7 Edible Plants You Wouldn't Think You Could Grow Inside in the Winter
Maybe you're lying on your couch right now, flipping through seed catalogs and wondering when the guy who plows your driveway is going to arrive. You close your eyes and recall what it was like in July when your vegetable plot was at peak production. You may have some pots of herbs—rosemary, sage, chives or oregano—in a sunny south-facing window, available to pluck and drop into that hearty stew or hot stew or even a planter of salad greens, one of the easiest things to grow indoors.
But how nice would it be to have a little indoor farm, full of the types of healthy plant foods you spoil yourself with in the summer? You might even be tempted to eat a little better, reaching for a veggie bursting with vitamins and minerals instead of a bowl of macaroni and cheese. With a little loving care you can have a variety of fresh produce as close as your front room. Some of these will require taking the next step up to grow lights even if you have sunny windows—some require longer daylight hours than you'll have in February. But you don't have to buy an expensive system. A trip to the hardware store will get you what you need— some full-range fluorescent lamps and inexpensive holders and stands should do it.
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1. Radishes are easy to grow from seed and provide quick gratification, with some varieties ready to harvest in as little as a month, the longest taking about two months. That's why they're often used in classrooms to demonstrate to children how vegetables are grown. They don't require particularly deep soil but it should be well-drained. And these days, radish seed is available in a profusion of colors and shapes that make the plain old round, red ones look ordinary. Experiment with white, purple, green, black and even multicolored ones.
2. Carrots can require a very deep planter because they have such long roots, and they need a soil loose enough to burrow through. But you can make it easier to grow them by choosing a shorter, fatter variety and or smaller type that requires less depth to grow. Try a baby carrot variety like Caracas that only grows to around 3 or 4 inches or the round Atlas that looks sort of like an orange radish. Baby varieties are quick growers too, usually maturing in less than two months.
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3. Since mushrooms like cool, dark, moist places, they're ideal to grow inside in the winter. You don't have to worry about limited daylight, and they'll love it in your basement. The easiest way to grow them is to purchase a kit that has everything you need. It will have the correct growing medium for the type of mushroom spawn—the equivalent of seed—it contains. You just follow the directions, doing little more than keeping it watered. Since you'll have mushrooms in a couple of weeks, this is another fun project for impatient kids.
4. Scallions aka green onions can be grown right from the bunch you bought at the supermarket. Take the bottoms—the white bulb part—and bunch them together with a tie or a rubber band and just put them in a glass with about an inch of water. Change the water daily and a little more than a week when new shoots start to appear, plant them in a pot of soil. You can cut as much of the green shoots as you need while they continue to grow.
5. Many garden centers and plant catalogs sell dwarf citrus trees like lemon, lime and tangerine trees in pots, ready to set out on your porch or patio in the summer or in a sunny alcove in your house in the winter to fill your house with their bright, tart fragrances. Think of them as large houseplants, ranging in size from 3 to 4 feet wide and tall. They'll need as much light as possible, and if you want fruit immediately, buy a plant that's already a couple of years old. You can enjoy their tropical fruit all winter.
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6. Tumeric and ginger are two plants whose underground rhizomes are harvested for their superfood health-giving properties, almost too numerous to mention. Both can flourish indoors in pots and, like the citrus plants, be put outside in the summer. You can start to grow them by planting a store-bought chunk of rhizome that has growth buds on it. They like it warm and moist and can be started indoors or out, but won't survive in harsh winter conditions. Both are also available as plants from more cutting-edge garden centers.
7. Tomatoes are a little more challenging to grow indoors than some of these other things, but eating a fresh tomato in the middle of the winter is like having a burst of summer in your mouth. Go with a small-fruited variety—a grape, pear or cherry type that sets its fruit more quickly than the bigger ones. They will need large pots and lots of daylight—this is where grow lights become essential with two lights per plant. Turn them on and off to simulate daylight conditions in the summer when they're at their peak. Sure, it's a little extra trouble, but the result is surely worth it.
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