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Indoor Winter Gardening Tips

by Emily Petersen, Community Garden & Education Manager

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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!

The Turning of the Seasons; The Turning of the Garden Bed

How to prepare your garden for restoration this winter
by Emily Petersen, Community Garden & Education Manager

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September has finally drawn its curtains and let the beautiful October shine through with the reds and oranges of the majestic sugar maples. Yet with all its glory comes the early whisper of the coming cold season, a time of dormancy and rest for many life forms. The tall sunflowers that stood guard over the Earle Street garden have now served their final role as feed for birds and squirrels. The blossoming dahlias and zinnias that lifted the aisles of the West End garden have begun their heavy-headed descent and the graceful corn stalks over on Affleck Street have turned brown and barren. It’s that time of year that most gardeners are starting to cut back the slowed stalks and prepare the soil for rejuvenation until spring’s first planting.

Putting your garden to rest for the winter is mostly a matter of cleaning up and giving your soil a little spa treatment. It’s a good time to do this now because the weather is still warm enough to get all the pesky remaining roots out of the soil, and there’s still time before the frost to plant cover crops if you choose to. Why should you be sure to prepare your garden bed for winter? Well, if you leave the old stalks of your vegetables in the ground, they can become homes for insect eggs and disease pathogens during the winter. This can cause a whole new set of problems for your garden in the spring. Here are a few tips for turning your vegetable garden bed:

  • If you’ve planted things like carrots, leeks, parsnips, radishes, and turnips in your garden, you may still be able to harvest these well into November. Be sure to mark where they are planted with a stake so you don’t accidentally pull them up as you’re cleaning.
  • Remove other annuals such as your tomato, squash, pea, and bean plants and either compost them or put them in your yard waste.
  • Clear out as many weed as you can and gently till the soil to eliminate any remaining weed roots and harmful insects who may have been trying to build a home in your garden for the winter.
  • To cover your plot for winter you have two options:
    • Add a generous layer of leaves, compost, or manure and mix these in with the soil. This is the favored covering method for raised bed gardens. In addition to providing carbon-based nutrients for the soil, this layer also serves to block out possible air-borne pests and stifle winter-growing weeds. If you choose to use leaves, you might consider covering the layer with a simple netting so the leaves don’t blow away.
    • Sow a cover crop such as winter rye, crimson clover, oats, annual ryegrass, or legumes. Cover crops absorb vital nutrients in the soil that would otherwise be lost due to winter erosion. This is especially relevant for in-ground plots as opposed to raised beds which don’t suffer from too much erosion. The roots continue to massage and break up the soil throughout the winter, increasing its health and aeration. You will till these cover crops into the ground late winter/early spring when you begin to prepare your bed for spring planting.

Many gardeners develop their own special tricks to prepare their gardens for the winter months, experimenting from year to year with what makes their soil healthiest for the next season.