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Indoor Winter Gardening Tips

by Emily Petersen, Community Garden & Education Manager

seeds

It’s about that time of year when gardeners are starting to miss that daily meditation of sinking their hands into the soil and nurturing the growth of their own food source. But do not lose hope! There are still ways to get freshly grown produce during the winter months, right in the comfort of your own home. Vegetable container gardening is a cost efficient, easy method of growing indoors. Plus, in addition to providing you with great organic food, plants cleanse your household air and beautify any space. Follow the following tips to start your own indoor garden today:

Identify a location for your indoor garden.

To ensure proper growth and health of your plants, be sure to select a sunny spot in your living space to establish your indoor garden. Many find great success placing a table at the base of a south-facing window to receive sunlight throughout the shortened winter days. If you are trying to grow sun-loving plants like tomatoes and peppers, you may need to add grow lights to your set up. There are a variety of different grow lights available for a wide range of prices. Before purchasing, be sure to do a little research on what bulbs would do best for your particular budget and needs.

Select the plants you will grow.

The easiest, most prolific vegetables to grow indoors in the winter are your basic greens: spinach, lettuce, kale, collards, and swiss chard. These vegetables do well with the limited amount of daylight during the winter months, and can handle colder temperatures (so you won’t have to keep your heat cranked up!) Bush beans will do well in a wide-based container. Root vegetables such as onions, carrots, radishes, and potatoes can also be successful, just be sure to select varieties that will grow to a shape that will be supported by whatever container you choose. Heat-loving vegetables like tomatoes and peppers can also be grown indoors, but as stated above, you will have to pay careful attention to their growth to be sure they are receiving the proper amount of sunlight. Good herbs to try out indoors include basil, parsley, oregano, lavender, cilantro, rosemary, chives, and catnip. You can also choose flower varieties such as geranium, pansy, zinnia, alyssum, marigold, petunia, begonia, and shasta daisy.

Choose your containers.

Depending on what exactly you are growing, be sure to choose a container that will allow enough space for the plant to grow to maturity. Too small of a space can inhibit root growth, keeping the plant from accessing all the nutrients it needs to grow upright and strong. Pay particular attention to the container size and shape if you are planning on growing root vegetables. If you can find round varieties of carrots, small bulbous radishes, and small to medium sized onions, these will be ideal for container versus outdoor growth. In terms of finding a container with good drainage, many stores now sell containers that have a self-watering guard at the bottom which will catch excess water after watering and allow the soil to absorb more as it needs it. If you do not use this type of container, select a style that at least has holes for drainage in the bottom. Just place a plate or bowl underneath the pot to catch any leakage.

Don’t forget to water and observe your plants’ needs.

Watering indoor plants can be a tricky balance. Here is a helpful chart to know if you are either over watering or under watering your indoor garden.

Signs of Over Watering Signs of Under Watering
Wilting from stem towards leaves Wilts along the outer tips of the leaves first
Lower leaves dropping Dry soil
Discoloration Brown edges along the leaves
Plant might stop growing Wilting foliage
Wilting foliage Leaves or flower drop prematurely

Fertilizer and Nutrients

There are many organic fertilizers on the market that can help provide your plants with extra nutrients that may not be provided by the potting soil you are using. As with purchasing grow lights, be sure to do a little research on what nutrients your plants specifically may be craving. If you are a household composter, you can also brew a simple compost tea to help your plants thrive:

  1. Fill a bucket about 1/3 full with finished compost. The size of the bucket you use is determined by the amount of compost tea you wish to make. A 5-gallon bucket works well to make enough tea to use throughout the winter season.
  2. Add water until the bucket is full.
  3. Let the bucket sit for 2-4 days. Be careful not to let it freeze.
  4. Using a cheesecloth or fine screen, strain the mixture into another container. Put the leftover waste back into your compost bin or throw directly onto your outdoor garden.
  5. Add water to the liquid until it lightens to the color of a weak tea (the drinkable kind!)
  6. Apply the compost tea to the soil around your plants.

If you are not a home composter and still want to make compost tea, consider picking up some compost from a local source. You can also buy ready-to-make compost tea kits online or at most horticultural stores and nurseries.

Ready to get started yet?! As with any growing endeavor, allow yourself to experiment with what works and what doesn’t, and have fun while doing it. You never know what new tricks you may find particularly useful. So go curl up with a nice hot mug of cocoa and start planning your indoor garden!

