Harvesting Winter Bounty
Indoor gardening means fresh, colorful produce year-round.
When it comes to colorful fruits and vegetables, no group is more attuned to their amazing healthy benefits than the gardeners who dedicate their free time to growing such bounty. But what are healthy garden lovers to do when fall harvest is done, and months of bleak, cold weather loom ahead? And eco-conscious gardeners face a double whammy: Not only has the rainbow season of bright red tomatoes, rich purple eggplant, leafy greens, vibrant yellow squash, and glossy white leeks and garlic passed, but the carbon footprint of shipping such produce from warmer climes may harm the environment too much to be worth it.
Luckily, gardeners needn’t despair. Indoor container gardening offers an eco-friendly alternative that translates to a healthy stream of fresh, phytonutrient-rich fruits, vegetables and herbs—enough to carry you through the winter and even set you up with young plants that are quick and easy to transplant outside when spring has sprung.
Going to Pot
Moving the garden experience indoors is easier than you might think. Start with a large pot, three to four times the size of the plants you will be using, with good drainage holes in the bottom. Raise the container enough off the ground that water can flow out the bottom. First put in a layer of broken pottery, packing peanuts or flattened plastic bottles for free drainage, then fill the container with a store-bought mixture that includes compost or composted manure. Since you can control what soil you use, use the very best. (Your plants will thank you!) If you are concerned you won’t remember to water regularly, add soil-retentive crystals—they can be found at any garden center.
With pots in place, setting up a healthy environment conducive to strong growth is the next step. Choose the room inside your home that gets the most natural light and has potential for easy exchange of air. Keep in mind that leafy vegetables and herbs require less light; fruiting plants generally require more light. While many indoor plants will do just fine bathing in sunlight from windows, having a grow light (available at most hardware stores) on hand to supplement ambient natural light is advisable—especially in case of prolonged cloudy spells in the midst of winter.
Small But Productive
With your container and growing environment in place, you’ll need to pick out plants that are capable of growing indoors. Unless you have a large, conservatory-style greenhouse available to you, going with stocky, compact plants is the most feasible idea—they offer the biggest harvest reward without an inconvenient loss of space.
Cherry tomato varieties such as Red Robins, for example, are especially well-suited for growing in the great indoors. Unlike their sprawling, towering beefsteak-type cousins, Red Robin tomato plants only grow about a foot high and require moderate light to bear juicy, succulent fruit. Like cherry tomatoes, small pepper varieties can also be successfully grown indoors, as long as the conditions are consistently warm and bright.
While everybody loves the idea of tomatoes and peppers in winter, other types of produce are actually better suited to indoor life. Root vegetables such as carrots and radishes are fine indoor gardening choices, while baby Boston lettuce and mustard greens can be harvested for their leafy goodness throughout the winter. With these vegetables, an impressive fresh-picked salad is achievable even when it’s cold and miserable outside.
Strawberries can also thrive inside; the “strawberry pot” is an especially effective container. These beautiful planters are tall, with narrow mouths at the top and a series of “mouths” down the sides. They are filled with soil, and with a strawberry plant in each mouth. The plants spill down the sides, so they each have access to sunlight, and the berries are easy to find. A trick of experienced growers is to stand a piece of PVC tubing up the center of the pot, with holes drilled at the height of each mouth—enabling each plant to get its own water.
Of course, not everyone has room for a towering strawberry pot or indoor salad garden. Fortunately, thanks to windowsill herb containers, even those in the confines of a small apartment can embark on an indoor gardening adventure in the wintertime. Herb gardens are simple, easy, pleasantly fragrant and incredibly space efficient. Basil, rosemary, mint, parsley, chives and cilantro are all more than happy to grow on a windowsill, offering cooks the luxury of pinching off a few leaves when needed to add a burst of fresh flavor and healthy nutrition to many dishes.
An indoor garden—full of flavorful, nutritious fruits, vegetables and herbs—can be yours with minimal effort. Plant a rainbow and reap the delicious benefits for a taste of summer even on the coldest winter day.