Now that the balmy days of summer are behind us, and the time to tuck in for the long cold of winter has come–I like to play around with growing different foods inside my house. The gardening season may be over, but providing fresh and nutritious foods for family meals is a never-ending task, and though I am not yet set up with cold-frames and hoop-houses, I am able to grow some foods indoors during the winter.
Growing my own food, even on a small scale, saves money and the environment in one fell swoop, and I have the added benefit of knowing that it was produced using methods I approve of–safely grown to the benefit of man and nature.
Foods to Grow
1. Micro-greens: These baby greens pack a punch of dense nutrients that make a great addition to salads and sandwiches, providing a great source of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as folate. You can often find seed at your local natural foods store–look for broccoli seed or sunflower seed. Or go to Johnny’s Seeds for a broader selection of delectable micro-greens and micro-green mixes.
To grow simply fill a shallow tray with potting soil, moisten with water so that its damp but not wet, then scatter your seeds so that they are approximately 4-6 seeds per square inch. Sift a thin layer of soil over the seeds and lightly mist with a spray bottle; place the tray in a sunny windowsill. Mist or lightly water the seeds daily until germination occurs, then water the seedlings at the roots to avoid soaking the leaves.
Your micro-greens are ready to eat when they’ve grown to 1-2 inches in height and have 2 sets of leaves. To harvest, hold the seedlings by the stems and use a pair of scissors to cut off the leaves. Be sure not to cut the roots in order to ensure multiple harvests. Eat them right away–or store them in a plastic bag in the fridge for up to 5 days.
2. Sprouts: Scientists agree that there can be up to 100-times more beneficial enzymes in sprouts than in uncooked fruits and vegetables. The quality of the proteins in beans, nuts, seeds or grains is improved during the soaking and sprouting process. Fiber content is increased significantly, along with the available fatty acids, and the content of vitamins, including vitamins A, B-complex, C, and E–by up to 20-times!
You can grow sprouts simply in a mason jar, or in a specialized sprouting tray. To use the jar method, simply place a tablespoon full of your selected seed in the bottom of a quart jar and cover with water. Soak for 8 hours or overnight–depending on the type of seed you’ve chosen. Drain off the water, then over the next 4-5 days rinse the seed twice a day, each time covering the sprouting seeds completely, swirling them around in the jar and allowing them to soak for approximately 30-seconds before draining again. Keep the jar of sprouts in a dark cupboard or corner.
When the sprouts have grown their first set of leaves, place the jar in a sunny window sill to green them before harvesting. You can eat them right away, or store them in the fridge for a week or more.
For more details about how to grow your own sprouts using the jar method–check out this post.
3. Leafy greens: Anything from spinach to lettuces can be grown indoors with little effort and are jam-packed with vitamins like A, C and K, as well as folate and iron.
Start indoor greens from seedlings found at your local nursery, or from seed, which you can get locally or online. Plant seeds about 4-inches apart in a tray filled with a good quality potting soil–seedlings plant 6-inches apart. Water regularly to maintain soil that is damp or moist to the touch.
Harvest by selectively cutting the largest leaves, allowing continuous growth of the plants and successive harvests.
4. Kombucha: I’d never heard of this fermented tea drink before my stay at Medicine Hill, but Linda taught me to love it and I’ve been brewing my own ever since! Kombucha is a slightly fizzy health drink that has been around for 2000 years and scientists have proven its healthful benefits. Kombucha aides in cancer prevention through detoxification of the liver, serves as joint care by preventing and treating the symptoms of arthritis. As a probiotic beverage, Kombucha improves digestion and is noted for reducing–even eliminating the symptoms of fibromyalgia, depression, and anxiety. What’s more, kombucha is extraordinarily anti-oxidant rich and boosts immune systems and energy levels at the same time.
To make your own kombucha you first need to get a scoby. You can order a Brew Now Kit from Kombucha Kamp or get one from a friend. Brew your tea, dissolve the sugar into the hot tea, allow to cool a bit before adding to the jar containing your scoby and starter mix (which is just a portion of the original tea the scoby was grown in), cover with cotton linen that allows the scoby and tea to breath, while preventing fruit flies from getting in, and store in a dark cupboard for 7-10 days.
