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indoor kitchen garden

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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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.

Seeds and Flats

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.

Variety in a Home Kitchen Garden

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:

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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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