Reviewing Troy-Bilt’s Lithium-Ion Cultivator got me to thinking more about the impact of invasive gardening techniques on our friends, the earthworms. So I started digging :-P

Here’s what I found:

  • It depends on who you ask but there between 2700 and 7000 species of earthworms.
  • They were brought to North America by European settlers.
  • They are bad for some forest ecosystems but do a great job amending soil for gardeners.
  • You know  you have good soil if you have lots of earthworms.
  • Large-scale produce farms that do a lot of deep tilling and row cultivation don’t have many earthworms.
  • No-till or low-till farms maintain better conditions for earthworms to populate and fertilize the soil.
  • Earthworms are seasonal; they are most active in damp springs and falls. They tend to burrow deeper in dryer summers and winter.
  • Earthworms will die if they don’t have enough moisture or if the soil temperature isn’t within their range (again, it depends on who you ask and the specific earthworm species but seems to be between 55 and 70F).
  • They can be classified into 3 burrowing types: surface, shallow and deep dwelling.
  • Most can regenerate tail ends that get chopped off by birds but you’re not likely to get two whole earthworms from one. Each species has a different number of segments and their regeneration ability depends on what segment(s) get cut off and their own ability to regenerate.
  • Species commonly referred to as red wigglers are used in vermiculture (kitchen compost bins) and [edited: JMM] usually consist of two common species, one is an Epigeic worm and the other is considered an Epi-Endogeic worm. are NOT soil dwelling worms. Eisenia fetida falls into the Epigeic category (see next section below), is a compost/organic matter dweller, and is not found in soil. If you release them to the soil in your garden and they do not find a healthy compost bin or plenty of organic matter, they will die wild because they are not adapted to soil temperatures or the low levels of organic matter found in soil. The other species you’ll find categorized as a red wiggler is the Lumbricus rubellus, an Epi-Endogeic worm that prefers leaf litter, compost and lots of surface organic matter but also can be found in the top few inches of soil especially if the soil is rich in organic matter. [More info about red wiggler species.]

To avoid harming your earthworm population and to encourage them to thrive, we need to look at the habits of the three burrowing types:

  1. Surface dwellers (Epigeic species) Lives at the surface, usually in forest leaf litter. Small and adapted to variable moisture and temperature. Also found in compost piles because they are unlikely to survive in soil due to the lower organic matter. Red wigglers fall into this category.
  2. Shallow dwellers (Endogeic species) Lives in the top level of soil, usually down to 12 inches. They don’t have permanent burrows like the deeper night crawlers but rather they just burrow as they go in search of organic matter. They leave a trail of castings and slime in their wake. These are the ones you’re most likely to run into when digging or shallow-cultivating soil. They are most active in the spring and fall. Because summers and winters are dryer with more temperature extremes, they move deeper (~18 inches) into the soil to protect themselves. Dryer seasons are an ideal time to cultivate soil or plant shrubs and perennials that require deeper holes.
  3. Deep dwellers (Anecic species) These are the night crawlers, some of which have been known to burrow as deeply as 8 feet.  They maintain permanent burrows that are usually a straight shot down from the soil surface. They pull surface litter into their burrows where they munch in peace. You know  you have night crawlers if you find plugs made of soil and minerals throughout your lawn. The plugs protect the entrance to their burrows. Night crawlers also tend to be more active in spring and fall.

Soil management affects earthworms in several ways:

  • Affects food supply: No-till land will usually provide more food for earthworm populations than land that is cleared and plowed seasonally.
  • Mulch affects moisture and temperature: Leaving plants in an area also acts as a natural mulch that protects earthworms against sudden changes in soil temperature and moisture.
  • Chemicals: Impact of chemicals varies with the chemical. Read the first article linked in the biblio below for more details.

