Summer’s Bounty, Year-Round
Written by Lana Winter
One of the easiest ways to grow food indoors is to sprout seeds and beans on your kitchen counter. For most of us, the kitchen is the warmest room in the house, and since sprouts thrive best in a warm environment, this is probably the best route to take as a first step to growing edible plants inside your home.
Your first step can be to decide what kind of sprouting you’d like to do, and for what purpose. Do you want additional protein? Best to sprout beans like mung or adzuki. You’d like to add some extra green crunch to salads and sandwiches? Go for alfalfa, radish, cress, sunflower, or broccoli.
A quick web search can lead you to sprouting seed suppliers in your area, and the items you’ll need are available everywhere. (You don’t need to get yourself any kind of fancy equipment: you just need some glass jars, netting, rubber bands, and water.) Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds website, which has comprehensive How-To guides to growing sprouts and micro-greens, is a great resource and has fun instructional videos posted on it to help you get started.
If you’re feeling a bit more ambitious, you can try to grow culinary herbs, leafy greens, squashes or nightshade plants as well. For these, you need a room that is both warm and has a great deal of sun exposure: a south-facing bay window would be ideal, but any window that allows in a great deal of warmth and light throughout the day would work. Plants need a lot of light to grow, and though some herbs may thrive in a shady environment, they’ll need as much light as they can get to grow properly in winter. Your plants should be grown close enough to the windows for maximum light, but should be kept away from the window pane itself, lest they catch drafts and wilt from the cold.
I’ve had success using old aquariums as mini-greenhouses, and if you have access to one or two of them, I highly recommend going this route. The glass allows in a great amount of light, and the enclosed atmosphere keeps the plants nice and toasty as they grow. Just make sure to keep the plants well-watered, as that kind of closed environment can also accelerate dehydration.
You can find instructions on how to convert an aquarium into a small greenhouse here: http://www.ehow.com/how_4893957_aquarium-greenhouse.html
Hardy Mediterranean herbs seem to be the easiest to grow indoors, probably because they’re a bit harder to kill via neglectand/or mild under-watering. Rosemary, thyme, savoury, sage, oregano, and marjoram are some of your best bets in this regard, and they pair gorgeously with local root vegetables and game meats for hearty winter fare. Being able to add newly-picked, fragrant rosemary and thyme from your window-garden to a rich winter stew is a beautiful experience, and even just bruising some of the plant leaves will fill the entire room with their scent.
I’ve also had great success growing basil, sorrel, cilantro, parsley, chervil, arugula and mint, but if you’re going to grow any variety of mint, ensure that it’s in a pot of its own unless you want it to take over and choke everything else in your mini greenhouse.
Hardy leafy greens like kale also do remarkably well in these greenhouses, and apparently various lettuces and greens like spinach and chard also grow well, but not having had any experience growing them myself, I can’t vouch for them. Yet.
Another growing method is in upside-down pop bottles, which is also the best way to grow tomatoes and peppers inside in the cooler months. You may have seen adverts for these kinds of planters ranging in price from $20-$50, but you can make your own using recycled 2 Litre pop bottles.
How-to instructions can be found here:
Once your seedlings have grown to about 6 inches in height, you can transfer them to the upside down planters. Using this method, I have kept fresh basil growing in my kitchen all winter long. Habanero and jalapeno peppers grow very happily upside-down, as do Roma and cherry tomatoes. I’ve also used this technique to grow cucumbers, squash, eggplant, watermelon and zucchini outdoors by hanging the containers from fences, but growing them indoors would be a new experience.
Remember that in order to bear fruit, these plants will need to be pollinated. Unless you want to cultivate a bee colony to share your living space, this will have to be done by hand, either with a cotton swab or a small, clean paintbrush. Supplements such as compost tea or a store-bought nutrient mix for edible plants are excellent to keep your soil-grown plants happy and healthy, and eating these vitamin-rich bits of green goodness can help boost your health over cold/flu season.
Growing green foods in your own home over the winter isn’t just beneficial to your physical well-being, but also great for youremotional and mental health as well. For people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or even those who just dislike the grey bleakness that the colder months can bring, having a living space that’s full of lush greenery from which you can pluck handfuls to eat can be amazingly comforting. Growing herbs like lemon balm, mint, and chamomile gives you the opportunity to have fresh herb teas anytime you like, and the scent of these fragrant little plants can improve moods exponentially.
Happy growing, and if you happen to grow more than you need or can use effectively, please share generously with others!