Ever long for fresh salad on the boat? But couldn't keep greens beyond a day or so? Think about growing your own!

Fresh From the Garden . . . on a Boat?

Ever wish you had a garden on your boat?  I know I did, but never really sat down and thought about making it a reality.

Carol Watson did.  She and her husband spend summers on their boat — a converted work boat — in Northern Europe.  And she came up with a system that works.  Here’s their blog.

Now, we had several friends who kept a pot of basil on their boat — wedging it into the sink when underway — but never anything more than that.  So I was intrigued about how she did it.

Here’s what she had to say:

I absolutely cannot function without fresh salad.  First year on our boat we had no refrigeration the entire summer, and now only when we have shore power.  So, I quite early on arranged to grow my own, and it seems to work really well for us.

My husband does get a bit obsessive about moving the garden containers around the back deck, so I try to keep the growing boxes smaller and of minimum weight if I can.  I have a couple of plastic storage boxes that I’ve drilled holes in the bottom of for drainage.  I cover the holes with a disposable fiber (not paper) towel, and fill with potting soil.

Ever long for fresh salad on the boat? But couldn't keep greens beyond a day or so? Think about growing your own!To get a jump on the season when we first arrive, I buy a couple of cheap seedlings at the market, and supplement with herbs (whatever I’m in the mood for that year, but I HAVE to have a rosemary bush!), and a few flowers, and just leave them on the back deck.

I’ll also start seeds, often in the plastic trays grocery store meats come in, and transplant them as needed.  The seeds I use are generally referred to as leaf lettuce, but in the States are often called “cut-and-come-again.”  I also use mixes of seeds intended for mesclun or microgreens. It’s been so successful that I start a few trays of seedlings when we get back to the States to finish out the year.

You can use the lids as intended to incubate the seeds and encourage them to sprout a bit sooner, and then under the containers to hold draining water if you want.

I use the leaf lettuces because I can harvest just a few of the larger outer leaves from each plant and have enough for a salad, but still leave the smaller leaves in the center of the plant to keep growing.  That way I can get a couple of months of growth from each plant instead of waiting for a whole new plant to grow.

An added benefit is that other boaters are surprisingly intrigued by a floating garden and we’ve had a lot of folks stop by to talk because of all the greenery.

And, instead of a bulky salad spinner, I follow the French tradition:  I’ve sewn a small drawstring bag of cheesecloth and after I’ve washed the lettuce I put it in the bag and give it a good swing. (Very) short term, the lettuce stores in the bag in a cool area, and is ready for dinner.

Some of this may work so well for us because we’re a motor boat and generally in at least somewhat protected waters, and we have a back deck that’s more than large enough to accommodate plantings – and we NEVER travel in rough weather anyway – so it’s a very stable and roomy platform, not at all tippy like a sailboat.  But it works, so . . . hope it’s helpful.

Ever long for fresh salad on the boat? But couldn't keep greens beyond a day or so? Think about growing your own!And several months ago, Behan Gifford on Totem wrote on her blog about how one of their friends has a salad garden aboard their catamaran, and linked to a post with more details.  It’s actually fairly simple — an over the door shoe rack and a bunch of plastic growing containers.  I think that something like this might work on most sailboats where it can be hung from the bimini, following Carol’s info on starting seeds in meat trays.

So if you’ve ever longed for a fresh greens — or flowers — on the boat, it just might be possible.  Since greens have always been hard for me to store more than a day or two, as they quickly bruise with the motion of the boat even with a refrigerator, I love the idea of just cutting them fresh whenever I want a salad.

Want more tips on starting a garden on board? See Salad Garden, Part 2.

Ever long for fresh salad on the boat?  But couldn't keep greens beyond a day or so?  Think about growing your own!

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  • Maryanne Grady
    Posted at 27 September 2013 Reply

    A great idea!!! Our boat is just not big enough, but maybe someday we will uprade and I WILL have a salad garden on board!!!

  • The Boat Galley
    Posted at 27 September 2013 Reply

    Maryanne — maybe just a pot of basil? Or another favorite herb?