After about a week, pour off a small amount of the fermented tea to test the flavor. The longer you leave the scoby in the tea the stronger the kombucha will be, but be careful–too long and the mixture can turn to vinegar! When it meets your taste preferences, pour off two-thirds or so of the tea, leaving the scoby and the remaining fermented tea in the jar for the next batch. Brew another batch of tea to add to the jar containing your scoby mother. Bottle your finished tea and enjoy!
5. Mushrooms: With many of the nutritional attributes of produce, as well as those often found in meat, beans, and grains, mushrooms are low in calories, fat-free, cholesterol-free and very low in sodium. They provide our bodies with nutrients like selenium, potassium, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin D.
The easiest way to get started with mushrooms is to get a mushroom kit. In just a few weeks you can grow several different types–including oyster mushrooms, shiitake, and a variety of button mushrooms. Prefering dark, cool, moist and humid growing environments, mushrooms do well in basements, however a spot under the kitchen sink might suffice.
When your mushrooms are fully grown their caps will separate from their stems and they are ready to harvest. Simply pluck them with your fingers–rinse and eat them right away, or store in a paper bag in the fridge.
6. Ginger: With a long history of effectiveness in treating the symptoms of gastrointestinal distress, ginger is a great food to have on hand. It is used world wide to alleviate nausea and vomiting, as well as to flavor foods, sauces, and beverages.
To grow your own ginger indoors, you must first begin with a quality ginger root that is plump and smooth. If it is shriveled the root has gone past it’s prime and is not suitable for growing with. Soak your ginger overnight in warm water before planting into a mixture of loose potting soil and compost. The pot should offer plenty of drainage, and be placed in a warm spot that remains between 75 and 85 degrees, since cooler temperatures can stunt the plant’s growth. Water lightly during the winter when the plant is dormant, then as new shoots begin to appear water more heavily.
After about 10-12 months the plant will reach between 2 and 4 feet in height. It is now matured, and any new sprouts growing infront of the main plants can be dug up and either replanted elsewhere, or harvested for use.
7. Herbs: Studies show that many of our common herbs and spices offer health benefits to those who consume them. Herbs contain unique anti-oxidants, essential oils, vitamins, and polyphenols that help boost our bodies’ immune systems so that we can fight germs and toxins. Most of the evidence science has associated with the health benefits of herbs and spices is related to cinnamon, chili peppers, tumeric, garlic, oregano, basil, thyme, and rosemary. For thousands of years herbs and spices have been utilized for their flavor along with their healthful and medicinal uses.
The easiest way to grow herbs indoors during the winter is to bring a selection of plants in from your summer garden. Take cuttings, or pot up small plants–but take care to use the proper growing medium–using potting soil will eliminate many of the pests your garden soil harbors, and you can add sand or vermiculite to allow for the good drainage herbs require in order to thrive. Transition your herb plants to the indoor atmosphere gradually, rather than bringing them directly inside–put them in a bright, cool, transition zone–a garage, entryway, or enclosed porch–for a few weeks. Once they’ve had time to acclimate, move them to an area in the house where they’ll receive full sun for a least 8 hours a day, but take care to protect them from heat and dryness. Herbs prefer daytime temperatures within the range of 65 and 75 degrees, and it’s especially important that their nighttime temperature drop at least 10 degrees, so be sure to turn down the thermostat before you go to bed!
Harvest your herbs as you normally would, a pinch here and there–but if you’re looking for pesto from your indoor basil plant, you may want to set up a couple of fluorescent lights to help stimulate the growth and yield required for such a harvest. Use your herb cuttings right away, or store in a zip-lock bag in the fridge for 5-7 days.
This is just a sampling of some of the foods you can grow indoors during the long winter months, but as you can see there’s a lot you can do. If you can designate one shelf in a cupboard to growing sprouts and kombucha, and one bright, south-facing kitchen window to herbs and micro-greens, that’s a fair amount of food that you can produce to help supplement your family’s diets when your garden is under a foot or more of snow. Most of these foods you can grow with supplies you probably already have hanging around, so they’re easy and inexpensive too!
How about you? Do you grow anything inside during the winter? What would you recommend to a friend???