In various seasons, I’ve gathered peas, beans, tomato seeds, dill seeds, and corriander to plant in the succeeding season. This can be a mistake: Often, a commercial variety of vegetable produces seeds whose resulting plants are nothing like the originals… and usually not nearly as appealing.
In my last post, I shared some videos of a home kitchen gardener who used a six foot space along the windows in her sun room to grow salad greens and herbs during the winter. If you’re in a temperate hardiness zone 8, 7, 6, 5, or 4 and you have a sun room to spare, you can have at least a modest kitchen garden all year.
But if you have garden space in your yard, don’t squander all your indoor growing space to produce off-season salad greens. Do some planning now, order up some unusual seeds, and jumpstart next spring’s home kitchen garden inside.
If you’re a novice gardener, your life will be easiest if you take the obvious path: shop locally for seeds and flats (sets of young plants started for you at a nursery) as they become available in the spring. Why flats? Once reason: some seeds are a bit finicky and a nursery might have more luck starting them than you will… by the time they’re on sale in flats, you know they’ve sprout and are healthy.
But there’s another reason that may be more compelling: starting seeds indoors and transplanting them to your home kitchen garden in the spring stretches out your growing season. Plant lettuce seeds in late March, and you may be eating lettuce by early May. But if you plant baby lettuce plants in March, you could have a robust lettuce garden in April.
If you plan to grow cillantro, buy enough seeds to plant every three or four weeks through the season. Unless you’re addicted, only a half dozen plants will supply plenty of seasoning. Seeds you plant in the spring can mature and re-seed themselves by mid-season, and plants that haven’t gone to seed might winter over, depending on how low the temperature goes.
There are plants that might require more than a hundred days to produce their first fruits, but would continue fruiting for another hundred if given the opportunity. At the same time, some plants mature very quickly, and if given a head start they can feed you well and then get out of the way for a second, and even a third planting.
So, if you buy locally and plant according to directions on the seed packets and the information tabs sticking in the soil of your flats, you should do fine. In fact, if you follow this path for all your years of gardening, you’ll enjoy a lot of great fresh produce with little hassle.
Here’s the rub: most gardening stores and nurseries have somewhat limited offerings. At my local garden store, for example, I find several beefsteak varieties of tomatoes, an Italian plum tomato, a few early varieties, and two or three off-color varieties. When I tour gardening-related web sites, I see dozens of varieties of tomatoes I’d never have guessed existed.
You can do this too. Get your hands on a seed catalogue or two or three and visit some on-line seed suppliers. It’s amazing how desperate you can become to grow something different from the local offerings.
If you’re going to diversify your home kitchen garden, you will quite likely need to start seeds indoors before the growing season begins. The three videos I’ve included with this post provide encouragement and insights that can help you develop a plant nursery in your home. In most cases, you start seeds from three to six weeks before you’ll be able to plant them outside. So, if you live in zones 5 and 6, you need to be ready to plant indoors by late February and into March. You may not be able to order seeds yet—or you might not see them until later if you do order—but if you need to move furniture and build shelves before you can plant indoors, get a little head start in the cold winter months.
Please enjoy the videos:
Oregano peeks out from under the first significant snow of autumn. When growing things outdoors is no longer an option, it can be very satisfying to plant an in-home kitchen garden.
Snow fell heavy on my home kitchen garden last night. This morning, every vaguely horizontal surface held an inch or more of light powder. I’m glad I’d already put my garden to bed, and that I’d finished a few related projects. Just last weekend, I planted two pear trees, a sour cherry tree, and two pecan trees and documented step-by-step how to plant trees in a blog post titled New Pear Trees in my Small Kitchen Garden. Now I’m kind of depressed.
Depressed? That might be overstating things. But the passing of fresh produce season is a bummer. Sure, I’ll still be able to buy stuff flown in from Peru, California, and other warmer regions, but none will compare to the produce that grows during spring, summer, and early autumn within a few miles of my house in Central Pennsylvania.
So, I’m turning my attention inside. Depending on your determination and on the space you have available, you too can get gardening inside this winter. To provide encouragement, I’ve dug up some videos that show how one gardening enthusiast used her sun room in the off season to keep the produce going. I’ve included the first two in a series of five videos she produced on the project.
Please appreciate that this woman is very ambitious with her gardening. You don’t need to commit an entire room to your own in-home kitchen garden. What’s more, fancy storage containers, label makers, and other dedicated indoor gardening supplies aren’t necessary to succeed with winter produce.
