From the Ground Up: Bringing the vegetable garden indoors

Courtesy photoExtend the growing season by bringing the garden inside for the winter.

When cold weather looms, many vegetable gardeners do what they can to extend the growing season: cover tender plants with floating row-covers, put straw or other mulch over root crops, and plant a “fall garden” of cold-tolerant varieties to improve our chances.

Many books have been written about getting more our of the garden during the cold months, but now a new book, “Indoor Kitchen Gardening: Turn Your Home Into a Year-Round Vegetable Garden,” takes winter growing in a whole new direction — indoors!

I want to point out that “kitchen gardening” doesn’t mean that all the plants will be grown in the kitchen. The term “kitchen garden” describes a garden that provides food for a household (as opposed to field crops for livestock, or for eventual sale). What author Elizabeth Millard has done is simply move the kitchen garden indoors — to the basement, living room, dining room, bathroom and yes, even the kitchen.

All you need are the same essentials you need for growing food outdoors: soil, water, light, air and seeds, along with some basic know-how, a plan for what you want to grow and where you’ll grow it, and how to deal with pests, should they find your indoor plants. Willingness to experiment is also important.

Millard, who is also a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farmer in Minnesota, is quick to point out that while indoor gardening eliminates some of the challenges of in-ground growing, it shares some of the same pitfalls as well.

Just as with an outdoor garden, your indoor garden needs a plan outlining what vegetables you want to grow, and which varieties are the most suitable for your location. Since your indoor garden will be confined to containers, you need to look for small varieties, to make the most of your space. Fortunately, with the increased interest in container gardening over the past 10 years, there are plenty to choose from.

For instance, instead of trying to figure out how to find root-room for carrots that normally send down roots 8-10 inches long, you can plant mini varieties that grow only two inches long. One of Millard’s favorites is “Parisienne.” As she says, “Looks like a radish. Tastes like a carrot ... Easy to grow, and if there’s such as thing as an adorable carrot, it’s this one.”

Space for your containers as well as space in them, is also critical. It’s great if you have large, south-facing windows with deep sills, but chances are you’ll need to set up tables, benches, and/or shelves. And, you’ll probably be scattering your “garden” throughout the house. How much traveling do you want to do each day to tend your plants?

Indoor vegetable growing also has some challenges all its own. Outdoors, of course, the sun provides the light your plants needs. Indoors, this is the main challenge. A sunny window may be enough, but most likely you’ll need to provide supplemental light. You can buy an “official” plant-light stand or rig one up yourself using shop lights that take fluorescent bulbs.

Outdoors, the wind naturally flows; you don’t even think about it. Your indoor plants need a breeze, too. Circulating air helps keep mold and pests at bay, and a good breeze helps build robust plants. Soil is another element you have to provide, and of course all of the watering depends on you.

Millard’s easy-to-read book is filled with how-to’s and lots of color photos: containers for specific vegetables, lighting options, seeding, watering and cooking with your indoor harvest.

Included are chapters on growing microgreens, herbs, wheat grass, mushrooms, lettuce, radishes, carrots, kale, chard, spinach, beets, hot peppers, tomatoes and potatoes. Do you notice the theme here? All of these vegetables either require no pollination, or are wind/self-pollinated. Insect pollinators don’t work indoors!

Pam Baxter is an avid organic vegetable gardener who lives in Kimberton. Direct e-mail to pcbaxter@verizon.net, or send mail to P.O. Box 80, Kimberton, PA 19442.

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