Keepin’ It “Hartford Grown”

How to plant, harvest, and cure your own garlic!
by Emily Petersen, Community Garden & Education Manager

Garlic Planting 10-25-14 022

Garlic is a staple in countless cuisines around the world, adding a rich earthly flavor that gives heart and soul to any dish. Because we use it in so many meals (I know I don’t go a single day without crushing open at least one clove) we often don’t think about where it comes from when we throw a couple heads in our shopping cart at the grocery store. Unlike vegetables and meat which have recently been receiving a whole lot of attention for their sourcing and quality, garlic, for whatever reason, falls beneath this radar for many. Maybe it’s because it is difficult to find garlic in the grocery store that isn’t from China or Mexico. Maybe it’s the lack of awareness that garlic can be grown locally. Either way, KNOX is on a mission to change this habit!

This summer, we harvested 212 heads of garlic planted by our gardeners and volunteers in the fall of 2013. This past Saturday, we planted a little over 20 pounds of garlic at the Mt. Moriah Community Garden at Earle Street. For those who were unable to attend the workshop, here’s what you need to know to try your hand at planting your own garlic at home. Now is the best time to plant in Connecticut, a good 3-6 weeks before the soil freezes. It’s a simple job that will provide you with much satisfaction when it comes time to harvest!

The first thing to do is acquire the garlic to plant. Because we were planting such large amount, we bought ours from The Garlic Farm in West Granby, but if you are doing a personal crop, you can use a few heads that you buy at the store or a farmers market. Just remember to pay attention to the source and quality of the garlic you choose—as they say, you are what you eat!

There are many different types of garlic to choose from, but all fall into two main categories: hard-necked garlic or soft-necked garlic. Hard-necked garlic is the original species from which soft-necked garlics were selectively cultivated by farmers over time through artificial selection. Hard-necked varieties are better for Northern climates since they are hardier. They are also the variety that produce scapes, and generally yield larger cloves. Soft-necked varieties are better for milder climates, do not produce scapes, and grow to maturity more quickly. The variety we chose this year is the German White Hard-Necked Garlic.

When you’ve picked your garlic and you’re ready to plant, just follow a few simple steps:

  1. Prepare the soil where you are going to plant. Remove weeds and stalks of old plants. Add compost or new soil as needed to ensure health and good drainage.
  2. Remove individual cloves from each head of garlic. You do not need to peel the outer layer of skin off of each clove.
  3. With the rounded handle of a hand trowel or hand shovel (just turn the tool upside down) make a hole about 3-4 inches deep.
  4. Place a single clove in the hole, root side down, pointy side up. You can check this by looking at the whole head of garlic. The side that has the roots extending down is the side you want to put in first. If you plant the clove with the top, pointy end facing down your garlic will still grow, the plant will just have to work that much harder to loop the shoot (which comes out from the pointy end) down and around to extend up out of the soil.
  5. Cover the planted cloves. You want them to be about 2 inches deep. Continue planting your rows, at least 6 inches apart on all sides (depending on your space and how much garlic you are growing.)
  6. Top-dress the cloves with compost, mulch, or straw. This will help keep the cloves protected once the ground freezes.

Now, it’s all a waiting game! When spring comes around, you’ll start to see small green shoots emerging from your bed. As the soil starts to warm and these shoots emerge, water the bulbs with about an inch of water per week. Be careful not to overwater. Scapes, or the flowering stalks of the garlic plant, will be ready to harvest beginning to mid-June. Cut these long, winding stems as far down to the base of the plant as you can without cutting any leaves off and use in stir-fries, pesto, or salads. But cutting off the scapes, you are encouraging the plant to solely focus its energy and nutrients on making a bulb as opposed to creating a flower and a bulb. This results in a larger bulb with more cloves!

When the leaves on the garlic stalk begin to look dry and yellowed (usually toward the end of July/beginning of August in Connecticut) you know that the garlic is ready to be harvested. Tug at the base of the plant to uproot the heads, and voila! The garlic is ready to be used immediately. If you plan on storing some of the garlic to use throughout the year, you must first cure. Lay the bulbs out (with all their layers and skin and stalks still attached) on a long table or rack, or hang them in bundles. After 3-4 weeks, trim the stalks to about 12 inches above the bulb, clean off any excess dirt with an old toothbrush, and store in a well-ventilated, dry, and dark place. If you plan on planting garlic again the following year, set aside the largest bulbs for this use.

Happy planting!