On the other hand, for most of us, it’s impossible to over-emphasize two fundamental challenges of growing produce while the snow alls:
1. Winter sunlight may not be enough to feed vegetable and fruit plants
2. Many vegetables and fruits grow best in relatively hot weather
Will you need supplemental lighting to grow vegetables in the winter? Even if you have south-facing windows (for those in the northern hemisphere), your vegetable plants may not draw enough energy from the winter sun to plump up tomatoes, peas, beans, or whatever other items you grow. Generally, garden plants thrive when they get six hours of full sunlight each day.
South-facing windows in my basement have an extra-wide sill which is perfect for flower pots. However, the basement is cool, and winter sun isn’t bright enough for plants to produce lots of sugar and starch; I couldn’t grow beans and tomatoes here without supplemental lighting and heat.
Winter sunlight is weaker than summer sunlight. Only plants centered in unobstructed south-facing windows will get the dose they crave. If you add full-spectrum fluorescent lighting, and turn it on from mid-morning to late afternoon, you’ll have much better results than if you rely solely on natural sunlight.
Plant biology slows down as the temperature drops. Some plants simply won’t sprout if the soil isn’t warm enough, and having sprouted, they grow very slowly unless the air is warm. Plants growing indoors in the winter may face two temperature challenges: First, we’ve all become very conservation-oriented, so we keep our living spaces in the sixties (Fahrenheit). Second, when we set up a home kitchen garden in front of windows, we expose them to the least cold-proof places in our homes; it might be ten to twenty degrees colder near a window than it is three or four feet away from the window.
To succeed with an indoor produce garden, provide adequate supplemental lighting and at least some localized heat near your plants. This may mean keeping a single room warmer than the rest of your home, or placing a space heater or several incandescent lights near your in-home kitchen garden.
The first video is three minutes, 20 seconds long. The second video is two minutes 41 seconds. Please enjoy them!
Here are links to other articles about growing vegetables indoors:
Fun with Children and Indoor Container Gardening (Container … – Great ideas for container gardening • Growing an avocado tree from seed (C. DE MAIRE) • Inverted indoor gardening (OhCripes) • Japanese Maples for Containers (Dave’s Garden) • Starting a DIY Vertical Garden (Google / Gardening Tips ‘n’ …
Indoor Gardening Tools – Enjoy Your Gardening Experience With The … – Abhishek Agarwal asked: The purpose of this article is to assess the need for various indoor gardening tools. Tools for indoor gardening are intended for.
How to Grow a Garden » Blog Archive » Vegetable Gardening – To … – Providing adequate sunshine to your indoor vegetable garden without scorching the plants can be problematic, particularly if the windows in your home are not southerly facing. If you are fortunate to have south-facing windows but cannot …
Hone your Green Thumb with Indoor Vegetable Gardening – You also don’t have the problem with garden pests with your indoor vegetable garden, since you are able to control the environment of your plants much more effectively. Finally, an indoor vegetable garden can dress up a south-facing …
Indoor Container Vegetable Gardening Ideas | Cool Gardening Ideas – Indoor container vegetable gardening might not be quite the same as growing the same plants outdoors, but it can be fun to tend an indoor vegetable garden when the snows are blowing and the winds are roaring outdoors! …
Grow Lights to Co2 Grow Rooms made Simple! » Imagine Creating Your … – There is a way around this and it’s just a perfect idea for the health conscious person… an indoor vegetable garden will satisfy that desire for pure, clean, unadulterated, fresh tasting salad or steamed veggies. …
While it can seem challenging to create a home kitchen garden, the basic principles of gardening are very simple. Consider: whole prairies, forests, and jungles, manage to maintain themselves without human intervention. They follow a natural cycle:
The challenge in growing a home kitchen garden is that you’re often trying to get plants to grow in soil or climate that doesn’t appeal to them… or that gives plant-eating insects and other pests an overwhelming advantage.
The simple secret for success with a home kitchen garden is in a single word: knowledge. The more you know about gardening, the more, better produce you can coax out of any garden. Fortunately, with almost no gardening knowledge or experience, a first-time grower can be satisfyingly successful. But any newcomer to gardening wanting to improve their results should embark on an adventure of discovery: find opportunities to learn, and take the knowledge with you into your garden.
