Windowsill gardens for vegetables and herbs

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You can bring your garden indoors for the winter, by planting a windowsill garden. Many herb plants and vegetables grow quite easily in containers and require only minimal care. You'll be snipping fresh herbs in your kitchen throughout the winter.

Gardeners without a yard or those living in arid or frigid climates don’t need to pay a premium for organic produce at the supermarket. Many types of vegetables, and most herbs, can be cultivated indoors.

What You Need:

•Herb Plants
•Pots or containers
•Soilless Potting Mix

The first thing to consider is the amount of light the windowsill will receive. South, east, and west exposures will all do well, while plants grown in a northern exposure may need a boost from grow lights, especially in the winter. Avoid windows that are drafty or that get limited natural light. Most plants need at least four hours of bright light a day to survive. Direct sunlight isn’t necessary for most plants with the exception of cacti, succulents, and some herbs and flowers.

Indoor Garden Lights

Organic gardeners who wish to grow more than a pot of herbs or lettuce must invest in supplemental indoor garden lighting, unless they have a south-facing sunroom. A cool and a warm fluorescent light combination gives plants the full spectrum they need to grow. Gardeners can buy a special plant light fixture, like the Aerogarden, but ordinary hanging shop lights work well too.

Fluorescent lights can be used if you don't have a sunny window. They will need to be placed close to the plants (18") and kept on for about 10 hours/day.

Place the plants as close as possible to the lights, as the light intensity decreases greatly with each inch of distance. Keep the lights on at least 16 hours a day for best growth.

Next, think about containers. Chose containers that promote good drainage and have enough weight to them to avoid toppling in the breeze. For a more decorative touch, chose ceramic planters large enough for pots to be placed inside.

Plant herb seedlings in 4-inch-wide containers, and fill the containers with good potting soil (not dirt from your garden). Fertilize your plants with compost tea or a seaweed spray every 6 to 8 weeks, but curtail applications when plant growth slows in the winter. Make sure to give plants plenty of light too and water only when the top of the soil feels dry.

Once the plants have been selected, chose a pleasing arrangement on the windowsill. If planters are not being used, be sure the surface won’t be damaged by water leakage. Plastic trays are available in a variety of sizes, shapes, and lengths at most garden centers and home stores.

Plants in containers dry out much more rapidly than plants in the ground, so extra care must be taken to keep them moist. Many plants will also appreciate regular feedings, especially those that flower. Choose one especially formulated for containers or houseplants. Just like plants grown outdoors, flowering plants will need regular deadheading, and foliage plants will appreciate being pinched back to promote full, bushy growth.

Vegetable Varieties for Indoor Gardening

Although hybridizers have greatly increased the number of dwarf and miniature vegetables in the last 20 years, gardeners still can’t grow things like corn or melons indoors as successfully as outdoors. It’s wise to start with vegetables that produce maximum yields in small spaces.

Leafy greens such as lettuce, spinach, and endive perform well indoors. These plants also don’t require the high sunlight and temperatures some vegetables need to produce flowers and fruits.

Increase the interest level of an indoor salad garden with a mixed container of basil and cherry tomatoes. It isn’t enough to choose a small-fruited tomato variety; gardeners must buy seeds that grow compact determinate vines. ‘Micro-Tom’ and ‘Patio F Hybrid’ were developed specifically for container culture.

South-facing windows are best for edibles, the most successful have been: lemon grass, rosemary, green onions, mint, mustard greens, parsley, cilantro, oregano, thyme, basil, Thai chili peppers, okra, chives, stevia, lemon verbena, tarragon, dill, and sorrel. The least successful have been: beans, cucumber, arugula, tomato, squash, Swiss chard, leeks, spinach, and corn.

Choose herbs that don't grow too wide or tall. Chives, basil, lavender, parsley, mint and thyme are good choices.

Snip and use your plants often to encourage them to grow full and bushy. Never trim more than 1/3 of the plants foliage.

Gardeners who have some indoor gardening experience and are ready to try something new can grow bush beans, dwarf beets or carrots, peppers, and even dwarf vine vegetables like squash or cucumbers indoors. Gardeners using grow lights will have greater yields with large indoor vegetable plants, as this prevents leggy plants that strain toward chilled windows.

Care and Fertilizer for Indoor Vegetables

Regular watering is essential for indoor vegetables. Vegetable plants that receive irregular irrigation may experience bud drop or yield bitter vegetables. Gardeners who have more than a windowsill planter may consider watering devices like capillary matting, which allows plants to absorb water through the drain holes in pots. Watering globes are attractive options that keep soil evenly moist. Organic mulch can prevent the surface of the soil from drying out or crusting over.

Organic fertilizer is important throughout the growing season, especially since frequent watering drains nutrients from containers. Compost from an active bin introduces beneficial soil microbes, as well as trace nutrients. Although expensive, seaweed meal is a balanced organic fertilizer that releases nutrients slowly, so gardeners won’t need to reapply it as often as a liquid fertilizer.

Indoor Vegetable Pest Control

One of the benefits of gardening indoors is the lack of common outdoor garden pests, such as aphids and caterpillars. However, the same garden pests that affect indoor houseplants may also bother the indoor vegetable garden.

Check for whiteflies with the aid of yellow sticky traps. The insects are easy to remove with a small vacuum.

Mealy bugs occasionally affect indoor vegetable plants. Kill the white fuzzy pests with a cotton swab saturated with rubbing alcohol.

Spider mites are common indoor plant pests, especially in dry conditions. Water the entire plant, not just the soil, as mites dislike moist conditions. Webbing indicates a serious spider mite infestation that requires an organic spray like insect soap.

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