Indoor Winter Vegetable Gardens, by Kate in Colorado

Wednesday, Oct 6, 2010

Indoor Winter Vegetable Gardens, by Kate in Colorado

The first cool night of the almost changing season gave the squash plants a shiver and they curled their big leaves upon themselves as if to find protection.  I wait for this moment in the eternal gardening cycle to begin preparing my plants and myself for the “indoor” gardening season. You see, I don’t let the thought of thirty degree days or fear of the blowing snow that is Colorado keep me from enjoying the, excuse the pun, fruits of my gardening labor.

With the looming price hike in food and the uncertainty of the times I am comforted with the knowledge that I’ll be picking fresh greens, tomatoes, peppers, beans, and herbs right in the comfort of my living spaces. No, I don’t have a greenhouse. So I thought I’d share a little information of how you too can enjoy the benefits of fresh produce all years round without a greenhouse or sun room.

I live in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, so lest you think I have great growing conditions, know that indoor gardening can be challenging.  But, I feel it is a mandatory skill set to learn.  Not only do you have the benefits of fresh produce at a time of year the grocery stores charge a kings ransom for a bunch of scallions or a bit of radish, you will have the ability to augment meals if we run into TEOTWAWKI during winter.

There are a few basics you must have to be successful and you must practice these plant husbandry skills in order to reap any rewards.  Practice is critical as you must understand the growing parameters of the plants you choose and where in the house you will be gardening for best results.

First, examine you home for the best plant locations.  Good lighting is critical.  Without good direct light your plants will grow long and spindly or “leggy”.  If a plant must go searching for light for the photosynthesis process they won’t have the energy to grow properly, let alone set fruiting bodies. I am fortunate in having large south facing windows in three rooms.  I also augment with grow lights, so when I decide where certain plants will spend their winter I set up the lighting before I place the plants. It is easier to get the area ready before you place the plants. Some of my plants are in the topsy turvy planters so I set the lights close to the floor pointing upwards. The plants are suspended on chains held up with hooks in the ceiling. Remember plants grow toward the light.  I think it is very important because some plants hate to be moved around and will be a little temperamental if jostled around to find better lighting.

Think about temperature fluctuations.  We keep our house at 60 degrees during the winter. Yes, that’s really cool.  We have hot water heat and I can adjust the “zones” at will and during the day I turn up heat in the rooms that I will be working. I cluster various plants that need extra warmth at night like tomatoes and peppers together in a room.  Some veggies like cool temperatures like lettuces, green onions, and peas.  These are grown in a cool zone.  If you heat with wood be careful not to place plants too close to the stove as the dry heat will suck the moisture right out of them. You must also watch the temperatures in front of your windows and e careful that the plants don’t get overheated during the day.  If they do, they will have a hard time with water usage and leaf burns.  A window shade is a good idea in case you have to moderate the solar gain through windows.

Next I prepare the pots for the plants.  If you are moving plants from the garden you will need good size pots.  Most plants need several gallons of augmented soil to have plenty of room for root expansion.  Make sure they are scrubbed clean and rinsed in a little bleach water.  After washing and rinsing the pots, I give them a good dose of sunshine to dry them out well.  Place a layer of clean small rocks in the bottom and fill about 2/3 full with garden soil and compost.  They are now ready for your plants.  If the planters are very large you should do the dirt filling in the place where the plants will grow.  The hernia you prevent from lifting all that weight will be appreciated! 

Next I select the plants I will be transferring.  Use your best stock.  I normally transfer tomatoes and pepper plants.  The rest of my garden I start from fresh heirloom seeds, but the tomatoes and peppers take too long to grow so I take advantage of the summer’s growth.  I check the plants for insects and then wash the leaves with a little soapy water and a good rinse.  I then carefully cut back the plant by about 1/3.  This will help the plants root system as it struggles to re-establish itself in its’ new location.  Dig the plants out with a generous root and soil ball and take it to its’ new “home”.  Carefully “tease” the roots to untangle them a little.  Don’t be rough. Just open the spaces to help the roots set out new “feeder” rootlets. Open a hole in the planters soil and water the hole generously and place the plants and place the soil the around the entire plant, tamping the soil lightly.  If the plants are tall, I stake the plants at this time. And carefully tie the plants as to not constrict the stalks.

The choices for your other plant varieties for you garden are endless.  I select fast growers like several types of greens, bunching onions (green onions), green beans, kale, and herbs.  All of these varieties are started in two week intervals throughout the winter. This will lengthen the growing “season”. Just follow the planting directions carefully for each variety.

Gardening indoors takes patience and dedication.  The plants need to be tended frequently.  I mist my plants every day because the humidity in my location is very low. I use a water meter to carefully determine the plants water needs.  Don’t “guess” about soil moisture or fertility.  The inexpensive meters that are available will take all the guess work out of keeping the soil in good condition.  Your plants will thank you by the best productivity possible.

During the winter I make what I call “instant compost” by taking vegetable scraps and place them in a blender with lots of water and liquefy them. I let it settle and then use the water on the top as a fertilizer for the plants a couple of times a month.  I also check frequently for white fly, aphids, and spider mites.  Use appropriate insecticide only if the infestations are severe.  I usually wash any area affected with soapy water and seem to be able to control insects before they get out of hand.

You might ask why I go to the trouble of growing food producing plants indoors because of the effort involved.  To me, the most important reason is that it is a skill that I might need in the future.  What if I had to produce food in the safety and privacy of my home during TEOTWAWKI?  I know that I can, because I have practiced the skill.  Also, my plants teach me patience, perseverance, and observation skills.  I also teach my grandchildren the joys of gardening year round and show them the simple pleasures of nurturing dependent life forms.  There is nothing that gives a person hope for the future more than harvesting delicious food while the snow is blowing sideways during a storm!

I urge you to think about trying your hand at winter gardening this year.  There are many books and periodicals available to teach you all the skills you need to succeed. The most important lessons of all will be the joy of adding a skill you can use the rest of your life  


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