Here are some suggestions for where to get started:
Get a mentor—I can’t emphasize this enough. Hang out in a home kitchen garden with someone who’s maintained one for ten or so years, and you’ll become savvy very quickly.
Contact your local Cooperative Extension office—Sounds a little stiff, but these folks live to promote agriculture and gardening (among other things). Many extension offices offer free seminars on planting, composting, and more. There’s a clickable map at their web site to help you find local extension offices and programs.
Read some good books—This is a very low-impact way to become an expert. There are hundreds of books about gardening, some even entertaining to read. Ideally, find books that are written specifically about the region where you’re growing a home kitchen garden. This book store offers many regionally-focused titles.
Peruse at least one seed/nursery catalog—These provide massive inspiration: I always want to expand my garden when I read catalogs. Also, most catalogs are goldmines of information about plants, planting, plant care, crop yields… nearly everything you need to be successful. If you don’t have a printed catalog, check out the Johnny’s Seeds catalog on line.
Follow some gardening blogs—With many blogs and gardening web sites from which to choose, you’ll find some whose approaches and instruction perfectly suit your sensibilities. When you find a blog you like, participate! Leave encouraging comments, ask questions, and buy stuff from advertisements on the pages; a gardener who’s blogging about it will be thrilled to help solve your gardening challenges. I’ve listed a few compelling sites you can explore in the box, Home Kitchen Garden Sites… and if you haven’t yet, hop over to this blog’s sister: Your Small Kitchen Garden.
Participate in gardening forums—Gardening forums abound on the internet, and some specifically focus on kitchen gardening. I’ve joined more than I’ve been able to keep up with, but there’s good information on all of them. Floating a question on a gardening forum quickly teaches you that there are no uniquely correct answers. Answering a question on such a forum can draw ire and admiration. In any case, you’ll learn. The box titled Home Kitchen Garden Forums lists several that I’ve joined. I’m most active in Yahoo’s Veggie Patch. Beware, I’ve seen unfathomably rude behavior on some forums.
I was astonished—and annoyed—to find ripe-and-ready woodland strawberries among the weeds in my home kitchen garden. The woodland strawberries around here are flavorless and dry which makes these volunteers “invasive weeds.” Ripe strawberries in November? Not in central Pennsylvania… until this year.
I planted a salad mix of lettuce seeds in September. Despite several frosts and one or two freezes, there are some beautiful leaves ready to harvest.
My home kitchen garden has seen a particularly mild autumn. We’ve had only ten nights with frost, and none colder than 26F. While the few cold nights killed off my tomato and basil plants, the dill weed still paints a wall of deep, frilly green at one end of my planting bed, and a small lettuce patch planted in late summer is calling me to harvest.
No surprise: There is still oregano. I added one plant about four years ago. Now there’s a five-foot diameter circle of oregano from which I use a few dozen sprigs each year.
For at least two weeks, I’ve intended to put the garden to bed. The last thing I figure to do each season is toss fallen leaves from my lawn onto the planting bed. When my wife put the kids on alert that this weekend they’d rake the yard, I knew I had to end my procrastination. The few things I did:
A few tomatoes are trying to escape the garden. They lay waiting under cover of dandelions, hoping I’ll get careless and leave the rodent fence down.
After lunch today, the kids raked the leaves and moved all of them into the garden. They spread the leaves over all the weeds, right up to—but not covering—the perennials I want to preserve. They also left the lettuce poking through. Most obviously: they didn’t cover the dill; they didn’t have enough leaves to cover the dill.
There is still coriander; I’d hoped it would re-seed itself, but this year it didn’t. Hours after I took this picture, I saw two juncos plucking the seeds off the dried plants.
So, the garden is in bed for the winter. Snuggled under about a foot of dead leaves, the dandelion greens may rot a little, or they may go dormant and enjoy the soft cover. Whatever the verdict in the spring, I know I’ll be digging deep to pull weeds as I prepare to plant my home kitchen garden.
I was surprised even more than by the strawberries to find this critter on one of my tomato stakes. I thought these things flew south for the winter; this one must be waiting for cheap fares.
8oz jelly jars and standard canning lids and bands infiltrate every counter and cabinet in my kitchen. For me, jelly and jam canning season starts with strawberries in the spring and continues with sour cherries, raspberries, peaches, and pears. I use larger jars to can tomatoe sauce and appplesauce. I may try pressure canning next season though I’d more likely can stews and soups than I would plain vegetables.
