No one knows better than Canadians, how long and cold winter can be. As much as we like to complain about the heat and humidity of our fleeting summer months, winter seems to stretch out for eternity. For those of us with a green thumb, the summer months never seem long enough. Thankfully, there are creative ways to bring your garden indoors when the ground is covered with snow and frost.
Towards the end of the fall season, while we scramble to finish all the gardening chores, consider migrating somewhere warmer: inside. Our heated homes provide the perfect growth conditions for a wide range of vegetables. With some potting soil, containers and direct sunlight, you have everything you need to keep plants alive and thriving through the winter. What’s better than picking fresh produce off your kitchen table in the dead of winter? It’s easy and simple to get started – but you first need to know which vegetables have the greatest success. Consider lettuce, kale, cabbage, arugula, tomatoes, peppers, beans and herbs, to name a few.
Lettuce is incredibly easy to grow, as well as very hardy, which means you can grow different types of lettuce in a simple window box on a sill or on a table near a sunny window. Get a packet of mixed cut-and-grow-again lettuce seeds, fill a planter with soil, and plant the seeds according to the packet’s instructions. With a little luck and patience, you should see sprouts within a week, and within a month, you’ll have fresh lettuce leaves to put into salads or to use as garnish.
Beans are easily grown indoors and work well stretched over twine on a canvas frame, secured to a window. You can also try sticking long bamboo poles into the pot of soil and leaning them against a wall.
Herbs are a welcome addition to home-cooked meals and easy to grow – rosemary, thyme and oregano, which do well in window boxes, along with cilantro, winter savoury, and chives. In reality, the possibilities are pretty open if you invest time, patience, and some direct winter sunlight.
While you’re getting busy inside, don’t forget about the outdoor plants that need to be brought indoors for the long winter ahead. “When you’re winterizing your garden, lots of plants can be brought indoors, especially tropical ones,” says Cathy Commisso, of Hamilton’s Satellite Gardens. “For instance, banana trees, Birds of Paradise, dracaena, will all grow and thrive inside all winter, and will be ready to go out again next spring.”
Commisso also suggests planting a variety of hardy new plants in the garden before the snow flies. “There are lots of fall plants coming out right now that you can plant and they will last halfway through the winter before they die off,” she says. “Fall Mums and grasses in colourful burgundies, yellows and oranges. They’re all great for fall. Perennial grasses grow year after year and look amazing. Kale and cabbage will last a long time and make everything look great for the fall season.”
When indoors, all plants need a minimum amount of light to thrive, so it’s important to place vegetables according to their light requirements. A sunny southern window may provide enough light to support vegetables with a high light requirement, but you can always add grow lights for compensation or choose veggies with lower light needs to ensure good results.
Generally, leafy vegetables need much less light than root vegetables, while fruiting vegetables like tomatoes and eggplants need more light for success. Sprouts and edible fungi don’t need a lot of light and do well in garages or basements.
Whatever you attempt to produce this season, flexing your green thumb and trying your hand at an indoor garden is sure to provide lots of satisfaction.
by Allison Dempsey
Hamilton’s Satellite Gardens
Harper’s Garden Centre
Hamilton Community Garden Network