My hope is that with this info gathered in one handy spot, vegan gardeners can judge better how they are affecting earthworms in their gardens. Realize too that not all digging will kill earthworms. Knowing the seasonal dryness and temperature of your areas will help you determine the best methods for care and feeding of your garden buddies. Of course, there are other organisms dwelling in the soil and this post doesn’t begin to scratch the surface on the rest. I’ll try to post follow-ups by spring so we can be better informed before the next garden season.

Information above was gathered from University Extension research at the following links:

And you can read more about how earthworms are affecting forests here: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/invasives/terrestrialanimals/earthworms/index.html

Vegan gardeners!! I have great news!

There IS a veganic fertilizer now available, it works, and is named Grow Veganic. If you’re impatient to order, go here: www.growveganic.com, otherwise, read my review below.

What is a veganic fertilizer?

Vegan + organic = veganic which also means:

  • No animal meals: no blood/bones/feathers/fish
  • No manure (see below for why this matters)
  • No hormones
  • No GMOs

Does it work?

I received a test bag of Grow Veganic’s Steady 5-1-1- fertilizer, a slow-release, pelleted form on June 6, 2012. Of course, knowing that it would take a while to try it out and therefore review it, I immediately sprinkled a liberal 4 handfuls in a giant pot of some suffering coleus on the front porch. Why were they suffering? Well, I was cheap and planted them in decrepit (overused, nutritionally depleted potting soil from the past two years) adding straight-up coir to top off the pot. It’s a HUGE pot so I didn’t really have the funds to buy enough of the good stuff to fill it. Seeing as it’s also a pot , therefore lacking in earth worms, this meant that it wasn’t going to provide the coleus with much in the way of nutrition. The plants were doomed.

I wish I’d taken a before shot but I did not. I can tell you that the coleus came from clippings I had in a juice glass in the kitchen window. Meaning, they weren’t more than 8 inches tall to start. And they were all wet roots, starving for nutrients.

At about one month in is when I really noticed an explosion of growth. (See the left photo below.) And because Grow Veganic is slow-release, these babies continued to grow to fearful heights the rest of the summer and now, into fall. (See the right photo below.)

Left: plants easily went from cuttings to this big. Right: still expanding with no tip cuttings on my part.

Who creates Grow Veganic?

Sunizona Family Farms is a 20 acres small farm in Southeast Arizona. After launching as a conventional farm, they quickly developed a passion for organic farming. As they say, they then had an “aha” moment realizing they could provide nutrients without animal by-products. They now offer a fully veganic CSA, the first one I’ve heard of. Knowing they couldn’t ship their produce to everyone, they began packaging their own fertilizer so anyone anywhere can grow veggies with a clear conscious. You can order it here.

Why does this matter?

Both organic and conventional fertilizers typically rely on by-products from animal agriculture, usually factory farms (CAFOs). If you’re a vegan, or if you just don’t want to use animal-derived fertilizers, having an animal-free option can be important.

Additionally, a team of researchers at University of Minnesota recently demonstrated that antibiotics commonly administered to animals on CAFOs are absorbed—by way of manure fertilizer—into several vegetables such as green onions, corn, lettuce, cabbage, and potatoes. While they did not test all vegetables grown by home gardeners and farmers, the research results were enough to question the safety of manure used in food crop production. In addition to the ethics of CAFOs, I for one don’t want that in my food.

There are several studies conducted by UofM, here is one of the two I’ve read (both are essentially the same; testing for various antibiotics uptaken into various crops, with varying results depending on the specific antibiotic class.): Kumar, K., Gupta, S. C., Baidoo, S. K., Chander, Y., and Rosen, C. J. 2005. Antibiotic uptake by plants from fertilized soils. J. Environ. Qual. 34:2082–2085 (2005). NOTE: At the time of the research, K. Kumar, S.C. Gupta, Y. Chander, and C.J. Rosen, were with the Department of Soil, Water, and Climate, and S.K. Baidoo was from the Department of Animal Science and Southern Research and Outreach Center, University of Minnesota. I have not followed up to see where they are currently.

So, for folks who don’t eat a lot of vegetables, this may not raise a red flag. But to those of us who do or are vegans, … well, it’s something to consider.

