV as holiday accommodation and transportation or as your full-time home, growing your own food inside your vehicle is easier than you may imagine. Whether you grow plants to supplement your RV lifestyle living the RV life full time, or simply bring plants from home to take care of them while you are away, in this article, we will give you some tips on how to grow your own food in an RV.
Picking peas and other produce straight from the plant is one of the rewards for RV gardeners.
Why Grow Your Own Food in an RV?
Growing your own food is one of the best steps that you can take to live more sustainably and ethically. Having access to your own fresh food right there in your RV can make you healthier too. What is more, growing your own food in your RV can be a truly rewarding experience. There is nothing quite like sitting down to enjoy a meal prepared with your own delicious ingredients.
How Much Food Can You Really Grow in an RV?
You may be surprised by just how much food you can grow in just how small an area. While you are unlikely to be able to grow all of the food that you need – if you switch to a vegetarian or, better yet, an eco-friendly and ethical vegan diet, you will be able to grow a much bigger proportion of your weekly food than you might imagine. Read on to learn more about making the most of the space in your RV to grow your own food. You can also learn more tips for gardening in a mobile vehicle, and practical matters to make it easier for you to sow and grow wherever you roam.
What To Consider When Growing Your Own Food in an RV
There are three key considerations when it comes to growing your own food in an RV. These are:
- Space saving
Bearing these three things in mind can help you decide how and where to set up your growing systems, which in turn will help you to decide what exactly to grow. Let’s take a look at each of these three considerations in turn:
Space Saving: Vertical Garden Ideas for an RV
When it comes to growing food in an RV, space limitations are obviously the main limiting factor. Of course, if you park up in your RV and camp for extended periods of time, then you will have more flexibility in this regard and may easily be able to set up a comprehensive container garden not only in but also around your vehicle.
Even in situations where you are constantly on the go, however, it is still possible to grow a considerable harvest actually within your vehicle. Many of the crops commonly grown in a vegetable plot or kitchen garden can also easily be grown in containers that can be transported with you wherever you go. You can grow a wide range of salad crops, herbs, and even plenty of other fruits and vegetables.
Another of the key things to remember is that in order to maximize space, you need to think on the vertical axis as well as the horizontal one. This idea incorporates a range of thinking and practical methods known as ‘vertical gardening’. Vertical gardening is all about making the most of the vertical space as well as the ground area square footage of your RV.
Vertical Gardening solutions include:
One of the easiest ways to incorporate a vertical gardening solution in your RV is by adding shelving to walls, cupboard doors and other vertical surfaces. Shelving can be made relatively cheaply, especially if you have use of reclaimed materials. For example, you could make some wooden shelving from old wooden pallets. Where weight is a consideration, you could also consider making shelving using a fine grade mesh or fabric material stretched over framing.
Another way to make use of the vertical space in your RV is to consider creating vertical garden structures that can be hung from cupboards or walls. Such hanging gardens often have a series of pockets which can be used for planting. Purchasing (or making) a fabric shoe organiser and hanging that in your RV, then filling it with plants rather than shoes, is one way to get started.
Another idea is to create a wooden framework with wire loops that can be used to support a series of plant pots. Likewise, you could use a series of hooks to hang a range of containers, using the same principles as the hanging baskets that you see outside many homes.
One other possibility are suction pads, which can be used to affix lightweight containers and plants to windows or other vertical surfaces.
Those looking for space-saving ideas in an RV could also consider creating built-in containers for food growing. Placing built in containers in the under-utilised corners of kitchen space worktop, for example, or in the area below a skylight. Creating a hanging shelf, for example, below a skylight, could allow you to create a small solarium – sort of like a greenhouse. This could be an ideal spot to germinate your seeds.
These are just some of the many ideas you could consider.
This vertical garden created from plastic bottles is another vertical gardening solution that could work just as well in an RV as outside in a garden.
Mobility: Storing & Moving Plants in Transit & When You Stop
Of course, in addition to thinking about where you will grow your plants, you will also have to think about the implications of the fact that you are growing plants in a moving vehicle. The fact that you need to be mobile makes growing food a in an RV a little more complex than growing food inside a regular home or garden. However, while there are some challenges, these challenges are generally fairly easy to overcome.
Considerations surrounding mobility include:
- Legal considerations and restrictions in transporting plants and organic matter. (Be sure to check into the constraints involved in moving plants over state lines etc…) The laws and restrictions will depend on exactly where you live, and where you plan to travel in your RV.
- Weight issues. While you may be able to find space for plenty of containers, it is important to consider how much these will weight when filled with soil and water. Make sure that you take the weight of your extra cargo into account when planning for fuel, setting tire pressures etc…
- The risk of making a mess should you have to brake sharply, or when cornering. When preparing your RV garden, it is important to make sure that all your plants and containers are secure and will not tip over or fall off during transit.
