By Catherine Winter
If you’re in the northern hemisphere, chances are things are already getting a bit chilly where you are. Out here in Quebec, we’ve already had about five inches of snowfall, and that’s likely to increase exponentially over the next few months. As an avid gardener, I used to spend months pacing and champing at the bit to get my hands back into the soil so I could grow my favourite vegetables, but since the snow often doesn’t melt out here until mid May, that’s a lot of pacing and frothing.
Fortunately I’ve discovered that there are plenty of food plants that can be grown indoors during the cold half of the year, and few require any kind of special equipment. I’ve had a hell of a lot of luck growing vegetables and herbs beneath standard LED lights in my basement, as well as on windowsills. South-facing windows are ideal, as they get the most light and warmth over the course of the day, but any window that allows in a fair bit of sunshine will do the trick. Just don’t place your plants too close to the glass if it’s seriously below freezing outside, as the chill can kill tender greens.
These are a few varieties that I’ve managed to cultivate quite easily. If they can grow in my chilly, rural Quebec basement, chances are they’ll thrive in your space as well. I’ll link to a few of my favourites from the organic/heirloom companies I order from in case you’re interested in cultivating them yourself.
These don’t take up much space, and you harvest them shortly after their leaves appear, so you don’t have to worry about them surviving for months. I like mizuna, but you can also get a great microgreen mix that has several varieties mixed in.
Small and really quite adorable, these buttery little leaves are great in salads or sandwiches, and grow best in cool conditions.
You can either grow your winter lettuce in pots, or get creative and hang it in a mesh basket. Just cram it full of seedlings and hang in a sunny window. You can snip off leaves for salads and let them re-grow over the course of the season.
Its leaves may be teensy, but purslane is packed with flavour and thrives in cool, shady conditions. Those little leaves have a wonderful, meaty texture and slightly lemony-green bean flavour, and are wonderful in salads, soups, and tabbouleh.
These hardy plants are ideal for growing on a wall or lattice indoors. They’re sweet, juicy little pearls that brighten up dark winter days with bursts of flavour.
All brassicas grow well in cooler conditions, but kale can even grow in the snow. Seriously. I’ve brushed knee-deep snow out of my garden beds and found kale still thriving beneath, so it’ll do just fine in a cool room with just a bit of winter sunshine.
These are probably the easiest of the lot, as beans and peas will sprout if you so much as wave a glass of water in their general direction. As far as equipment goes, you just need a jar, wire netting or cheesecloth, a bean/pea mix, and some water, and you can cultivate a crop of sprouts on your kitchen countertop.
A bit hardier and more aromatic than summer savory, this herb can take a beating and still keep growing strong.
Alongside chervil, sorrel is the first green to make an appearance in my garden every spring, stubbornly pushing its way up through cracks in the ice and snow. It’s known as Sauerampfer in German, and is a key ingredient in one of my favourite soups.
There are, of course, just a few varieties that I’ve been able to cultivate with ease indoors. Right now I have rainbow chard sprouts arching enthusiastically beneath the living room table lamp, and potted chives that are doing surprisingly well. I’ve never been able to keep basil alive indoors, nor dill, but savoury, thyme, rosemary, and parsley have all thrived on my kitchen windowsill. Ultimately, it’s really a question of trial and error to discover what will grow well in the space you have available, and what you like to eat.
Don’t waste time, space, or resources growing anything that you don’t actually want to eat, just because you think it’ll grow well in your space. Is there a particular vegetable or herb that you’d like to grow indoors this winter, but don’t know whether it’ll thrive or not? Let us know in the comments section!
Photos via Wikimedia and Flickr Creative Commons