Friday, January 8, 2010

Growing food through the winter

Few places around the country have the luxury of year-round warm weather, suitable for growing food into the winter months. The rest of us must grin and bear it, and we're left to rely on food trucked in from warmer climes at the expense of freshness and overall quality. But we may not be as powerless to the elements as we think.

A few different sources over the past couple of days have written about growing food indoors. The number of plants that we can realistically grow indoors pales in comparison to what we can put outside in our garden, where they have space to thrive, but that shouldn't discourage us. Container gardening, either using artificial grow lights or a sunny window sill, can yield a surprising amount of food in a short amount of time, while we wait for the thermostat to climb.

Most people start their indoor gardening with herbs and spices, which require minimal sunlight and little space to grow. The National Gardening Association has a good article on indoor herb gardening here. Oregano, basil, chives and mint all grow well indoors, and can be grown year round in a container. Leafy vegetables like lettuce and arugula seem to fare better than their fruiting counterparts, as they require less maintenance and sunlight to thrive.

One indoor growing option has been sprouting up in a variety of places recently.

Jill Richardson of La Vida Locavore, the esteemed sustainable food blog, writes this week of learning to grow sprouts indoors. Sprouts may be the wunderkind of the homegrown food movement, because they're incredibly rich in nutrients, relatively cheap to grow (relative to their sometimes hefty pricetag at the supermarket) and are ready to harvest in just seven days. Richardson's post offers a nice DIY tutorial, complete with pictures and commentary on how to get started growing sprouts. Nutritionist Monica Reinagel, who writes for, recently wrote about the same dilemma of wanting to grow food in the winter, and highlighted sprouts as well.

If you're willing to spend a little more money and spring for artificial lights, peppers and even tomatoes can be grown indoors during the winter, and can be transferred easily into your outside garden come spring. Peppers and tomatoes both like hot weather and won't produce the quality of fruit indoors that you're used to outdoors, but they will still grow inside and will give you a head-start when it's time to transplant.

If nothing else, the next time you spring for baby greens or broccoli sprouts at the grocery store, ask yourself this question: "Could I do this myself?" It's worth asking, and you just might surprise yourself with your answer.

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