With this recent (of many) snowstorms, I’m here to tell you that life is more than white landscapes inter speckled with black-barked trees and grey skies. I’m here to remind you that green is still a color. Remember green? Remember color? We can have color, even in the cold snowy winter. Even in Central Minnesota! But, instead of growing your entire garden indoors, let’s start a little smaller. Let’s start with windowsill gardens!
First things first. Take stock of what you want to grow. In the cold and dark winter, it’s easy to forget the taste of fresh greens, but that’s what I’d recommend you start with. They will be able to use the natural light coming in through your window. In central MN, you’ll get the most light coming through your south facing window, so be sure to set up near one.
There are literally hundreds of different places to purchase your seeds. You can go to your local home and garden center and pick up many varieties year-round. If you’re looking for more selection, going online or through seed catalogs is your best bet. I love Seed Savers Exchange. They focus on heirloom plants. These plants are able to produce plants that will in turn produce more seeds for the next growing period. It’s kind of an art; to grow a veggie that hasn’t changed for generations. You can get very defined features from your plant if you go this route. Over the years, growers have particularly cultivated particular qualities to keep the varieties of plants ever growing and ever diverse.
However if you’re just getting started, grabbing some seeds from your local hardware store is a great first step.
Remember, you’re looking to get the feel for growing. You can dabble with the millions of varieties later. If you’re looking for something green to eat right away, you can’t go
wrong with sprouts (either buckwheat, sunflower, or pea shoots). However, if you want something that is a little more substantial, you can choose a nice cold crop such as kale, broccoli, or spinach. If you go that route, you’ll need a little more space.
Speaking of which, so you’ve got your seeds. You’ll now need a place to put them; for them to grow into the delicious greens you’ve forgotten are so colorful. One idea is to reuse any container from your house. My wife and I use used loose leaf spinach containers. You’ll have to use potting soil for the time being. (The cold frozen ground under eight feet of snow will have to wait).
The only thing left to make sure your little guys will thrive will be water. You could invest in a drip irrigation system; a system that waters each plant at its base on a timer. That way you can be a little more hands off. However, setting an egg timer to water them works just as well and is much less expensive.
If you’re looking to go wild, use re-purposed gutters (from our house renovation in the summer) and a couple dozen feet of wire. My wife was able to put together an indoor, vertical container garden. With windows that face directly towards the south and west, the plants are able to get the maximum exposure to the sun (even in the winter).
So, how did she do it? Check out this website for step by step instructions. Now, instead of using end caps for the gutters, we’ve decided to reuse spinach containers and simply place them on the gutter shelves. This keeps water and soil from spilling everywhere. (We also have cordoned the room off to our little ones or else not matter how many spinach containers we have, they’d be guaranteed to spill!)
Currently, we’ve got green beans, lettuce, and potatoes growing in our sun room, with plans to increase our numbers coming along. We’re using an interesting pot container for the potatoes. Instead of a single planting, germination period, and sprouting, we’ve decided to set up a tier planter. The idea revolves around the notion that a single planting of a potato can be extended several times. The procedure is actually pretty simple. Plant your potatoes and wait for them to sprout normally. But, instead of allowing the plants to continue to grow as usual, you cover up the plant with dirt again. This will induce the plant to grow another root (potato) and sprout upwards again, essentially making two potatoes out of one plant. You don’t even have to go out and buy a specially tiered container for your planter. We are using a plastic tote that we had lying around the house. I can’t wait to see how it turns out (and to fry them up for hash browns!)
And, as you can see from these pictures, you don’t have to limit your gardens to the outside or inside. We just used our sun room to get a head start on the season. (In Central Minnesota, every week counts in the growing season!)
And that’s about it. Just make sure your seedlings get plenty of light and water and they’ll do just fine. We can do this. Together we can get through this long and winding winter.