Friday, June 26, 2020

Guest Blog: Grow Herbs on Your Boat

Captain Rick Moore
on board Sophisticated Lady

Moore has 10 years experience in video and 20 years in sailing. He combines the two loves to make YouTube visions that will knock your socks off. He lives full-time on board Sophisticated Lady, a luscious 50-ft Jeanneau International sailboat. Cruising the Caribbean and taking you there with his YouTube shows. 

Sophisticated Lady

GARDENING ONBOARD - By Rick Moore - Sailing Sophisticated Lady


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Since ancient times, fresh and healthy herbs and vegetables have been used in culinary traditions and medicine. Basil, mint, thyme, lemon balm, oregano, parsley, coriander, rosemary, aloe, ginger, turmeric, tomatoes, chili and spinach are all popular herbs and vegetables that you may find in a regular garden bed But would you expect to find them growing on a boat? These are the plants we have growing aboard our 50 foot yacht, Sophisticated Lady. 

With the aim of becoming self-sufficient, both from an energy point of view and in regards to our food production, we decided to try our hand at gardening. To truly enjoy the benefits of living off-grid, we figured that the next reasonable step would be to harvest our own food. This would allow us to travel offshore for months at a time, exploring the worlds oceans while still enjoy the benefits of fresh food, something not may sailors get to enjoy after months at sea.

With Maddie, a qualified chef as a crew member, there is nothing better than enjoying the aromatic fragrances of fresh herbs and vegetables in our meals. They are also useful for their medicinal purposes, thanks to their antioxidant properties and their richness of vitamins. Herbs help digestion, are anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, diuretic and counteract the actions of free radicals.

Greens are also very important to prevent diseases such as scurvy, (an illness generated by the lack or scarcity of fresh food containing vitamin C), during long sailing passages. Thankfully not something us sailors really need to worry about these days.

But just how difficult is it to grow plants onboard a boat? You might be surprised, you just need a few pots and some earth properly prepared with love: your plants will grow healthy and strong. But it will require some planning and dedication, with challenges that are unique to living in a floating tiny home.

Depending on where you are in the world will also factor into what will thrive and what will die, and this requires a bit of trial and error. It will not be unusual to send a few herbs to their watery graves, especially in the early days. Living on a boat requires patience, after all, traveling at the speed of the wind is not a fast way to travel. And gardening on a boat is no different, it takes time, but if you’re dedicated, you should reap the rewards after a few short months.

In the initial stages, the seedlings will have to be protected as much as possible from seawater. For that reason, we try to grow shade-loving plants like aloe, oregano, chives, tomatoes, chilies and mint, under the dodger (canvas area that protects the front of the cockpit), where they’ll be protected from the elements, sea spray and have less sun exposure. Of course, what makes gardening on a boat more difficult is when you decide to go sailing, especially of you are living in a monohull and sailing at a 45 degree angle. One solution we’ve found is to wrap the pots in aluminum foil, leaving only the plants exposed. This not only contains the soil, but it also contains moisture and prevents the soil from drying out. Another option is to store the pots in wooden crates that can be stored somewhere secure down below. 


Another tip specific to gardening on a boat, is to use pots that don't have holes in the bottom. Saucers of muddy water on a moving boat are not something you want to deal with, especially in rough seas.

If you are in a remote place in the world and buying soil from the supermarket is not an option, ask some locals for some rich soil from their gardens. Most people will be happy to oblige, but remember, you do not want to introduce an array of new critters to your boat, so some people suggest you freeze the soil for a few days to ensure all bugs are dead. There is also the issue that some countries will not allow flora and fauna into enter their borders. Therefore, it is imperative that you do your research on the biodiversity laws before you arrive. 

All of our plants are fertilized with our own compost, created with the organic waste from food scraps. We also treat them with natural insecticides, so as not to contaminate our future foods with chemicals. The irrigation system is provided directly from seawater, desalinated and made potable from our onboard desalination system. Another option is to collect rainwater, which is easy enough to do on a boat by capturing the runoff from things like the bimini and solar panels.

Gardening on a boat is an enjoyable hobby that can be both challenging yet rewarding. Eating a meal of home grown greens while thousands of miles from land, opens up a whole new realm of possibilities for those who truly want to experience a life off-grid!

--Rick Moore

Janet Groene adds:

It's possible to grow a variety of plants in a very small space when you use vertical planters like this one. A little fresh water and fertilizer go a long way with container gardening.

See Janet Groene's latest book, May Misfire. It's Book Five in the Yacht Yenta e-book series by Farley Halladay.  Farley, a widow, goes back to St. Thomas to see what she can learn about her husband's death on board Sea SEAL. She solves a mystery or two and shares a shipload of her galley recipes. Now on Kindle at and also available on other e-book platforms worldwide

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