[UPDATE: After reading Colleen's excellent post on the relationships between corporations and bloggers, I felt the need to update this post since it is a gift guide that lists products I am recommending. My update is at the end.]

Buying gifts for vegans may be challenging enough but what if your favorite vegan is also an avid gardener? What do you need to know?

First I’ll list some of my favorite groovy gifts that I think are perfect for gardeners, especially vegan gardeners. Then I’ll give you a few pointers to help you stay out of trouble while shopping for your favorite vegan gardener. And BTW, I’ve listed some extremely affordable items and some that well, shall we say, may be so nice you’d get lucky this season ;-P

Snarky’s Top 10 Great Gift Ideas:

1. Ethel Gloves

Click for close up.

Ethel Gloves makes a special vegan gardening glove that I actually own and absolutely love. It’s the Garden 4X, a tough and classy glove that even I can’t wear through. I’m really hard on gardening gloves, typically going through 2 pairs in a season. My fingertips generally poke right through because I like to make holes for seeds with my hands rather than a trowel. But after a full season, my pair of Garden 4X black bamboo gloves are holding up just fine. No sign of letting my middle finger loose in the dirt. These gloves also use vegan latex that does not use casein during manufacturing. A very thoughtful gift for a vegan gardener. (And if black isn’t your vegan’s style, all their other colored bamboo gloves are also vegan, they just don’t have the reinforced fingertips that the 4X does.)

2. Seeds!

Click for close up.

D. Landreth Seed Company is the oldest continuously running seed house in the US and one of the oldest companies. In fact, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were both Landreth customers! Landreth ran into financial hardship this year and most of the gardening world has fretted about it for months. So any gift you buy from them will go towards saving this American institution. I’d recommend the catalog of course, as it’s a work of art and full of gardening information. They also have little “Seeds In A Sack” that make great stocking stuffers. They’re all awesome so there’s no way I can single out just one. Besides, you know your gardener best: would they like the Olde Fashion Zinnias collection, Antique Vines for the Garden or Heirloom Tomatoes?

3. German Design

Click for close up.

Weck canning jars are a totally BPA-free and beautiful option for organic gardeners. Yes, I said BPA-free. You know that white rubbery liner in the lid of traditional canning jars in the USA? Yeah, that—don’t go lick it now—it’s made with BPA. The Weck jars use an old fashioned rubber and reusable gasket instead. How well do they work? I’ve heard stories of German great grandmothers still using their jars from the beginning of the last century and they haven’t killed anyone yet. The only problem with these jars is that I don’t want to use them as gifts. No, I’m kinda selfish that way. Oh, if you’re in the Chicago area, you can buy these at Green Home Experts.

4. Garden Art for the Kitchen

Click for close up.

Vetegabowls makes insanely cool food serving bowls that look exactly like garden fruits and vegetables! They are slip cast and glazed to match the colors and actual textures you’d find in a cantaloupe, tomato, grapefruit, onion, honeydew melon, oranges, etc. I adore these bowls and think a set of these would be an awesome gift. (DH, that’s a hint dood, just in case that wasn’t clear ;-)

5. Gear

Click for close up.

Autonomie Project Inc. has a lot of great products but I’m especially excited about their new fair-trade and vegan rain/gardening boots! The rubber in these boots is certified by the FSC for sustainable forestry and the makers receive a fair trade premium on their wages. When looking for gardening boots, remember these things: they are often labeled “rain” boots, consider the calf fit (if your vegan may have large calves, best to skip this item or buy a gift certificate), and the pattern/color.

Fun gardening socks from Garden Shoes Online come with lady bugs, bees, turtles and sunflowers. The more colorful selections are also vegan because they’re made with nylon, CoolMax® and Lycra® rather than latex. Latex is made with casein from cow’s milk so steer clear of anything with that fiber as well as wool and silk.

