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7 Edible Plants You Wouldn't Think You Could Grow Inside in the Winter

Food
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.

Radishes are easy to grow and reach harvest-ready size quickly.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

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.

Mushrooms grow in dark, cool conditions, making them ideal to grow inside in the winter.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

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.

Ginger, like tumeric, can be grown indoors from a chunk purchased at a grocery.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

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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In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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