Monday, December 1, 2008

Indoor Gardening!

Here is a copy of the column that I write for the Blue Ridge Leader, in Purcellville, VA:

Many people think that the winter is a time for your garden to sleep, but it is also a time for my indoor garden to flourish. I went from ripping out my tomatoes and saying goodbye to my summer vegetables to planting garlic and a variety of greens on a card table in my bathroom. My mantra for this season is, "when the weather outside is frightful, garden inside.” I am not talking about growing food in a greenhouse, or anything high-tech. You can grow healthy vegetables and greens all winter by investing in a grow light, selecting a variety seeds that grow well inside, and learning techniques for sprouting seeds (sprouting seeds is different than growing the seeds, there is no soil and you eat the sprouts). You can start your indoor garden anytime you get the craving for some fresh vegetables. This year I began mine in November and am anxiously awaiting my first harvest. This small garden won’t fully sustain my family this winter, but it will add some fresh and tasty greens to my dinner routine. It also provides me an outlet to get my hands dirty, enjoy the smell of soil, and savor the taste of a fresh garden harvest. Who wouldn’t love some fresh lettuce or garlic greens mid-January?

It is important to know that not all vegetables will grow inside, and the ones that do won’t grow to the size that they do outside. With that said, you can still have a great variety of vegetables. This year I am growing: Bibb and Boston lettuce, radishes (which take about 6 weeks to develop and are milder than those grown outside), carrots (the short variety), Chinese cabbage (which grows tender, crisp and delicious under lights), beets (which won't grow to the outside garden size but a small bunch in February will do), spinach, parsley, chives, and dill. In addition, I plan to grow some container greens, also called micro greens, which are a mix of vegetables which you do not grow to maturity and you start taking cuttings after the third set of leaves develop . These are a great and nutritious addition to salads, soups, and sandwiches. I am growing a mix of lettuces, chards, onions, and herbs. Another interesting mix combines cress, basil, arugula, endive, escarole, radicchio, chicory, and mustard. I order my seeds from the Pinetree catalog ( and they provide an impressive variety of vegetables, micro greens, and sprouting seeds. Both the micro greens and vegetables grow best in soil (best combination is 1/3 potting soil, 1/3 vermiculite, and 1/3 compost) in 4-5 inch pots or flats. The grow lights should be suspended 6 inches above the plants. Remember, plants under lights need to be left on longer than the sun normally shines. A good rule of thumb is 18 hours on, 6 hours off. So turn your grow lights on in the morning, and shut off before you go to bed. Plants need sleep too.
Sprouting seeds is different because you do not use soil, you do not need sunlight, and your objective is to sprout the seed and then eat it. I use either a glass mason jar with a mesh lid or a sprouting bag (made with natural fibers that provides good air circulation and drainage). The general process is to soak the seeds overnight, and then to rinse them twice daily for about 3-4 days depending on the type of seeds you are sprouting. They can be used in salads, stir frys, and green smoothies. This year I am trying mung beans (crisp taste similar to raw peas), lentil , barley, wheat, and alfalfa (high in nutrients with a delicate flavor and crisp texture). For an interesting variety, go to the Natural Mercantile in Hamilton where you can buy both the sprouting container and the organic seeds in bulk.
So no matter the season, there are always interesting ways to grow your own food. Let your imagination go and be creative! Happy eating.

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