Indoor Winter Gardening Revolution

Winter Garden IndoorsMore and more gardeners are growing inside their homes.

One of the highlights of our Superbowl Sunday — we won’t let on who we were rooting for — had to do with gardening. Our friend, the gourmet gardener, had invited us over for the game. The feast, as it often is at his home, was the best part of the day. But before kickoff, he showed us something he was extremely proud of: a crop of baby greens growing under fluorescent lights hung from the cupboards above a kitchen counter. I started thinking freshly picked salad.

Well, that wasn’t to be. The lettuce in his two grow trays probably wouldn’t have been enough for the seven of us that had gathered to watch the game. And our friend, not the selfish sort at all, probably wanted to enjoy the labors of his work with his wife… who can blame him? But just the sight of those fresh greens bathed in that soft light was somehow satisfying. Forget the snow cover and the brutally cold temperatures outside. Our friend was (nearly) ready to harvest!

Full disclosure: our friend had flavored the roast chickens (he did two!) with rosemary he’d dug up and brought indoors. It was spending the winter on a south-facing windowsill. He’s been pinching from that plant since Christmas. He also had some cherry tomatoes, still green as all get out, under the light where he grew his orchids. Our friend claims his indoor winter gardening activities help him from going stir-crazy in these months when his outdoor garden is covered in snow. We know the feeling.

Now we can’t cite any studies, polls, or surveys, but we’ve noticed a considerable up-tick in indoor gardening interest. Why do we say that? We have a few friends who have begun in the last year or two growing greens and herbs indoors. Some are even trying baby carrots and tomatoes (sometimes stuck in with their orchids). Searching the web for articles on indoor growing, something we’ve done frequently the last few years, shows an increasing bounty of information and a parade of new articles. Most of the indoor gardeners we know are doing it simply, on kitchen window sills, under standard fluorescent light fixtures, and in potting soil they’ve mixed themselves. It’s a veritable indoor gardening revolution!

We’ve frequently suggested in this blog that growing greens and other vegetables indoors requires good strong lighting. Sunlight coming in a south-facing window often isn’t strong enough and certainly isn’t of the duration that will allow plants not only to survive but thrive. The hours of sunlight in the dead of winter, especially in northern parts of the country, doesn’t last long enough to encourage growth. But that doesn’t mean you need to invest in expensive bulbs and fixtures to grow some baby spinach indoors.

One of the breakthroughs in small indoor growing is the use of T5 fluorescent bulbs. They’re wonderful for growing greens, aren’t as expensive as high intensity discharge lamps used by serious growers, and they use less electricity. They’re also great for keeping your seedlings on the grow when you start plants indoors.

The point here isn’t that you need this or that light to have success growing indoors. We want to impress upon you the benefits of winter gardening. We’ve never thought of gardening as something you do seasonally. It’s a year-around activity. And there’s little as satisfying as taking care of plants you’re growing indoors, especially if they’re going to be part of dinner.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to start some of that left over lettuce seed in a warm place in your home and then keeping it under a source of existing light. Now that we’re into February, the hours of available sunlight are only going to increase. And if you’re like us, these beginning steps might lead to more ambitious projects, like growing basil indoors for winter cooking, or even trying to raise some cherry tomatoes. Indoor gardening is also a great project for the kids when darkness and the cold might keep them inside more than they’d like.

You’ll soon be starting seed indoors for planting in the spring. Why not start some greens now that will be ready for a salad about the time you’re just setting the other plants out?

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