Don’t let snow and 0º temperatures stop you from gardening! It is possible to grow herbs and vegetables inside for yummy, nutritious organic food all winter. The price of produce always shoots up in cold weather, but you can buffer yourself from those increases.
Your set-up can be simple as a sunny window, or as elaborate as a system of grow lights. It will depend on what you are growing and how much. You can cram a lot of plants on shelves with lights, but if you just want a few pots of herbs, a windowsill will suffice.
There is nothing like fresh herbs clipped right off the plant to flavor a hearty soup, stew or casserole when it’s cold out. Herbs are the easiest crops for simple winter gardening. They do not need large pots, and they will grow well with bright light or full sun. Group together a variety of them in decorative pots, or make a complete herb garden in one large container.
The best herbs are basil, parsley, thyme, oregano, mint, rosemary, chives, sage and lavender. Some do well in pots all summer, too, so you can start them from seed or cuttings, grow them out through the winter, then put them outside in spring. You can dig up the perennials in fall to put in pots and bring inside. Make a plan to do that next year!
Greens, like herbs, are easy to grow in a sunny window. I always have kale, spinach and chard growing in my kitchen. I find that lettuce needs more light than these varieties. It gets leggy and thin. I have luck with romaine lettuce, though. Since it’s dense and crunchy, it will do ok with lower light. For leaf lettuce, though, I recommend grow lights for optimal production and flavor.
Carrots, radishes, onions and beets also do well over winter indoors. These root crops do not need a deep container. They will do well in a pan or trough. Use short, round varieties (especially for the carrots).
With the popularity of container growing and urban gardens on the upswing over the last 10 years or so, plant breeders have created dwarf varieties that are suited for containers. Cherry tomatoes, bush green beans, and zucchini are a few that will do well indoors. I grow my tomatoes in containers outdoors in summer, because our soil is heavy and alkaline, and the garden is in a cold spot. I keep them along the southwest wall of the house, which extends their season. When frost threatens, I bring them inside to the sunroom. I have had tomatoes on New Year’s Day!
Care and maintenance
All plants take up water and nutrients based on light and temperature, so in the short cold days of winter, they will need less feeding. Herbs and greens on a windowsill will need less water than a tray of plants under a grow light that is on 12 hours a day.
Always check before watering. We kill plants more by overwatering than any other reason, because we are so eager to watch them grow! Plants need air as much as they need water, and too much water will fill up the necessary air pockets. Be sure the soil is dry on top before watering thoroughly.
Buy or make a well-draining potting mix. You need it to hold water yet drain easily, too. Sounds like a paradox, I know, but commercial mixes do just that. There are several recipes for potting soil here.
Containers can be anything your creative soul wants them to be! Paint over old clay pots for one-of-a-kind planters. Scour second hand stores, flea markets and yard sales for anything that will hold soil and let water run out the bottom. You will probably have to drill holes in it, though. Buckets, baking pans, grow bags and livestock troughs work as well as standard nursery pots.
There is no reason to not eat fresh food all winter! Your indoor garden can be simple or elaborate with one crop or many. Maybe you will get inspired to build a greenhouse, cold frame or low tunnels to extend your season outdoors next year. You never know what project indoor gardening will lead to! Enjoy your winter salads and carrots!