Beat winter: Grow vegetables indoors
How to plant and nurture crops of edibles during cold months
Winter weather doesn’t prevent us from gardening, especially when it comes to starting vegetables indoors.
Seedlings often are started indoors, moved outside under cover, and then planted in garden beds when weather permits. But, how about trying your hand at growing food indoors? Yes, it is possible to grow vegetables inside during the cold months.
The biggest challenges of growing edibles indoors are low light and a lack of pollinating insects. But these obstacles are overcome by stationing plants in front of a bright window or under full spectrum lights.
Do not use garden soil! Ask your garden center for its growers’ mix or a potting soil made for our area. As in almost every type of gardening, success is all in the soil.
Containers should have good drainage and be sized for each particular plant. For instance, shallow rooted greens only need 2 inches of soil, but deep-rooted tomatoes need at least 12 inches.
Sunny windows rarely provide enough light for healthy plants. Late winter days are just too short, and the sun too low in the sky for cultivating most plants. However, using a couple of full spectrum lights will do the trick.
Lastly, seedlings do not like a cold draft produced by windows, especially single-pane windows, or heat blown directly from whole-house heating systems.
Lettuce and greens germinate very quickly indoors and don’t need much potting soil. Choose a container that is 2 to 4 inches deep and fill it with dampened potting soil. Finger press seeds into the surface of the soil. Mist to keep the seeds moist and you should see germination within a week. Allow your seedlings to grow at least 4 to 6 inches tall before harvesting the tender new leaves.
Carrots are ridiculously easy to grow indoors. Shorter carrots are the easiest varieties to grow because they need less space and mature quickly. A long window box makes an ideal planter. The key for good germination is keeping the soil moist. Lightly cover the seeds with some damp potting soil to keep seeds moist. Seeds will germinate in two weeks. Days to harvest depends on the variety planted.
Garlic greens have particular temperature needs in order to form bulbs, but they can easily produce a steady supply of spicy greens to use instead of scallions. A container with 4 inches of potting soil will accommodate them nicely. Plant individual cloves 1 inch deep and water regularly. The cloves should show green shoots in one week.
Let them grow to heights of 8 to 10 inches before harvesting; cut off what you need and leave the rest. The best harvest is off the first shoots, but each clove will sprout again with ever-declining flavor. Replant fresh new cloves after the second harvest.
Peppers are best grown in a container at least 8 inches tall. They must be watered carefully, as they like to dry out between watering’s. Peppers need at least 10 hours of light to produce well. The more light received, the zestier the fruits produced. For this reason it is best to start plants indoors and then transplant into your outdoor containers or directly into the garden after risk of spring frost.
Peppers are self-pollinating, but they sometimes need help. In sheltered areas away from wind and bees try jostling your plants to shake pollen from one flower to the next, or try a cotton swab to dust each flower with pollen.
Microgreens probably are the easiest edible to grow indoors. Since these greens, a mix of various greens and herbs like beets, radish, kale, sunflowers, chard and basil, will be harvested as seedlings, they need very little potting soil. A shallow 2-inch deep tray works really well. Fill it with potting soil, moisten, and evenly spread the seeds. Barely cover the seed with soil but press gently so seeds make good contact with the damp soil. Never allow soil to dry completely. Seeds will germinate in a few days.
Harvest when seedlings have developed two sets of true leaves. Use scissors to snip greens at the soil level and you often will see a second spurt of growth. Greens are so tender they melt in your mouth.
Tomato seeds germinate quickly, requiring the same growing conditions as peppers. They will be big plants that need at least 10 hours of sun, so are best grown outside in the garden. When seedlings are 3 to 4 inches tall, transplant them to their permanent pots, or sow directly into garden beds.
Until next issue, I’ll be here at Watters Garden Center helping local gardeners grow just the right seedlings.
Ken Lain can be found throughout the week at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Road in Prescott, or contacted through the website at WattersGardenCenter.com or FB.com/WattersGardenCenter.