6. Books

Veganic Agriculture Network has a nice book list of tomes that would be appropriate for a vegan gardener. If you can’t score an out-of-print copy of Veganic Gardening by Kenneth Dalziel, I’d snag Growing Green which is also a source of info for organic gardening without animal products.

7. Luxury

Click for close up.

Moxie Organix has some really nice soaps and lotions that would help a gardener maintain soft hands after a long day digging in the soil. Lavender or rose petal would be great scents for a gardener.

8. Sprouting Supplies

A brick or two of coir fiber makes a great gift for the gardener who starts seeds indoors for Spring. The bricks are small enough to even fit in a stocking while causing a lot of funny head scratching over what could that be? I get my bricks at Green Home Experts in Oak Park, Illinois. When checking your local source, compare pricing with sizes (big box stores sell smaller bricks for a full brick price) and compare the source of the coir itself.

Chamomile tea, believe it or not, would be a nifty stocking stuffer for a gardener because not only can they drink it when pests are bumming them out, it’s a great fungal deterrent. In fact, many professional growers spray it on the soil’s surface to fight Damping Off in tomato seedlings. A great little crafty gift could be a box of chamomile tea bags and a spray bottle. You could even craft up your own Healthy Seedling or Fight Damping Off label for the bottle.

9. One-of-a-Kind Glass Garden Sculptures

Click for close up.

Barbara Sanderson is a glass artist specializing in hand-blown art glass for gardens. Her Fiddlesticks and Flowers are amazingly beautiful. You can often find Babara at various flower and garden shows around the country as well as art shows. She’ll work with you to combine glass, water, light and gardens to create lovely and stunning outdoor spaces. If you can’t afford her larger works she also creates Christmas ornaments and other holiday glassworks. Her Halloween pumpkins are always groovy and I’d love to have some of her originals in my garden.

10. The Holy Grail of Gifts!

The Holy Grail of Gifts!

And finally, the Holy Grail! Whether you wanna be rewarded with sex from xmas until New Year’s Eve or simply awesome food for the rest of your life, I’d totally recommend giving your vegan the new Blendtec’s Total Blender Designer Series. It’s a super badass blender that can handle anything your organic gardener can grow. Seriously. But check first to make sure your vegan hasn’t already ordered it or that ‘other’ brand of blender. The Designer Series model is so badass, it includes the WildSide jar which is a patented 5-sided jar allowing a better vortex during blending and wider at the base for easier removal of thick nut butters, a nearly 4-inch diameter blade, and a new touch interface like on the iPhone. AND a 7-year warranty! Oh yeah baby, it can handle just about anything including those twigs and leaves you think your vegan eats.

And THAT my fine fiends, is the best of the best, the most unique, and perfectly vegan-friendly gifts for organic gardeners!

Read onward for some tips on what to avoid when shopping. It seems tricky sometimes but it all makes sense, I promise.

Things to watch out for:

  • Leather gardening gloves and leather tool pouches: Many gloves have leather palms or are fully constructed from leather, a big no-no for vegan gifts. Also, most tool companies like Felco, Fiskar and Corona sometimes bundle leather pouches with their pruners. Best to just buy the awesome pruner and ignore any bundles that include leather.
  • Manure or animal ingredient plant foods: Not that you’d give your gardener crap for xmas, right? But anyway, you’re going to have to read the labels on these. Avoid brands that include manure or feather, fish, bone, and blood meals. Best to stick with plant-derived ingredients like kelp or seed meals like cottonseed. It also goes without saying that most vegans will also be organic so steer clear of chemicals like Miracle-Gro (the cosmic blue stuff).
  • Pesticides: This is a tricky area. Some vegans may be ok killing insects while others are not. Safer to just not go there.
  • Animal hide journals or notebooks: Garden journals are quite popular these days and are awesome gifts for keeping a diary of what’s been planted. However, I’ve seen a few that are leather bound. Look for a label that says, “man-made materials” or go with canvas or paper coverings.
  • Boots or garden shoes: Again, watch out for leather. A gift certificate from a place like Zappos may be safer than actually trying to find a poly boot that fits the foot of your vegan Cinderella, depending of course on how well you know that foot.
  • Wool socks: Garden socks can be a really fun gift, many come with ladybugs and flowers woven into them and are quite charming. Just read the label to ensure there’s no wool or silk. Bamboo would be a nice fiber to find and is soft and resilient. Or see the links above for cool and fun socks.
  • Vermiculture or ‘Worm bins”: Best to steer clear of this as well. Not all vegans would be happy with worms in captivity although some are. Unless you know your vegan gardener well, safer to look for other gift ideas.
  • Homesteading Books: Watch out for homesteading books that include chapters on raising cows for milk, beheading chickens or butchering pigs. Go for books that focus on veggies and such.

