Get down and dirty in the garden
Based in Lake County, Illinois, Heidi Cardenas has been freelancing since 2000. She studied business administration at the College of Lake County and has a background in human resources administration. She has written for "Chicago Parent Magazine" and guest blogs for The Herb Companion, Natural Living and TribLocal. She enjoys writing on a wide range of topics, but especially gardening, natural living, and home and family eco topics, and she helps you get your green on at HCGreenery.blogspot.com.
If you like salads, salsas and pestos, you will love fresh greens like cilantro, basil, baby lettuce and parsley. These may be available at your local grocers year round for a premium price, packaged or loose, but you can easily grow them yourself indoors in the winter months for fresh, inexpensive and organic green food.
Because the sun isn't as available in winter as it is during other times of the year, an artificial light source is important to successfully grow greens indoors during this time of year. A fluorescent grow light and a sturdy shelf with a tray to catch water are all that you need to grow several pots of greens from October to March. To avoid conditions like wilt and black fly that can kill newly emerging seedlings, a light seed starting mix is important. If you are ambitious and want to grow a lot of greens, a rack with three or four shelves and a couple of fluorescent lights suspended on chains will provide an organized area for your indoor garden.
Mesclun, a mixture of greens that includes leaf lettuces, chervil, arugula, endive, spinach, Swiss chard, mustard greens and dandelion, is an ideal mix for growing indoors in winter. The seeds sprout into an enticing mix of tender leafy greens that are perfect for salads. When cut, they will grow back in about a week for a continuous crop.
Spinach is another easy-to-grow leafy green suited for an indoor winter garden. The tasty dark green leaves are packed with vitamins and minerals including vitamins A, C, E, K and B6, protein, zinc, calcium, magnesium and iron—valuable nutrients for health and well-being. Seeds soaked overnight before planting will sprout in about a week into young spinach plants that are ready for cutting in a couple of weeks with proper light and water.
Several herbs are ideal for the indoor winter garden, including basil, dill, cilantro, chives, parsley and mint. They all sprout easily with moisture and warmth and grow to attractive plants that produce several crops of cuttings when leaves are harvested. Basil is delicious in salads and pestos. Dill is tasty in salads, soups and stews. Chives add a delicate oniony flavor to any dish. Cilantro is an essential ingredient in tomato salsas and a tasty chopped green to top tacos and sandwiches. Parsley and mint are leafy green herbs with many culinary uses, as well as being tasty when eaten fresh.
If you like fresh greens, you may also like wheat grass, the young shoots of wheat plant used for juicing. A special juicer is needed to extract juice from this grass-like plant but is worth the investment if you plan to grow a continuous crop. Sprouts are a natural and easy addition to your winter kitchen garden, and they don’t need any special lights or equipment, just a little attention. Simply soak seeds overnight in warm water, then put them in a shallow dish with a paper towel and fresh water and check them daily. Don’t let the water dry out (or get contaminated) and you’ll be rewarded with fresh micro greens for soups, salads and sandwiches. Alfalfa, mung beans, broccoli, clover, mustard, sesame and wheat seeds can be sprouted into delicious and nutritious winter greens right on your kitchen counter.
Try growing some greens inside and put green on the menu this winter. If you don’t want to start seeds yourself, pick up some herb plants from local greenhouses and nurseries instead, or bring herbs in from your garden before the ground freezes.