Are you still looking at a pile of produce from your prolific home kitchen garden? Home canning may be the best way to deal with it. My past several posts have presented videos detailing home canning. We’ve introduced canning terms and equipment, and we’ve discussed both boiling-water-bath and pressure canning.
This post completes the series about how to can. There are two videos embedded at the end of the post that together make up the fifth lesson on canning: Pressure Canning Basics. Equipment for pressure canning tends to be more expensive than that for boiling water bath canning. In fact, you may already have a pot or two you can use for boiling water bath canning. However, if you want to preserve vegetables in canning jars, you must use a pressure canner.
These videos clearly explain the procedures and encourage you not to fear poisoning yourself. If you follow instructions, you’ll find it’s easy to preserve just about any produce through till the next harvest.
Also note: a pressure canner is a pressure cooker. Most of us have never experimented with cooking foods under pressure. Once you have a pressure canner, there’s no barrier to tray pressure cooking. Just about anything you cook in a pot on the stove will cook much more quickly under pressure; you can produce one-pot meals in fractions of the time it takes to cook them without a pressure cooker.
To get started, watch the videos below. Then hop over to the Home Kitchen Garden Store to find a pressure canner suited to your canning needs.
Please enjoy the videos:
I have only a boiling water bath canner. Posing for this photo are apple sauce, black raspberry jelly and syrup, chili sauce, red pepper rellish, tomato sauce, sour cherry jam, peach jelly, and pickled vegetables. Many other jellies and jams, as well as chutneys and apple butter chose to remain in the pantry during the photo session.
If your home kitchen garden produces more than you can eat in a season, then home canning may be for you. My last two posts have been about preserving produce from your home kitchen garden, and have presented videos that clearly explain the two types of canning, and that introduce the terms, equipment, and methodology of home canning.
If you’re new to canning, please read those earlier posts and watch the videos embedded in them. Then come back here and watch this video specifically about the boiling water bath method of canning used for high-acid produce.
When you see how easy it is to can fruits and vegetables, you might want to do your own. Visit the Home Kitchen Garden Store to buy everything you need to get started. There, you can find pots for both boiling-water-bath- and pressure- canning. You’ll also find sets of accessories, lids, pectin (for making jellies and jams), and books with detailed instructions and recipes for home canning.
Please read the item descriptions and user reviews thoroughly before you buy! Boiling-water-bath canners may hold five, seven, nine, or more quart jars at a time. A 21-quart canning pot, for example, can usually hold seven quart-sized canning jars. Pressure canners, while considerably more expensive, hold far smaller loads for the money… but many of them can double as boiling-water-bath canners. I’ve tried to include only products with good customer reviews.
Please leave a comment to share your experiences with home canning, or to point out omissions from the canning pages of the Home Kitchen Garden Store. Also, if you have questions about canning that you’d like to see addressed on this site, feel free to ask in a comment—or use the Contact Us link.
Please enjoy the video:
When it comes to preserving produce from my home kitchen garden, I choose canning for fruits (including tomatoes). I especially enjoy making jelly: it’s incredibly easy to do, it usually tastes better than commercial jelly, it costs less than commercial jelly, and for some reason people who receive a gift of homemade jelly act impressed that a human might actually have made it himself.
Does your home kitchen garden produce more fruits and vegetables than you eat in a season? My last post provided an overview of food-preservation strategies you can use to benefit from the excess. Embedded at the end of that post was a YouTube video introducing key concepts about home canning: storing foods in vacuum-sealed jars.
That video was one in a series about home canning. And, though those videos have some of the most stilted narration ever written, they are well-produced and terrifically informative.
So, please continue your exploration of food-preservation by reviewing the next videos in the series. These explain more about the differences in equipment necessary for boiling water bath and pressure-canning methods of canning. The videos define more terms that are helpful to know when you talk about canning, and they demonstrate the steps necessary to process foods—whether with the boiling water bath or the pressure-canning methods:
When you grow fruit in a home kitchen garden, it’s a good idea to learn to make jams and jellies. I pack pint jars for my sandwiches and english muffins, and 8 oz jars as gifts for school teachers, music teaches, riding instructors, and friends.
