iStock_000019910800_LargeAre you longing for warm spring days? Daydreaming of the season’s first crop of brightly colored greens? Why wait – Satisfy your cravings for fresh, nutrient-packed greens (and more!) by growing your own this winter… INDOORS!

With a few inexpensive materials and a small amount of effort, you can reap huge returns right from sowing seeds in your sunny windowsill or plant stand.

Why Grow Indoors?

To supplement your winter produce purchases at your own home with the added benefit of reducing your carbon footprint. Remember that vegetables and greens that you’ve grown yourself are usually higher in nutrient value because they are harvested at their peak of ripeness and consumed right away, before any water-soluble vitamins have been lost (in transportation). You also greatly decrease the risk of foodborne illness because you’re the only one who has handled it.

How to do it

There are several varieties of produce that can be grown inside, though some require more space, time, materials, or maintenance. Consider growing any of the following crops if you’re new at indoor gardening or have limited space and light.

Garlic Greens: With all of the heart-health benefits of garlic bulbs, garlic greens are a fresh addition to salads or sautéed in your favorite dish!

Simply plant a few small garlic cloves (pointy-side up, with the peel left on) about 1-inch deep in a shallow pot with about 3-4” of well-draining germination mix, and water. Place in a warm, sunny location and keep the soil moist but not soggy. After a few weeks, you should have some 8-10” shoots, which are perfect for harvesting! Clip what you need and remove the entire clove once its started to regrow another sprout. Each clove sprouts good quality greens once, so after you’ve used up the first one, remove and replant with another small clove for a steady supply.

Soil Sprouts: Ready in just 7-10 days, soil sprouts are a power-house of vitamins! In the first seven days of growth, the shoot contains the highest concentration of everything that particular plant has to offer nutritionally and is in a highly digestible form. From sunflower greens, buckwheat, pea shoots, radish greens, kohlrabi, spinach and more, there are many varieties to choose from, each with unique nutritional gifts.

Using small containers that fit nicely on your sunny windowsill (try aluminum mini-loaf pans), fill with 1-2” of organic germination mix. Soak seeds for up to six hours and sow thickly, so that the seeds are actually touching. Cover with soaked newspaper and place in a warm, dark area for four days. On the fifth day, remove the newspaper cover, water, and place in a warm, sunny location. Water daily and harvest when the first small seed leaves are fully-grown and stems are 3-7 inches long. Using scissors, cut the entire shoot to about ½” from the soil surface. Wash and enjoy in a fresh salad or tossed in at the last moment of cooking any sautéed dish. Compost the soil ‘cake’ after one use. Sow soil sprouts regularly for continuous harvests.

Fresh herbs: There are many fresh herbs that can easily be grown indoors year-round and harvested as needed. Great choices for very sunny and slightly drier soil include: thyme, sage, rosemary, and oregano. Herbs that prefer sunny, but more moist soil, include basil, mint, parsley, and chives.

All of the herbs mentioned can be contained in a smaller pot, up to 6” in diameter, and will benefit from regular harvesting as long as they are kept in a sunny, relatively draft-free environment. Herbs contain lots of beneficial vitamins and phytochemicals in their oils and imbue your meals with unique, fresh flavors without added salt, sugar, or fat! If you’re a cilantro-lover, try sowing a small container of this vitamin A-packed herb every 3-4 weeks for a continuous crop.

Adventurous indoor-gardeners may try growing your own salad greens, micro-greens, wheatgrass or even mushrooms!

Resources for Gardeners:

  • Indoor mushroom-growing kit
  • For more information on indoor gardening, visit Organic Consumers.
  • For more information on growing soil sprouts see Vermonter, Peter Burke’s book: Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening. Also available in the Garden Atrium’s Library (at the main hospital).

Lisa Hoare is gardener and maintenance technician at the UVM Medical Center. 

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