Just because winter is here, it doesn’t mean that we need to put away our gardening gloves and wait until spring to get our hands dirty again. I do just as much gardening in the winter time as I do in the summer! We often overlook the fact that during the winter, our home provides a perfect environment for plants to thrive and we can produce most of the fresh greens and veggies that we would grow during the warmer months. Here are a few winter gardening tips to make your indoor growing experience a huge success:
1. Have a plan
As a city dweller, I understand the value of prime real estate when it comes to gardening. In the summer time, I take days to plan out my perfect summer garden. I’ll even map out what areas on my balcony get the most sun and draw up different layouts to maximize space usage. A plan will help determine how much and what kind of food you intend to produce and how much space will be needed. I usually start with a quick drawing of my home and then I pencil in what I wish to put where.
2. Light is your friend
As winter takes over, as it does here in Montreal, the hours of sunlight sometimes seem to completely vanish. Effective and affordable lighting is probably the biggest challenge we face as indoor gardeners. Although a sunny window sill may be adequate to keep a few herbs or small plants going, to reach the full potential of your indoor gardening space you’ll want to add supplemental light. To keep it simple here is my recommendation for lighting: T5 HO lights make the best bang for your buck. They produce the desired 6,400 kelvins of light ideal for vegetative growth, and at 54 watts, they don’t consume much power – and they’re affordable. Hang these lights a few inches above your plants and you will quickly see why they are a vital part of indoor growing.
3. Create a clean work area
Working with soil indoors can be very messy. To help keep dirt from getting all over the place I always put a clean tarp down before I do any work. This way I am not worried about spilling soil and it makes mixing soil blends, transplanting and filling pots much more enjoyable indoors. Once I am done working I can easily sweep up and put the tarp away.
4 . Keep a steady temperature
Many plants that we eat are rather sensitive to temperature changes. For instance, Basil is particularly sensitive to the cold, therefore, a draughty area near an exterior door would not be appropriate. However, kale and other cruciferous vegetables are very hardy and will have no problem adapting to a shadier, cooler area.
5. Proper ventilation
Plants need a decent airflow to grow properly. Although not mandatory for success, placing a fan near your plants will ensure that they are getting a constant stream of air. Maintaining a steady airflow not only helps harden your plants but also keeps pests at bay and helps improve growth rates.
6. Proper humidity
I’ve found this to be extremely helpful and usually overlooked. One way to do this is by placing a cool mist humidifier next to your garden. This is best for leafy greens, cruciferous vegetable, berries and herbs. For larger plants and trees I use a simple and effective trick. I fill up a 3 to 4 inch deep runoff tray with gravel and place the potted tree on top. By filling the rocks to 3/4 with water, the evaporation will raise the humidity around the plant, giving it the extra moisture it needs.
7. Inspect thoroughly and often
Indoor gardening does have it’s drawbacks. Unless you want to create a complex ecosystem in you living room, chances are there will be no beneficial insect and microbes to fend off pesky insects often associated with indoor gardening. Spider mites and white fly are particularly common but easily avoidable. maintaining a sanitary work area and using products intended for indoor use help immensely to keep your garden bug free. Early detection, and in case of anything suspect, a thorough treatment will prevent pest from spreading to the rest of your garden. Taking insect inspection seriously is a very important step for the indoor gardener. I can say from experience there is nothing more frustrating than having to wash your entire house with vinegar and bleach to eliminate a white fly infestation.
8. Use the right fertilizers
Gardening outside, plants benefit from their ecosystem to thrive. When in balance, thousands of different organisms work together to help plants grow and stay healthy throughout their life cycle. Indoor gardening however, requires a more controlled approach to avoid potentially overwhelming problems. I tend to use very simple and inert soil blends indoors like a mixture of coconut coir and vermiculite. In this case, fertilization is a vital part of a successful indoor garden. I tailor what I use depending on what I am fertilizing. I personally prefer all natural fertilizers, although I have nothing against more traditional fertilizers if you find them more simple. I always use a mixture of high grade kelp fertilizer blended with a small amount of ocean water concentrate. This seems to work well in general although I sometimes have to tailor different amendments depending on what I am seeing. My citrus trees get an extra dose of Epsom salt for magnesium and I spread coffee grounds over the soil once and a while as well.
One last thing that I use and have seen tremendous results with is a bacterial soil activator. I know, I know. I said the B word, but adding certain bacteria to you soil can greatly improve the ability of your plants to uptake nutrients. Bacteria will actually help transform many nutrients into a more soluble form, increasing the availability of over all food for the roots to absorb. One that I have used with much success is this.
Although I’m sure the though of having honey available year round in your house may be appealing, most people would shy away from indoor bee keeping. Fruiting plants often really on the help of bees and other pollinators to do the deed for them, but in an indoor garden, you’ll have to fill that roll as well. It’s not as hard as it sounds however. Generally speaking this can be acheived very easily with a small paint brush or a cotton swab. All that is necessary is that you thoroughly rub the end of your brush or cotton swab against both the male and female (the male part is called the stamen and the female part is called the pistil) and bob around from flower to flower while making a BUUUZZZZ sound (optional, but fun). Some plants, like cucumbers, have both male and female flowers. The process is similar, but I do a lot more back and forth between flowers to ensure a good pollination rate.
10. Enjoy the bounty
Winter gardening can be extremely rewarding. There is nothing better than eating a fresh garden tomato straight from the vine in the middle of winter. Lettuce is always best when eaten directly after harvesting and picking things like strawberries from a window sill while it’s -30c and snowing outside is nothing far from blissful. Once an indoor garden is set up, you’ll be amazed at what you can grow. I’ve even taken to challenging myself every year with more and more exotic plants growing in my home. This year I have planted a mango tree and Blacktail melons!
Use these winter gardening tips in your own home. It’s easy when you’re using an automated system, like NutriTower. Learn more about indoor gardening systems so you can grow year round.