So, now that you’re prepared, what are you waiting for? You’ve only got 12 more days until Christmas! Get the compost out!

Snarky’s Product Relationship Disclosure (or rather, more info than you wanted to know)

Below I will note any relationship I have with any of the companies making the products I’ve included in my gift guide for gardeners:

  1. Ethel Gloves: Over the years, they have sent me several pairs of gloves either through events or as awards when I entered contests. None of them lasted more than a month or two because I wore through the fingertips. I guess I use that middle finger on my right hand a little too much. When I saw them at the IGC in 2010, I asked about the 4X. They explained that the fingertips are reinforced for people like me (my words, not theirs). I tried to buy a pair but they didn’t have change for a $50 so they gave me a pair to try out. I have now used them through 14 months with none of the middle finger issues I had previously. Yes, these gloves were free to me but when they do eventually wear out, they will also be the only pair I buy.
  2. D. Landreth seeds: They have never given me anything for free. I buy their seeds and love them. They don’t even know who I am.
  3. Weck Canning: They have never given me anything for free. I bought their jars last season for canning relish (which was awesome BTW), and I love these jars. I feel safer using them over the regular jars with traditional metal lids and they are way prettier.
  4. Vegetabowls: They have never sent me anything for free and they didn’t even know I was including their bowls on my list until I emailed them after posting. I just love their bowls. I hope they don’t mind me using their photo.
  5. Autonomie and Garden Shoes Online: Neither company has ever given me anything for free. I searched high and low for fun garden things that are vegan-friendly to include in my list. The boots have the added benefit of being FSC certified. But alas, I am a large woman with large calves and have yet to find any boot that fits me but I thought these may be great for other gardeners, who are skinnier.
  6. Books: There are not a lot of veganic gardening books in print or out of print. Given the less than stellar options, I’ve listed two that come recommended by another reliable source, Veganic Agriculture Network. Currently, I am on a waiting list for the out of print book.
  7. Moxie Organix: Yes, I have used samples of their soap at the Vida Vegan Con in August. They included their samples in our hotel kits so we didn’t have to worry about hotel soaps containing tallow. I loved the soaps enough to wrap the used samples gently and schlepp them home on the airplane.
  8. Sprouting supplies: no corporate brands here but I use both of these recommendations when starting seeds indoors for spring.
  9. Barbara Sanderson glass sculptures: Barbara has never given me anything for free. I have purchased her glass ornaments as client gifts in the past and they are truly beautiful. I love the quality of her glass.
  10. Blendtec: Blendtec has never sent me anything for free. I have borrowed “that other blender” from a friend and it overheated repeatedly when grinding sopping wet cashews. I also have two friends who purchased Blendtecs this past year and they use them, with no problems, for grinding nuts . Therefore I became a Blendtec Affiliate and ordered the newest Designer Series model for myself as soon as it was released to the public. I am anxiously awaiting its arrival right now and will test it immediately to compare it to the older models my friends have.

