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Growing a Winter Garden

winter garden

As the winter months are past approaching it can be a depressing time for many gardeners. They are now forced to clean off what is left of their plants, get everything packed away, and get the snow shovels out. The growing season is now passed, the freezer full from the summer, and all you can do is count the days until spring right? I mean after all once the temperatures dip into subzero temperatures nothing is going to survive. Well your right, nothing will survive, outside that is. So many people overlook the fact that plants don’t have to be grown outside. Now if you’re like me you love the taste of fresh produce. Sure you can go the grocery store and buy some lettuce, half red tomatoes, and other “fresh” vegetables. However, the fact of the matter is you don’t have to!

Think about what you have in your garden. How many of those crops, the ones you can’t preserve could you grow inside. Let’s see. There’s lettuce, spinach, tomatoes (yes tomatoes), radishes, and all kinds of herbs. You’ve probably got all your broccoli and cauliflower in the freezer anyway by now. If not, unfortunately you’ll probably have to wait until next year for those. Unless of course you have a greenhouse and then your options are wide open! For the sake of argument let’s say you don’t have a greenhouse.

How should you manage a garden in your own home?

You’re first going to have to decide what is going to be the most economical for you. If you have a large amount of space then you can grow a wide variety of things. Otherwise, if you are limited on space you should limit what you plant to just your favorites.

Here are some guidelines that you should take into consideration:

  1. How much space are the plants going to take up?
  2. What do I have for natural light?
  3. If I don’t have natural light can I put a grow light in?
  4. What will I use the most of?

Now that you have thought about those few things next you should evaluate your plant options. Try and choose vegetables that are specifically designed for small environments.

There are two main ways that you will be able to produce a winter garden:

  1. Pots and container gardening
  2. Hydroponics

Potted plants are a great way for anyone to get started with growing their own winter garden. They are relatively cheap and readily available all season long. However, if you are more motivated and really want to take this seriously you should look into trying hydroponics. Hydroponics is a method of growing and sustaining plants in a soilless medium. Often times the plants are sustained with water filled, with the required nutrients for the plants to grow and produce. You can find some great literature on the subject by following the link below.

Getting Started with Potted Indoor Gardening

Right now I’m going to focus mainly on growing some indoor plants in pots. You can choose to plant salad greens, herbs, or vegetables.

The first topic I’m going to cover is how to grow your own salad in a pot. You can do this from seeds or plants, and enjoy them all winter long.

Great options for growing salad greens are:

  • Leafy lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Beet Tops
  • Endive

For salad plants choose a large shallow dish-like pot. This will give you the needed space for planting multiple plants in the same pot. Make sure that the pot has drain holes in it, or some method for the water to escape (you may want to place a dish under it to catch any excess water). Next, just fill it with a high quality potting soil. Lastly, plant your seeds or plants! Most salad type plants grow in a short amount of time. Therefore, seeds are a great option. Yes it takes a little longer, but try and think of where you’re going to obtain plants right now. Exactly, they’ll be hard to find. So start them sooner than later. In a month or so you’ll be rewarded with a fresh salad bowl that keeps on giving. For continuous plants, start a couple of salad pots each a couple weeks apart. That way when you pick one you’ll have another one ready to go!

Vegetables are another great option to plant during the winter. No you’re not going to be able to grow your giant tomato plants or your zucchini. Face it you’ve had enough of that for a year anyway right? Instead pick some vegetables that are smaller, don’t keep well, and you can always use.

A couple great options for vegetables are:

  • Radishes
  • Tomatoes (only the container varieties)
  • Strawberries (again only the container varieties, I know they aren’t a vegetable)
  • Green Beans (they are always better fresh)
  • Virtually anything else that is a short season small vegetable

Again, for indoor growing try and choose a large shallow pot. They increase the surface area, and are so much lighter if you have to move them. Next plant your seeds or plants. You might be able to find some container plants in special mail order catalogues that will be available year round. If not plan ahead and get them during the summer months. Just bring them indoors when it starts getting cold. Now keep in a warm and lighted location. If you are using a grow light it is best to keep it on a timer. This will replicate that natural light cycle. Water and take care of them. After a while they will start producing just like they would in your garden!

Lastly, one of my favorite things to grow inside is herbs. They are great anytime of the year and they are always better fresh. Herbs are an ideal plant because many are naturally compact in size, they produce a lot of foliage, and can be easily cultivated in pots. For some of the top ten herbs you can refer to my previous post. However, a good place to get started is to think about what you use the most and plant them.

Here are some great herbs for you to plant indoors:

  • Basil
  • Thyme
  • Chives
  • Coriander (Cilantro)
  • Mint
  • Parsley
  • Oregano

As always choose a pot suitable for what you are planting. I like to use a shallow type with a wide opening. Choose varieties and plants they tend to grow busy instead of tall. You can plant these herbs right from seed if you wish. Since the foliage is the main thing being used, there is no need to wait a long to before you start using them. You can also be creative when choosing pots. Herbs grow great in a windowsill or extra shelves you may have in your kitchen. Use things like old coffee cans or soup cans. These can serve as wonderful decorations to your home and also add a touch of summer.

When growing any plants inside next to a window make sure you rotate your pots about once a week. Plants have a natural tendency to grow toward the light. This often times causes them to lean. By rotating your pots they will constantly be leaning a different direction toward the light. Water your plants about once a week or as needed and enjoy your bountiful harvest from your customized winter garden!

To see some other creative ideas on what to use for pots and watch some videos check out my page on container gardening here.

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