  • Nichola Wright
    Posted at 27 September 2013 Reply

    Glad to see it’s not just me who has a boat garden. We have a sailboat and I have 4 pots with various salads and herbs growing in them. Rocket grows really well, I also have spinach, basil, chives and different lettuces. When we’re sailing the pots go below on the floor in our v-berth with a webbing strap around them to stop them moving around. When we’re at anchor or in a marina they sit out on deck. We mostly day sail so they aren’t out of the daylight for too long. The pots measure approx 35cm x 18cm x 15cm deep so easy enough to move around, with a plastic tray on which they sit and which I can pour water into. My first try at spring onions is just about ready so we’ll see if the pots are deep enough to give a decent onion. All are grown from seed, I’ll set off a new planting every few weeks so that there is a steady crop. Clingfilm stretched over the top of a fresh planting of seeds helps them come up faster.
    They’ve been around the Baltic and right round Britain, although the lack of sunny weather in Scotland meant the crop wasn’t so good that year.
    I’ve had mostly positive comments but also a few negative but I’m the one with fresh salad to eat 🙂
    So far we haven’t had a problem with insufficient water to keep them growing, however we’re heading into the Med now and warmer weather than we’ve had so far so we’ll see how they fare then.

  • Chris Wick
    Posted at 27 September 2013 Reply

    Great to see some good info on gardening on a boat. This is a subject i haven’t been able to find much on. The problems with keeping veggies available and fresh seems to be a big one, especially if you are a liveaboard cruiser.
    The hanging shoe rack idea seems like a great movable garden.
    And Carolyn if you do hear about any more cool ideas on Gardening aboard please shout them out to us.!

  • Dave Skolnick (S/V Auspicious)
    Posted at 05 October 2013 Reply

    Great ideas. I really like the shoe rack.

    We grow basil and chives on deck, stowing them in the sink on short sails and a dish-pan on longer ones. Below we grow sprouts and and orchid (not for eating, just because it’s pretty and the light level is nearly perfect).

  • Jody Fortuna
    Posted at 31 August 2014 Reply


  • Karen Belinda
    Posted at 31 August 2014 Reply

    EXACTLY! Experiment in progress!

  • Melinda Taylor
    Posted at 31 August 2014 Reply

    I’ll try it, but I always thought the salt spray would kill them.

  • Nancy Nazar
    Posted at 31 August 2014 Reply

    I always thought the same about salt spray….But the seaside garden by the takeaway here at the Coffs Harbour Marina is testament that it can be done!

  • Nicholas F. Preller
    Posted at 31 August 2014 Reply

    Were there only animals on Noah’s Ark?

  • Shelley Benger
    Posted at 31 August 2014 Reply

    I just started trying to grow herbs in a strawberry planter. They are coming along well

  • Ellen
    Posted at 31 August 2014 Reply

    I remember hearing that live plants will be confiscated by Customs when you try to enter another country. Is there a way to avoid this?

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 31 August 2014 Reply

      It really depends on the country and, to a certain extent, which customs inspector you get. I’ve heard a few stories about people losing all their plants, but far more about it being no problem.

  • Lynn Brownlow
    Posted at 31 August 2014 Reply

    I’m planning to next year when we move aboard, not sure if I’ll do it when we start getting underway though!

  • Marion Thompson
    Posted at 31 March 2015 Reply

    If you intend sailing to Australia, be aware that you can’t bring in anything with soil attached (PLEASE don’t try to sneak your plants in – you could endanger our whole agricultural economy). Use your herbs before you get here, and buy new ones while here (and keep the receipts so you can prove where they were bought).

    • Alex
      Posted at 02 April 2015 Reply

      What if you use a hydroponic system with no soil? You can grow a LOT of different plants that way, and if the soil is the issue rather than the plants themselves this would seem to be a win/win situation.

  • David Schoenknecht
    Posted at 21 July 2015 Reply

    At the Racine, WI, Farmer’s last weekend a local homeless ministry was producing, selling a great herb garden container crafted from a 5 gallon bucket. Very clever! I think it would make for a great boater’s container garden. See the plans here: http://thesiper.com/pdfs/Bucket%20Instructions.pdf. Let them know on Facebook @Halo, Inc. what herbs would be best for boaters!

  • Debbie Bowen Crawford
    Posted at 13 December 2016 Reply

    I so need to do this!

  • Mundane Charlie
    Posted at 14 December 2016 Reply

    Derek Przychodzki

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