Indoor Gardening with a Wynter Touch!
Spring is finally upon us! Look out for strawberries, blueberries, and all sorts of delightful springtime favorites later this year. The frost was light and came late, so many of us gardener and farmer types have already planted our early season crops and will be ready to reap shortly.
But what about those of us who just can’t wait for May? Or for us vegans who struggle to keep fresh produce in our diets during the winter months? I am one of those people and I take to indoor gardening to help the winter months slide by with a little more spice.
Indoor gardening can be an invaluable resource for maintaining crops from the previous year such as herbs, to start warmer-season crops to extend harvests such as tomatoes, and to supplement the diet with fresh produce and oxygen grown right at home.
You can do indoor gardening on your windowsill, under or near a lamp or radiator in the living spaces, or inside of a grow room or tent as a separate unit in the home. There’s no space too big or too small to keep an indoor garden!
I always have a few herbs and succulents in the windows to keep fresh air in my home (especially when the windows are shut for days or weeks during the coldest months), and fresh herbs. My aloe plant supplies gel for tonics, burns, and scrapes, and I use the skin from the leaves for other treatments. Good old mint and basil keep my teas, soups, and other dishes smelling and tasting good and fresh. Lemon basil, bee balm, and catnip are good at shooing mosquitoes away; grow them inside and rub them on your skin before going outside. The geraniums in my kitchen and bedroom leave a lingering scent after every touch. I keep the dried leaves to make my own potpourri and bath bombs.
Between propagating, mix those and other herbs from outdoor gardens by trading cuttings with fellow gardeners and planting seeds the old-fashioned way. Experiment and find what works best for you and what you are looking to grow. Lavender, for example, is difficult to germinate from seed and to propagate from cuttings, so it is worth trying both and being open to buying a full plant if you’re experiencing trouble. The mint and basil families propagate and germinate rather easily, so experiment with them while working your way up to more difficult varieties.
You can grow many edible and medicinal plants inside during the coldest of winter months. Keeping a few plants on each windowsill in every room can be a truly therapeutic experience as you walk from window to window, dropping water and kind words to the plants while inspecting them for dying leaves, new growth, and pests. Every day, after working long hours and fighting DMV traffic (or the Metro) to get home, there is no better dose of medicine than opening the door to a bouquet of fresh scents such as mint, lavender, thyme, and sage.
Potatoes, onions, garlic, and other plants can be grown right in your kitchen for use all year. Onions and garlic have strange growing seasons that can make it difficult to add to an outdoor plot, depending on access and size. Indoor growing alleviates this concern and is a free source of scallions, ramps, and other offshoots of the lily bulb family. Potatoes grow well indoors in a south-facing window year-round and can be an excellent source of fiber and starches in the cold winter months, when farmers’ market prices can get sky high.
February is the time to start most seeds for your outdoor garden. Things like tomatoes, eggplant, okra, and other warm-weather varieties will do well when started inside and nurtured before moving outside. I started quite a few seeds indoors this year with the assistance of a seed swap hosted by THEARC Farm. Keep an eye out for local groups, nonprofits, and gardening clubs that are hosting events and workshops where you can get more information and materials.
To establish my windowsill gardens, I had to identify which windows face south, east, and west for the best lighting. Do this by noting the position of the sun in the windows. East-facing windows will show the sunrise, and west-facing windows the sunset. South-facing windows shed some light all day, with the most during the midday hours, and north-facing windows spend all day in the shade.
Next determine what crops should go where to blend in with your eating and medicinal needs. I am blessed to have east- and south-facing windows, so I plant different herbs, greens, and foods in the windows and keep some growing there all year. Be warned, you may want to secure your pots to the windowsills during storms and windy days. They benefit from the fresh air and strong winds but not when they are blown all over your floor.
I have recently taken on the world of aquaponics, the process of using fish excrement to fertilize plants growing hydroponically. From a kind donation of a fellow urban gardener I now harvest the waste from my two little koi fish and filter it into my indoor hydroponic garden. Inside my tent I have started most of the plants that will be in my outdoor plot in a few months. Lettuce, kale, and cabbage grow in clay pellets alongside common herbs such as cilantro. This system adds a few dollars to my light bill and certainly takes time and skill to maintain, but the result is homegrown food and fertilizer that I can use in all of my outdoor and indoor gardening plots and pots.
Indoor gardening is a valuable tool for farmer professionals and gardening novices alike. It enables us to extend the growing season, experiment with new growing styles, and (more importantly) keep air and produce green and fresh during the wildest of winters.
For more gardening tips, information sessions, workshops, delicious recipes, and products follow the Wynter Gardener on Instagram and Facebook @wyntergardener or email her at WynterGardener@gmail.com.See you next month!