UPDATE: A notice went out yesterday asking that everyone participating in Vegan MoFo only blog about food for the month (or maybe then meant VEGAN food, the way it was written was a tad unclear). Since this post seems to me to fall on the fence (growing food in your home rather than preparing it), I’ll refrain from posting anything that does not include a prepared food dish or item until December 1st. At that time check back for the post I promised on growing herbs in your kitchen using vegan organic methods. I realize this is by far my most viewed Vegan MoFo post and I’m sorry but I don’t want to be eliminated from the blogroll. Thanks for your understanding—Julia

Part of what makes a vegan diet so great is the use of the freshest ingredients including herbs and veggies. But groceries are one of the most expensive places to buy fresh herbs, especially in winter. And you can be pretty sure they weren’t grown using veganic methods. In fact, organic produce is usually grown using animal-sourced by-products like blood/bone/feather meal and manure, effectively making most organic herbs and produce non-vegan. But we as vegans are stuck with buying produce and herbs from Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and regular run-of-the-mill groceries. Or are we?

This summer I started growing more edibles indoors and ramped up my community garden and back yard garden plantings to include produce that I can harvest during winter in zone 5 or store in a cool cellar or spare room/closet. This means growing and storing lots of squash, dried tomatoes and canned green tomato salsa. I’ve also moved my choicest herbs and greens indoors.

If you want to truly ensure you’re growing vegan organic veggies, start everything from seed yourself rather than buying plants at a garden center. I’m of the impatient sort so some of my stuff I got at the garden center while my tomatoes and basil are from seed.

In the hopes of helping other vegans ensure they have some fresh goodies that are grown veganically, I’ve outlined my indoor crop below and which specific varieties seem to be working best under lights or on windowsills. Tomorrow, I hope to outline a few vegan methods of fertilizing your goodies and keeping bugs at bay. It won’t be terribly comprehensive but it will be a start toward having your own indoor winter vegan organic garden.

Herbs that do well for me under lights or on windowsills.

Basil:

I LOVE picking fresh basil for sandwiches and quick pasta meals. It’s very easy when you’re growing some on a window ledge indoors. Granted, I’m not going to harvest enough to make a huge amount of pesto from my indoor crop but a few leaves in salads can be just the thing.

Thai Basil

Greek Basil

Purple Basil

  • Thai Basil
  • Globe Basil
  • Lemon or Lime Basil
  • Purple Opal Basil

*Essentially any of the small-leafed basils. You can forget about growing the basil with the big shiny green lettuce-type leaves you find at the grocery. It will only get leggy and not produce many leaves over winter. That basil really needs tons of outdoor sun and heat to perform well. It’s just not worth the space for winter growing. And remember, the more you eat your basil, the bushier it will get, so eat up!

Recommended SnarkyVegan recipes using basil:

Parsley:

The curly leafed stuff grows okay but only if you give it a good head start outdoors in the summer. I potted up 6 plants and left them on the deck from August to just 2 weeks ago when I brought them in and debugged them. (More on debugging tomorrow.)

The flat leaf parsley seemed a little sparse to me, like cilantro, so I haven’t even tried it indoors yet. Seemed like a lot of stem for a couple small leaves and space is an issue.

Sage:

Overall, sage seems very easy to grow indoors. My regular sage is doing really well. Not that I use sage all that much but it’s nice to have on hand for stuffing and squash dishes.


  • Plain old regular sage works best.
  • Purple sage is a close second.
  • Golden sage does well too.
  • Tri-color sage, the one with white splotches, is struggling but not dead yet.

Rosemary:

Rosemary is perhaps the one herb that has given me significant fits in winters past. They always seem to die by Christmas which is a bummer because that’s when you need it most for your Tofurky roast and potatoes. After much research and talking with many other gardeners, it seems the trick to growing rosemary indoors is:

  1. DO NOT let the soil dry out.
  2. DO NOT let the pot sit in water.

Quite the dichotomy eh? This means I keep my rosemary in easy view, with quick access and a loaded water jug nearby. I also spritz it every other day or so with a water bottle since indoor winter air is bone dry. A pain in the arse? Maybe but I love rosemary so it’s worth it to me. There’s absolutely NOTHING like fresh rosemary on roasted potatoes in January.

