Growing a garden in the winter might seem like more trouble than its worth, but it’s not as hard as it sounds. You just have to be creative. Depending on the climate you live in, you might have to rely on indoor gardening.
However, there are several outdoor techniques that work well in moderate climates. There are also several plants that lend themselves to winter and low light conditions. We’ll start with the techniques…
3 Winter Gardening Techniques
Technique 1: Sprouts
These tiny greens lend themselves perfectly to winter gardening endeavors. They can be grown on windowsills with just a tiny bit of light, and they provide a delicious crunch to salads and sandwiches alike. Sprouts are the easiest and fastest winter gardening option. Here’s how to do it:
Get a wide-mouth jar, either a pint or a liter, and make a circular screen to fit across the mouth of the jar (a piece cut from a window screen will work). Put 1 teaspoon of seed per cup of jar space into the jar (for example, 2 teaspoons for a pint, 4 teaspoons for a quart, and so forth). Cover the seed with water and let it soak for a few hours, then drain it (the screen will stop the seeds from escaping the jar). Leave the jar upside down to ensure no water remains.
Each day, put fresh water in the jar and shake the seeds around, then drain it. In 3 days the roots will appear, and within a week there should be small green sprouts along with the roots. Put the jar in the sun for an hour each day to get the sprouts to turn green. Once the sprouts are long enough, you can pull them out and refrigerate them in a bag or sealed container to eat whenever you want.
Depending on the seed sprouting mix you use, you can have several different types of plants in a single sprouting mix. If you make bean sprouts, remember to cook them before you eat them.
Technique 2: Shoots
These are an advanced form of sprouts, and can also be classified as “cut and come again” greens if you have space. Leafy greens such as lettuce, chard, kale, and even beets and peas are ideal for this type of harvesting.
To prepare shoots, you will need a large container filled with soil, and a consistent and close light source. A grow light is best (otherwise they will grow too scraggly and not produce any leaves for you to eat). Plant the seeds thick in the container, and keep the soil moist so the seeds and grow. To prevent damping off, sprinkle the surface of the soil with cinnamon.
When the plants are 1.5 – 2 inches in height and have several leaves, you can begin cutting and using them. If you don’t pull up the roots, plants like lettuce, kale, and chard may regrow. However, beets and peas will not. Peas work particularly well for this technique as they grow quickly and have a thick, tender shoot that tastes like sugar snap peas. They great in salads, stir fry, or as a snack.
Technique 3: Full-Grown Plants
If you live in a zone where the winters are mild, you might be able to get a harvest out of the midwinter dreariness. By preparing a “cold bed” with bales of straw, plenty of mulch, and a glass cover, you can make a mini-greenhouse and grow any cold-hardy vegetable you want all winter long. If you already have a small greenhouse or a sealed-in balcony, you can grow hardy plants in those, too. Below are 6 types of plants that do well in the winter.
6 Plant Options for Winter Gardening
1. Kale is a lovely little garden plant, with decorative varieties as well as varieties like Russian Red that are awesome in salads and smoothies. Kale is a cold hardy plant and can withstand several degrees of frost with ease. It works well as a sprout, a shoot, and as a full-grown plant. While it likes full light, it can handle the low light conditions of winter with comparative ease.
2. Lettuce is a standby of small gardens. Its short growing time, hardiness, and versatility lend it equally well to winter gardens as to their summer counterparts. With an abundance of varieties, from head lettuce to leaf lettuce, red to green, and frilly to plain, there is a lettuce plant for every space and place. It’s good to have either a window with consistent sun exposure or a grow light because without enough light, your lettuce will grow leggy very quickly.
3. Spinach is another plant that enjoys cool weather and will bolt in hot weather, which makes it another awesome plant for winter gardens. Outside, it will need protection from outright freezing, but it can withstand a few degrees of frost. Inside, it will need a grow light. Spinach works effectively at a sprout size from which you can harvest a few leaves from each plant and let it grow back again.
4. Herbs such as thyme, sage, and oregano can also handle being grown in the winter. If you have an outside plant, take a piece of the roots and plant it in a pot indoors to keep it growing throughout the winter. Once you have the plant established in the pot, it will grow throughout the winter and provide fresh herbs whenever you want them.
5. Citrus plants and a few other fruit tree type plants can be grown in pots. Citrus season is in winter, so it’s the perfect time to grab some citrus seeds and start your own lemon or orange tree. In colder climates, citrus can only be grown indoors whether it’s winter or not.
6. Plants from grocery scraps can also be grown in the winter. For example, celery started from the end of the bunch, tops of beets and carrots that produce greens and roots, and even avocado trees can all be grown in the winter. If you can start it in a pot, you can grow it in the winter.
Note: Due to the low light conditions in winter, you will either need a south facing window or a grow light for the best results.