Sunday, March 21, 2010

Winter Container Edibles

Hello again,

Melissa Madigan and Mary Mixer of Skillin's Falmouth spent some great time this winter starting, growing and harvesting FRESH vegetables and herbs in their homes. I have sampled some of what they produced and, wow, what a great taste!

Follows is a report by Melissa which will serve as the basis for her class on growing edibles in containers on Sunday March 21 at 2 PM at Skillin's Falmouth and Sunday March 28 at 11 AM at Skillin's Brunswick and 2 PM at Skillin's Cumberland.

Container / winter gardening is gaining in popularity due to the current economic climate. It is a great way to save money on your food bill and have the freshest vegetables all winter long!

If there is a sunny spot on a windowsill or in a room, then you can grow container vegetables and herbs.

Vegetable gardening indoors has most of the same requirements as an outdoor garden:

• bright light

• water

• nutrients

• protection from pests

Since space is likely to be limited, you do best to grow crops that mature quickly and be sure to stagger plantings in a couple of containers for a constant supply.

Setting Up Your Indoor Garden

1- Choose a space with plenty of sunlight, or an area where you can supplement with grow lights.

2- Get a planter that is appropriate size for what you are planting

3- Choose plants the will not grow too big or have extensive root systems

It is best to choose compact, miniature or dwarf varieties and crops that are quick to mature. Some good choices:

Herbal Teas - Spearmint, Peppermint,

Lemon Balm, Chamomile, Chocolate mint Herbs - Parsley, Oregano, Rosemary, Garlic, Thyme, Basil

Radishes Potatoes

Green onions Leafy Greens - spinach, lettuce, kale

Carrots Peas - Peas ‘N-A-Pot variety

Tomatoes - small varieties Celery - start it late summer and bring it in before frost

Peppers Bean Sprouts

Cauliflower Mushrooms


Vegetables will grow in any container that provides good drainage, and is of appropriate size for what you are planting. The larger the plants root system the deeper and wider the container should be. Sow your seeds just as you would in your outdoor garden, thinning plants after the first leaves have gained strength.


Growing veggies indoors requires bright light just as they do outside - if you do not have enough light from a natural source you can supplement with a grow light or even bright fluorescent lights. Remember that plants tend to grow towards sunlight, so if possible it is a good idea to rotate your plants weekly so they will grow straight.


Most autumn and winter crops do well in temperatures of 60˚ - 65˚ daytime and 50˚ at night. Plants with warm roots can stand a room temperature 5-10˚ cooler - using a seed mat will help.

Good air circulation is very important for good plant health.


Water indoor crops when needed - but ONLY when needed! - too much water can result in fungus disease, and poor plant growth.

Water indoor crops in the AM on sunny days (if not using artificial light). Plants require less water in the winter - use room temperature to warm water.


Feed indoor container plants every other week with liquid fish, seaweed or organic liquid fertilizer. A folier spray of compost tea or liquid seaweed will aid in disease resistance. You should fertilize when the temperatures are cool.


Give established indoor plants a rinsing under the faucet every 2 weeks to help prevent aphids, mites and white flies. You should spray the entire plant with lukewarm water, being sure to check the undersides.


Start snipping as soon as the plant is growing well - for example your lettuce leaves should be 2 - 2 1/2 high and your basil has at least 4 sets of leaves.


Choose containers that have good drainage, and be sure that the plant pot is large enough to provide plenty of space for root growth, or in the case of a root vegetable, such as beets or carrots, room for them to grow.

Another good way to grow indoor winter crops would be to use a mini greenhouse. You can set it up in a small area (corner) of a room outfitting it with a grow light. You should have 4-5 shelves to place your plantings on, arranging them so that those plants that need the most light are on the upper shelves. You can place crops that can with stand cooler temperatures and less light on the bottom.

Using one of these greenhouses you can grow crops such as lettuce, peas in the pot, broccoli sprouts, spinach, celery, basil, micro greens and beets. In this set up the temperature was kept at a stable 60˚ and 68˚, after one week most plantings had started to show some growth as seen in these pictures. It was also discovered that plants that were already established (say you brought in from the garden just before frost), do extremely well under these conditions. If you are able to get veggie starts from your local greenhouse all the better, because even though the seeds will germinate and start to grow they have a hard time maturing unless they have some real sunlight and warmth (70-75 degrees).