Additionally, there are many types of rosemary but you may only find one in your local garden centers, that being what they like to call ‘common rosemary’. I hate when garden centers do that because you still don’t know what you’re getting. For my grow rack, I chose what my garden center had left, common rosemary and a prostrate rosemary. The prostrate is a creeping variety that looks kinda vine-like. I am trying both and neither have died—yet.

Recommended recipe for rosemary:

Cube some potatoes, sprinkle with olive oil, salt, pepper and chopped fresh rosemary, roast in oven at 375° F until crispy on the edges. Toss halfway through on the baking sheets. You can’t go wrong with this.

Lavender:

I do have a lavender plant that I bought at a garden center close out so I don’t know which lavender it is but it’s doing well as you can see here. Yes, that’s a swamp monster in the pot.

Tarragon:

I have 2 tarragons that I potted up, one doing well, one not so much. But both are surviving though and have lots of new growth. I think when I rescued these at the garden center close out, they were neglected. I’m giving them time to recover before I attempt to cut them back to force new growth.

Also, go for the true French tarragon if you’re going to grow tarragon.

Chives:

Easy to grow under lights but better if you buy a small plant or start your seeds outdoors in the summer. I’ve never had any luck growing chives from seeds indoors but I do know that other gardeners have done fine.

There is NOTHING like fresh chives on Tofutti® Sour Cream for your baked potato!

Thyme:

Also easy under lights. Thyme is one of those plants you can also grown in partial sun outside so big shop lights indoors make it really happy.

Lemongrass:

I’m not sure yet if this will be successful during the long haul but I dug up 3 clumps of lemon grass from the garden and potted them to keep overwinter indoors. Lemongrass won’t survive our zone 5 winters and even if it doesn’t  grow much indoors, I can save it to replant outside in the spring.

One trick that websites say to do when digging up lemongrass to pot, cut the tops back to 6 inches from the soil surface. This should help it focus on developing roots to replace the ones it lost when you dug it up.

I’ve also read that you can grow lemongrass from seed indoors. I started mine from seed last March but it didn’t really take off until it was transplanted outside in May. I should know more about how lemongrass does indoors in a few months.

Too many herbs to use? Dry them and store them for later.

You know all those rubber bands that the US postal service insists on using with your mail? Wash those babies and bundle some of your herbs then hang them from a door knob in your kitchen until they dry. Crumble and store in airtight containers for later use. Basil is the one herb that loses a lot of its flavor when dried so I always try to use it fresh. But the savory herbs do really well dried.

Vegetables that are doing well for me indoors.

Tomatoes:

This is amazing! I just discovered this year that there are what are quaintly referred to as ‘windowsill tomatoes’, a.k.a., dwarf tomatoes. I realize I’m not going to get a smashingly huge crop of giant Brandywines but it will be interesting to see if all the little flowers covering 2 of my 4 plants actually produce tomatoes. There are also a few that qualify as dwarf but are sized more to fit in a 12-inch pot. The term dwarf refers to a range of itty bitty tiny tomato plants and some up to 2- or 3-feet tall.

Containers Choice Red Tomatoes

  • *Tiny Tim—determinate, 12-15 inches tall, 3/4-1 inch tomatoes
  • Micro Tom—determinate, 6-8 inches tall, 1 ounce cherry tomatoes
  • Micro Gold—similar to Micro Tom
  • Red Robin—determinate, 8-12 inches tall, 1-1/4 inch cherry tomatoes, use an 8-inch pot
  • Patio F—a hybrid, determinate, 2-feet tall, 3-4 ounce tomatoes, use a 12-inch pot
  • Totem—determinate, 10-12 inches tall
  • *Containers Choice Red—determinate, 24 inches tall, baseball-sized tomatoes, use a 24-inch pot

*The two with asterisks are the two I’m growing indoors in my kitchen window. The other nifty thing about the tiniest dwarf tomatoes is that they won’t need staking or cages.

