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indoor gardening

I accidentally sprouted roots on a basil sprig, then planted it in a flower pot where it has grown very slowly this winter on a south-facing windowsill.

I’ve reported several times this winter about my answer to cold and snow: I have a small indoor home kitchen garden. That garden consists of two flower pots on a south-facing windowsill, and an occasional canning jar with fresh, young sprouts for salads and breads (I wrote about the sprouts in Your Small Kitchen Garden blog).

In my last post, I reported that I found box elder bugs wintering over in my indoor herb pots. This morning, when I went to water my herbs, I made another unexpected discovery: My basil is in bloom!

Three blossoms have emerged on my basil plant, and it looks as though more are on the way.

Accidental Basil

In October I had put some sprigs of basil in water to hold them after the first killing frost. Those sprigs happened to put out roots. I planted one of the rooted sprigs in a flower pot.

The basil has grown poorly. It got too little light, and the soil was too cool on the windowsill. Oh, and when I took vacation one week, the basil got miserably overwatered, resulting in a massive setback for the plant. Still, this morning I found three tiny basil flowers.

It was a great reminder of the coming springtime. I’m so jonesing to plant vegetables.

 

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I planted cilantro in a pot and set it in a south-facing window. I added a grow light, but did nothing to push back the cold from the window. Outdoors in summer, these plants would be at least shin high. The cold windowsill has slowed their growth; they aren’t even ankle-high.

My home kitchen garden just emerged from the ice pack that has covered it for more than a month. Even with the snow gone, the soil is frozen nearly rock-hard. That’s good, because February shouldn’t be a gardening month in central Pennsylvania… unless you grow things indoors.

In the doldrums of early winter, I grow a few things indoors. This winter, I planted a flower pot with cilantro seeds, and a healthy but small crop of the herb is growing on my basement windowsill. I also planted a sprig of basil that had rooted when I set a bouquet of it in water on my dining room table just before the first frost of autumn (I wrote about it in Your Small Kitchen Garden blog).

My Indoor Home Kitchen Garden is Pathetic

The bottom line: I’ve been a lousy gardener this winter. I put my meager plantings on a south-facing windowsill, which, I’ve explained in other posts (in Your in-Home Kitchen Garden, for example), is a lousy place for plants in the winter—unless you’ve provided extra light and heat. The winter sun isn’t enough for most vegetable plants, and 65 degrees Fahrenheit makes for slow growth; a central Pennsylvania windowsill in winter tends to run much lower than 65 degrees.

I did put a plant light over the herb pots, but the plants must think it’s early spring; they haven’t grown quickly in the cool air on the windowsill. Were I to harvest cilantro now, I’m afraid I’d kill the plants. That’s OK because I know they’ll grow faster as the days warm. In the meantime, my in-home herb garden has taken on new life: several box elder bugs lurk among its leaves.

At Least They’re Not Roaches

Box elder bugs were news to me when I moved to rural Pennsylvania; growing up in upstate New York, I’d never seen nor heard of these critters. However, during my first autumn in Lewisburg, I’d see hundreds of box elder bugs gather on the front of my house where the sun hit in the late afternoon. A few of them got inside each time we opened the door.

The box elder bugs that decided to winter over in my house have found their ways to my cilantro pot. It feels more like a home kitchen garden now that it has bugs.

Living in apartment buildings in Boston, I found cockroaches amazingly unpleasant. However, I quickly became indifferent toward box elder bugs. The few that winter over in my house ignore my food stores, they don’t reproduce in the house, and they don’t scurry into dark spaces whenever I turn on a light. In fact, I rarely see them—and I never see traces of them, though occasionally one flies by or crawls down a lampshade.

I guess the box elder bugs in my house are as fed up with winter as I am. I’m impressed that they’ve found the few food plants I’m growing, and I’m letting them stay. My indoor herb garden feels more like a seasonal outdoor garden now that it has insect critters scurrying about in its leaves.

Please enjoy these other articles about growing herbs:

 

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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.

What’s a Home Kitchen Gardener to do?

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

Lighting an in-Home Kitchen Garden

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.

Heat an in-Home Kitchen Garden

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.

You Know the Challenges…

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:

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Basil will grow happily for you during winter in a pot in your house. When you plant any herbs or vegetables from seed indoors, use commercial potting soil. Bringing soil inside from your yard or garden risks introducing pests that may attack established house plants.

If you have a home kitchen garden in the norther hemisphere, you may be putting it to bed for the winter. At least those of us who live in hardiness zones 8, 7, 6, 5, and lower are dealing with (or have already dealt with) this unhappy truth. But winter is no reason to suspend gardening altogether. Rather, winter provides opportunity to manage simple gardening projects with relatively large returns.

If you don’t yet have a home kitchen garden, don’t put it off until spring. Start now and within four-to-six weeks, you can start harvesting tasty homegrown herbs and vegetables that will help keep you pumped for spring planting.

A Home Kitchen Garden Indoors

There are plenty of herbs and small vegetables that are happy to grow indoors. I poked around for a bit, looking for a good instructional video explaining how to set up an indoor planter. Sadly, most of the videos I could find on the subject started with established potted plants. At this time of year, you’re more likely to be working with seeds.

With that in mind, if you’d like step-by-step instructions for planting herbs in a flower pot, please check out the article, A Very Small Kitchen Garden: Basil that I wrote in August of 2008. My intent with that article was to provide enough detail that even someone who had never before planted anything would be able to muddle through.

Simplicity Overkill

While searching for the perfect instructional video, I came across a thinly-veiled advertorial for a seed company in Maine. This company packages seeds sandwiched between sheets of biodegradable paper. You toss the seed sandwich into a flower pot with soil, water it, and you’ll soon have a small home kitchen garden.

At first, I thought, “silly.” Then I thought it was a good idea for less experienced gardeners who want minimal bother… but it would probably be crazy more expensive than buying seed packs and planting them more traditionally.

So, I hopped over to the web site mentioned in the video and found the seed packs aren’t unbearably overpriced. True, you’d get more seeds for the same money if you bought traditional packets, but that’s no bargain if you use them to plant a single flower pot during the winter. What’s more, this seed company, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, offers a special deal: six “seed disks” (that’s six varieties of seeds), six flower pots, and six saucers for $10.95… a very good price for a sizeable indoor herb garden. Here’s the rub: these sets are back-ordered through late November!

Have a look at the video. It’s a simple idea that certainly has a place for beginning home kitchen gardeners. And, if you happen to buy anything from Johnny, please let them know you heard about them from http://www.homekitchengarden.com. Thanks!

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