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How to Grow an Indoor Winter Garden | Organic Gardening 365
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How to Grow an Indoor Winter Garden


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 This Guest Post is by David Porcaro, who lives in Historic Wethersfield, CT and works at Comstock, Ferre & Co., the oldest continuing seed company in New England.
 

It’s the middle of winter. Your garden has long been put to bed and the snow is falling. Alas! No more goodies from the garden until next spring.

WRONG!

Enter stage right, Indoor Winter Gardening

If you’re not growing things all year long, it’s time to re-think what is possible. I mean, how does picking fresh greens inside your own home in the middle of January/February sound? Pretty inviting I’d say.

Well, you can do it with a little effort, time and artificial lighting. That’s right, with the right kind of grow lights you can grow and pick your own salad greens, from a mix of lettuce’s, kale, spinach and arugula. Being that lettuces and greens in general have a shallow root system, 4 inch pots are fine to grow greens in for months and be able to harvest a plethora of salads.

Indoor Winter Lettuces

Indoor Winter Lettuces

When to start

What I like to do is get seeds sown in late October and I can start harvesting within 3 weeks or so and continue right through April. But here it is the middle of January and it’s not too late. You can absolutely still sow a crop of lettuce and other greens. There’s actually still a good 2-3 month window before we can go outside (here in Connecticut). I’ve just started a second sowing this past week.

Get some grow lights

The first thing you need to get started is a grow light. There are so many on the market I would suggest Googling “grow lights” and you will encounter a variety of different options. I use T5 Grow Lights. These are the most popular grow lights for indoor gardening. Only you can determine what will work best for you. You can go simple or more complex. There are many, many options to choose from. Just keep in mind that a light fixture only one or two bulbs wide probably won’t give you enough light.

Here's my indoor grow light set-up

Here’s my indoor grow light set-up

How many lights is an individual decision. In order to be able to harvest greens on a continuous basis you need to sow a good amount of plants. For someone just starting out I would suggest a 4 foot/8 bulb light fixture. That would be sufficient to grow 64 plants. I have three 4 foot/8 bulb fixtures and I currently have 128 lettuce plants, a flat of herbs and 3 Cherry tomato plants. The tomatoes are something I’m experimenting with this year and I am having great success.

My new lettuce seedlings with herbs in the background

My new lettuce seedlings with herbs in the background

Now 128 lettuce plants may sound like a lot, but remember they are in 3-4 inch pots and I can harvest a salad every night. If you don’t do enough plants you’re not going to be able to harvest as often and you’ll have to wait in between harvests for your plants to replenish themselves.

With this kind of system you can plant a variety of different lettuces from reds and greens to frilly leaf to variegated colors to curly leaf types to romaine types–basically any type you like, and have a variety all winter long. I was able to provide 15 people with a beautiful salad on Christmas day with our dinner.

I have even grown some radishes

I have even grown some radishes

Indoor winter tomatoes

Indoor winter tomatoes

Indoor winter cucumbers

Indoor winter cucumbers

More winter greens

More winter greens

Use quality seeds

Coast of Maine

Coast of Maine potting mix

Of course, you will need a good quality seed to start your plants with, such as Comstock, Ferre & Co. or Baker Creek varieties. And choosing a good quality professional growing mix is of utmost importance. You will want a potting soil that comes from good organic matter with good drainage. Coast of Maine, which is a sea based and organic potting soil, is what I use with tremendous results, and is available at Comstock, Ferre & Co..

Once you’ve planted your seeds and they start to sprout you will want to get them under your lights. Getting them under your lights will keep your plants from becoming to leggy. Put your lights about 12-15” above the plants. I find giving the plants 12 hours of light a day is plentiful.

Don’t forget to fertilize

Here's the fish emulsion and seaweed fertilizer I often use

Here’s the fish emulsion and seaweed fertilizer I often use

Once they start to develop their second set of leaves you can start picking individual leaves. So make sure you grow enough so you have plenty to pick from. Once a month you should give your plants a good organic fertilizer. I usually use a liquid fish emulsion fertilizer, but this could cause a slight odor for 24 hours. Another option is an organic granular type such as Espoma vegetable fertilizer. See what works best for you.

I know this guy where I buy my grow lights and they deal in all ways of organic growing. He has turned me on to this feeding and fertilizing program that I am using for the first time this year and I am astounded at the results. The rate of growth is so much quicker and the taste is sweeter. That’s why I am starting a second sowing of plants. I sowed a flat of lettuce 2 weeks ago and I have harvested from that flat 4 times (!!!!!!!!!) already. In 2 weeks. Unheard of.

Boogie BrewI make my own concoction with Boogie Brew (an organic tea compost), beneficial bacteria, trace minerals and, believe it or not, dried molasses. Everything that a plant needs to grow. The results are phenomenal. You can get my recipe for homemade organic fertilizer here. The name of the place I get my lights from is called GreenLife Garden Supply. They also sell this wonderful concoction for feeding plants. Visit there web sight some time. They have lot’s of great products.

Think about getting a timer

Once your plants are established it is amazing how quickly they develop. Investing in a timer to plug your lights into will make your life a lot easier. The timer turns the lights on and off at what times you set it to.

Winter red leaf lettuce. See my timer in the background?

Winter red leaf lettuce. See my timer in the background?

Temperature

I grow my greens in my basement where it is on the cooler side. Lettuce’s and other greens prefer cooler temperature for optimal growing. Ideally you want a temperature of 60˚-68˚F. Remember these are cool weather plants. Too much heat will keep the greens from getting crunchy and they will be soft and limp.

It is so gratifying to be able to walk down to my basement and harvest a variety of greens and come back up stairs and put together a salad that is full of so many different tastes from sweet lettuce’s to bitter kale, spicy arugula and tangy mesclun mixes. The nutrition is second to nothing because it was grown in a totally organic environment and picked and eaten at it’s peak.

Most of all you don’t have to go to supermarket chains and overpay for a product that was probably drenched in all kinds of pesticides and chemicals and possibly not even grown in the USA. There is absolutely, positively no comparison to growing your own greens. Yes, even in the dead of winter. You can do it. Try it and you will be amazed.

Happy Gardening(indoors),

David Porcaro, Associate
Comstock, Ferre & Co. Seed Company, Since 1811

Screen Shot 2013-10-22 at 10.31.10 AMDavid Porcaro lives and gardens in Historic Wethersfield, CT. with a passion for self-sufficiency and eating whole foods that are grown in an organic and GMO-free state. He is a backyard gardener that strives to extend the gardening season as long as possible through hoop house gardening and indoor gardening as the weather dictates. In addition to being a self-employed Painter and Wallpaper Hanger, he works at Comstock/Ferre, and has the oppurtunity to pass along his valuable knowledge to others that have the same passion and desire.

Comstock/Ferre Seed Co.Comstock, Ferre & Co. (263 Main Street, Wethersfield, CT 06109) is the oldest, continuing seed company in New England, in operation since 1811. David says, “Our mission at Comstock/Ferre is to offer pure organic GMO-free seed to the people and to do our part to help rid the industry of chemical companies that desire to control and eliminate companies like Comstock/Ferre. If we don’t do our part, our food consumption has the potential to become so toxic and dangerous to our health and well being because of the chemical companies desire to control and dictate what we consume. That’s why seed companies like Comstock/Ferre are so vital to our future well being of the seed industry.”  Please LIKE us on FacebookFor a free catalog or to place an order, call: 860-571-6590

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