Making sure plants are safe in transit can be as simple as stowing a range of containers in the base of your shower, where they will keep each other upright and will not make a mess that is difficult to clear up. Smaller containers could also be stowed in a sink during short journeys.
You can also take measures to make sure that your plants in pots are securely held in place.
For example, if growing on shelving, you could consider making holes in the shelves to securely hold each pot in place. You could also consider screwing down external containers into which draining pots can be placed. Hanging containers should all be securely tied and affixed in place while you are on the road. Vertical gardens with pockets should hold your plants and pots in place – just make sure the pockets are deep enough to prevent the plants from ‘jumping out’ on bumpy roads.
You could also consider towing a mobile RV garden behind you, as in the video below.
Practicality: Sowing Seeds & Maintaining Your Edible Garden in an RV
In addition to thinking about how to make the most of the space, and keeping everything secure while you are on the move, there are also a number of other practical elements to consider when you grow your own food in an RV. Thinking long term can be crucial, especially if you are prepping for an emergency scenario. Some considerations include:
Seed Storage in an RV
Creating a sustainable food production system in an RV is about more than just sowing a few seeds and watching them grow. You can also plan for the future and create a growing system that can continue to feed you and your family over the years to come.
One way to make your growing system more sustainable is to consider collecting your own seeds from at least some of the plants that you grow, to plant the following season. In an RV, where the temperatures can fluctuate dramatically, storing seeds can be tricky. Making sure that you have a fridge suitable for seed storage could help make sure your seeds will be viable when you need them.
Sowing Seeds in an RV
Growing food plants from seeds is the cheapest way to get started. But in order to germinate and grow seeds successfully in an RV, you need to make sure that you consider:
- Light needs. Where sunlight it not sufficient (for example, in temperate zones during the winter months), you can still grow food – but you may need to employ grow lights in order to do so successfully. LED grow lights can be an inexpensive yet effective solution.
- Water needs. If you are off-grid, water supply can be severely limited. Harvesting rainwater in your RV is the best way to make sure that you always have enough water to keep plants happy and healthy.
- Fertility needs. Plants in pots and containers will not grow indefinitely without using up the nutrients originally supplied. When you grow food in an RV, you will need to think about how you can replenish the fertility in your pots and containers over time. One great way to do this is by using food waste to create your own compost, which you can use to top up your pots and containers. Another way is to create liquid plant feeds using weeds, store cupboard goods, or compost tea.
Choosing Edible Plants To Grow in an RV
Quick growing lettuces and other cut-and-come-again leaves can be grown just about anywhere – including in an RV.
One you have established how and where you will grow your food in your RV, it is time to think about which plants you will grow. Of course, in order to choose which plants to grow you will need to have a basic understanding of the needs of each of the plants you are considering. You will need to know:
- The temperature required for each option to germinate and to grow.
- How much space each plant will require at each stage of its growth. (How large a container each one will need, or how many of each you can consider placing within a certain container.)
- When seeds for each plant should ideally be sown, and how long they will take to reach the point of harvest. (Remember, making the most of the space in your RV is not only about the physical space, but also how the space is used through time.)
It can also be helpful to have a general appreciation for which plants will grow well in containers together. Plants can be grouped according to their general sunlight, fertility and water needs. However, companion planting is also about understanding how certain plants can benefit each other in a range of other ways.
Plants that do well in the same containers include:
- Leafy salad crops such as lettuce, Asian greens, mustard, pea shoots, cress, chard and spinach.
- Mediterranean herbs that like dry, sunny conditions such as rosemary, thyme and marjoram.
- Small carrots and spring onions. (Each of which repels pests attracted to the other.)
- Tomato plants, basil and oregano. (The herbs are said to be beneficial to the tomatoes in several ways, and work well when grown together as well as on the plate.)
Of course, when choosing plants to grow in an RV, it is also important to think about the things you actually like to eat. Your own tastes should also most definitely come into play.
By now, you should be inspired to grow your own food in an RV. Why not give it a go and see how you get on?
Elizabeth Waddington has an MA from St. Andrews University and a Permaculture Design Certificate. She is a green living consultant, with a passion for sustainable travel, permaculture and the natural world. She lives in rural Fife, just north of Edinburgh, close to the Firth of Forth on the east coast of Scotland.
No stranger to RV travel, Elizabeth has travelled all over Scotland, the UK and beyond in search of natural wonders in her RV. Her camping adventures have taken her to the Grand Canyon, up the Pacific Coast of the US, to Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Tetons and to explore the wonders of Utah. She has travelled extensively in the Pacific Northwest, and around New England. In Europe, she has taken trips through much of the western part of the continent, travelled up to Norway, and down through Romania and Bulgaria to Istanbul. She looks forward to further eco-friendly adventures.