Swiss Chard:

This is still an experiment but so far, not bad. I grabbed all the close out chard starts I could find at the garden center and potted them all up in 8-inch recycled garden pots from the garbage. I did this at the end of August and left them on the deck until just a few weeks ago. They had plenty of time outside to develop decent root systems in the larger pots and now I have big chard plants all over my living room. My goal is to only clip the leaves I need and not cut back entire plants throughout the winter.

Peter—If you’re reading this, they aren’t really chard. They’re really a relative of your favorite lettuce ;-P I wouldn’t try to trick you like that. See—they don’t even have the purple stems!

Tabasco peppers:

I found this little gem at the garden center close out. Can you tell I like close outs? Anyway, I potted all 4 tiny starts in a big 12-inch ceramic pot and left it outside all through Fall. It developed lots of flowers and peppers and now I’ve moved it indoors. I’m hoping that so long as it gets sufficient light, it will at the very least survive until May. At most, I’ll get peppers here and there this winter.

Citrus trees also do well indoors over winter.

Meyer Lemon dwarf tree:

I was surprised to learn from my gardener friends on Twitter that Meyer Lemon trees can grow indoors in zone 5 and still bear fruit during winter. Of course, everyone suggested putting the tree outdoors come summer so it gets better light and breezes.

My tree is from Duarte Nursery and I got it for $22 at Home Despot Depot. They also had dwarf limes and blood oranges but I only had room for one tree. I planted it in a pot measuring 19 inches diameter by 15 inches tall. While the squirrels got all the immature green lemons over the summer, it’s loaded with flowers now so I’m hoping we have no squirrels indoors ;-P

My indoor lighting set up.

It’s just a big metal rack with 4-foot shop lights containing daylight bulbs (I did not spend extra $$ on the daylight grow lights, I simply looked for something in the 6000K range). Keep the lights barely brushing the plants so they don’t get leggy since they’re going to be indoors for many months. If you don’t have much room, you can also use reflective clamp lamps and grow bulbs placed directly over plants. Also, don’t forget your timers. I have all my lights connected to power strips that are plugged into timers so I can ensure the plants get 16 hours of light during the winter. I know that seems like a lot, some websites suggest as low as 12 hours. But I’ve found my plants, esp. the herbs, to be much stronger and less leggy with more light. I also run the lights during the daytime so the plants aren’t confused and my neighbors don’t get wiggy.

As you can see, most of my pots are recycled food containers or garden pots.

South-facing windowsills are good for things that don’t need more sun than you get in December in your zone. Remember, we do get less sun and it’s lower in the sky the more North you are so if your south side is close to another building, you may not get direct sun through the window. Take the angle of the sun into consideration when deciding which plants go on the windowsill versus under grow lights.

Tips for keeping it cheap.

  1. Use recyclable containers like yogurt and carry out plastics. You can score a bunch of these containers in your neighbor’s recyclables if you don’t have any. I’m often picking through alley stuff looking for containers. Be sure that they’re food grade and be careful punching drainage holes in plastic as some plastics will crack easily. I use an ice pick and push slowly rather than Psycho style. Plus, doing it Psycho style can land you in the ER with a punched thumb. Don’t ask how I know this ;-P
  2. Use metal food cans by punching plenty of drainage holes with a hammer and nail.
  3. When neighbors pitch those handy 6- or 8-inch plastic pots from their gardening over the summer, grab them, clean them and save them for winter.
  4. No rocks for drainage? No problem: use a coffee filter or paper towel to cover the holes and keep your soil in the pots.
  5. Reuse lids from coffee canisters as drainage trays.

NOTE: Don’t skimp on good potting mix. This is critical for a good winter crop of anything. Using dirt from your yard is an insanely bad idea. Pick through garden center close out sales in September and October for deals on bagged mix.

Sources:

Cubits — had a nice herb selection earlier this year so check back again

Renee’s Garden — has a nice selection of herbs, especially basils that will grow well indoors

Botanical Interests

Tomato Growers — carries some dwarf varieties

Territorial Seed Company — carries both seeds and plants

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,766 other followers