These days, gardeners are in mourning: daylight is short, temperatures are cold, and snow white is the new green. Worst of all, the only place to get fresh fruits and veggies is at the grocery store.
But you can grow fresh produce in winter months—picking herbs and lettuce in January as if it’s July. It’s easier than it sounds, especially on a small scale, and will pay off through spring. All you need is a few gardening supplies, some diligence, and a well-thought-out location.
Grow what you eat
Starting simply is the best approach: Almost any leafy vegetable—or garden herb—will do. It’s best to think in terms of what you can use as it grows. Common varieties of lettuce work best, but any loose leaf variety will do. For more well-rounded salads, consider adding easy-to-raise radishes and carrots. Not only do fresh herbs add color, they smell great while growing. Some herbs to consider include basil, sage, mint, rosemary, parsley, and thyme.
Getting your hands dirty
Most of what you need should be on your potting bench already: containers, soil, and lights. Add in a good location, and you’ll be ready to start.
Containers – Basic four-inch containers have more than enough root depth for herbs, and most vegetables, too. Feel free to start seeds in just about anything: gallon jugs, paper cups, egg cartons, or nursery starter trays.
Soil – Your growing medium is best pure, so avoid dirt from your garden or houseplants and buy a new bag of sterile soilless potting mix.
Lights – Plants grow best when they think it is summertime—that means at least 12 hours of sunlight every day. Fortunately, UV and daylight-balanced fluorescent bulbs are easy to find and affordable.
Keep lights within 12 inches above the plants, raising them as plants mature. Herbs aren’t as picky, but can require more direct light. Bulb manufacturers usually offer helpful instructions
Location – Oftentimes, people put their indoor winter gardens in front of a window to capture as much “natural” sunlight as possible … and later wonder why everything died. Heat loss is the culprit: Windows let in light—and cold drafts.
Ditch the dirt?
Many judge gardening fun by the amount of dirt under their fingernails, but moving dirt around inside the house never earned anyone a smile from their spouse.
Plants raised hydroponically, however, are grown with a water mixture—rather than soil and fertilizer—supplying nutrients. They are generally less susceptible to diseases and the produce can be considered organic, too. One firm has taken this a step farther, with aeroponics, a gardening technology enabling plants to grow in water, nutrients—and air.
AeroGrow produces table-top AeroGardens in a variety of sizes and colors. These devices take the guesswork out of indoor gardening, with some models even alerting you to your plants’ nutritional needs.
The company—associated with that mainstay of gardeners, Miracle-Gro fertilizer— says that not only are AeroGarden plants guaranteed to grow, but indoor gardeners find that herbs and veggies—and spring seedlings—grow faster with this method.
You can choose your own varieties, or purchase seed kits to vary your fresh garden diet—how about seven varieties of fragrant basil for your next batch of pesto?
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