If you planted a large home kitchen garden this year, then you probably already know how to preserve the fruits, vegetables, and nuts you grew in it. Or… maybe you planted the garden without thought about what you’d do if it produced more food than you could consume during the growing season? For those who are thinking of adding a home kitchen garden to defray food costs in the coming year, learning to preserve food could become of paramount importance.
Food Preservation Methods
There is no single method of preserving fresh garden produce so that it is as satisfying in two or three months as it is on the day you harvest it. Some fruits will keep for many months when stored in the right environment (cold-storage in oxygen-free containers), but their texture deteriorates and they’re never as satisfying as fruits picked fresh from a tree. Certain vegetables–especially root crops and squash–keep surprisingly well and can last through a long winter… but after lengthy storage, they almost beg you to cook them; textures change and they just aren’t as appealing as they were when you first harvested them.
Popular methods of preserving produce include:
Root cellar—Storing potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips, squash, and similar vegetables in a root cellar holds the produce in a condition quite similar to fresh; the items you preserve this way are most like fresh produce when you later prepare them in your kitchen. Unfortunately, most types of produce won’t keep in a root cellar any better than they will on your dining room table. Root and squash crops may keep for three to nine months when managed properly in a root cellar.
Freezing—Freezing produce retains a considerable amount of a food’s characteristics, and stands as the preservation method of choice for most green vegetables and fruits. Interestingly, freezing dramatically changes the characteristics of most root crops, making the mushy and unpleasant. Leafy vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, and chard are also lousy candidates for freezing, unless you plan to eat them cooked; once frozen and thawed, leaves become very mushy and bear little resemblance to the original product. Frozen fruits and vegetables will keep well from six to twelve months.
This two-gallon pot of applesauce is ready to go into canning jars. My kids will eat a quart of applesauce each week which means I could can 13 gallons a year and it wouldn’t be too much… only 11 gallons to go!
Canning—You pretty much cook fruits and vegetables during the canning process. Consequently, they soften up. In the case of vegetables, canning makes them softer than you might intentionally do when cooking from fresh; there’s no cripiness in a canned green bean. Home-canned fruits have exactly the same characteristics of commercially-canned fruits except that their flavor is exponentially better… probably because you can use fully-ripe fruit at home, and commercial canneries tend to use firmer fruits that won’t bruise easily when running machine processes. So, if you’re used to eating canned pears, peaches, applesauce, and the like, it’ll taste much better if you prepare and can it yourself. Canned produce will last from one to two years.
Dehydration—Dehydration may be the least common method of preserving produce from a home kitchen garden. It offers certain advantages over other methods: Dehydrated foods don’t require freezing, refrigeration, or storage in a root cellar. Bags of dehydrated foods are light and easy to store. When cooked, many dryed vegetables and fruits rehydrate convincingly back into something resembling the original product. As well, semi-dehydration can produce new forms of a food that are just as scrumptious as the original. Consider, for example, raisins and prunes. As long as you keep fully-dehydrated foods dry, they will last a year or more.
Pickling—This method of preservation has the greatest impact on the flavor of the food you preserve. To pickle vegetables and fruit, you add acid—usually vinegar—and, in most cases, salt. Different pickling methods involve canning, or open-barrel storage, but the end result is a product soaked with vinegar, salt, and seasonings. Pickled foods have distinctive flavors and usually serve as side dishes or as ingredients in recipes. Canned pickled produce will last for one or two years.
Harvest Time in Your Home Kitchen Garden
At the end of the growing season in Pennsylvania, I’m in the throws of preserving garden produce. Because frost has killed off my vegetable patch, I’m through with tomatoes… and I’ve already done jellies and jams from various fruits when they were in season. A few weeks ago, I made my first pickled vegetables, and I just put up (meaning, “canned”) to gallons of applesauce. I’ll be canning another two gallons of applesauce this weekend, and, perhaps, two more gallons next weekend.
Even when I’m not using my own produce, canning pickles and apple sauce provides a modest financial boost: the cost of pickled vegetables at the local market is $4 per pint. Mine cost just $1.25 per pint. My applesauce, made with commercial apples, costs about a dollar per gallon less than commercially-canned applesauce, and it tastes about $4 a gallon better (if that makes sense). Had I spent $15 to protect my apples from insect damage this summer, my home-grown applesauce would cost about four dollars per gallon less than commercial applesauce.
Here’s a video that introduces home canning. The narration is a bit stilted, but the content is golden. Please enjoy:
Follow this link: for in-depth information about preserving produce with a food dryer.