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Monday, October 21, 2019

3 Ways to Grow Your Winter Veggies Indoors. . .

. . .or, How to Have Fresh Greens for Salads in Winter (and Fall)

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1. in a jar on the kitchen counter

  • growing sprouts -- I started the indoor garden last week, using 1/2 cup of lentils to grow about 8 pints of lentil sprouts. Lentil sprouts are a fresh additions to salads, sandwiches, stir fries, casseroles, and soups. You can even steam lentil sprouts, lightly, and use as a pasta substitute to cover with marinara. About 5 cents worth of dry lentils will grow into a pint of sprouts. The same volume of mung bean or alfalfa sprouts sells for $1.99 to $2.99 in my local stores. Growing sprouts has got to be one of the most cost-effective foods you can "make" yourself. 
  • To grow sprouts, rinse about 2 tablespoons of lentils, then drain. Put the seeds in a pint-sized canning jar and fill the jar with water. Allow to sit overnight at room temperature. In the morning, drain the lentils and cover the opening with a square of clean muslin or cheesecloth. Lay the jar on its side or propped slightly with the opening end down. During the growing process, keep the seeds at room temperature. There's no need for a bright light source; the kitchen counter will do just fine. Gently rinse and drain twice a day until sprouts are developed to your liking. Sprouts are ready to harvest in 5 to 7 days. To store sprouts: once fully-grown, rinse and drain once more, then place on a paper towel inside a bag, canning jar, or covered bowl and keep in the refrigerator. Sprouts will remain fresh for about one week.

Idéalités [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]

2. under lights

  • growing salad greens, like lettuce, in a 6-inch deep tray or pot and kept under ultraviolet lights for 12 to 16 hours per day
  • Or, for less time till harvest -- growing microgreens, which are baby plants used for food. Micro-greens are grown in a shallow tray of soil, kept in a source of bright light for 12 to 16 hours/day, and are ready for harvest by cutting with scissors in 7 to 21 days, depending on variety. 

my Tuscan kale seedbed -- seeds on the dish to the right, about 200 or so extra small seeds for a 4 X 5-inch surface
space. If using larger seeds (like pea seeds), fewer seeds would be needed to cover the same surface area.

  • The planting container should have drainage holes. I've used produce clamshells, filling with seed-starting soil and sprinkling the soil surface gently with water. Seeds are scattered generously. Remember the expected harvest is a dense mat of baby greens, not mature plants. Press the seeds lightly into the soil and scatter a very, very thin layer of soil on top. Water by misting with a clean spray bottle filed with water. Cover the soil bed with a plastic lid or loose-fitting plastic bag. 
  • Once the seeds have sprouted, remove the lid or covering and keep under ultraviolet lights for 12 to 16 hours per day. Mist twice daily to keep the soil damp and baby plants watered. To harvest, clip plants with scissors as close to the soil as possible. As with all produce, rinse gently before consuming. 
  • The cost to grow microgreens is slightly more than growing sprouts, accounting for the seed-starting medium and grow lights. However, growing microgreens can still be a considerable savings over buying greens in winter at the grocery store, for example, if you either already have the grow lights or, as some folks have reported success, by growing microgreens on a sunny window sill. The soil, itself, can be reused -- replanted with new seeds. Pull up the roots, smooth the soil, and begin again.
  • In the containers that I started this week, I used some of the Tuscan kale seeds and chive seeds that I saved from my garden plants this past summer. I bought a bag of seed-starting soil and will use the indoor grow lights that I already own. I've placed my light fixture and growing area next to a window on the south side of our house, so I can reduce the amount of time that the light needs to run to about 6 or 7 hours per day. I plan on growing 10 small flats at a time, staggering the planting times (starting 3 to 4 mini-flats per week.) My estimated cost per container of microgreens will be about 10 to 12 cents each, figuring in the cost of the soil and the electricity.

3. on the windowsill

  • planting seeds or seedlings in a large pot and keeping it on the windowsill
  • bringing potted plants from the summer garden into the house

When I planted my rosemary for the summer, the plants (2) were tiny. So, I thought they'd do well in small urns. As rosemary is a tender perennial in my area (they don't survive really cold winters in the garden), I try to eek out additional years by keeping them in pots and bringing them indoors for the winter. Since they'll need larger and larger pots each summer, this technique is only feasible for a few winters. I just take my chances at that point.

Above are one rosemary plant and 3 lettuce plants. The lettuces were seeded in mid-summer in pots so that I could bring them inside sometime in mid-fall for a few last salads. I have 2 pots of lettuces like the one above. My potted garden sits in the light allowed by the patio door to the south side of the house. I brought these indoors just this morning. In another 3 weeks, when our garden greens are no longer harvestable, we'll use a pick-and-come-again approach with our indoor lettuce. Until then, the lettuces should continue to put on some growth.

Growing our veggies indoors this fall and winter will not only save money while encouraging us to eat more fresh veggies, but it will also extend the time that we can control how our foods are grown. Double win.

You'll find this post, and many others like it, just a click away on this page -- a compilation of my recipes, shopping lists, and menu plans that illustrates how I feed my family of 4 adults on $125 to $135 per month.


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