Goshen News, Goshen, IN

March 1, 2013

THE DIRT ON GARDENING: Get a fresh start on spring with indoor gardens


— With the weather outside still hovering in the 20s, 30s and 40s it’s hard to visualize spring gardening, especially after just returning from South Carolina and weather in the 60s for a week of golf — it’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it.

Seriously though, get a leg up and dig out some of your patio pots or planters and plant a fresh veggie garden and place it in a sunny location without too many drafts.

Good choices for an inside vegetable garden (while waiting for spring planting) are the hardier varieties that can withstand cold like lettuce and some of the other salad fixings.

While any type of lettuce may be used, there are varieties that add color for an indoor potted garden like the ruffled red and green leaf variety.

When weather reaches into the 40s and 50s outside, take them out and let them harden off in the cool temps — just be sure to return them to the warmth inside for the evening when temps outside usually go down into the teens. These tough early veggies can handle the cold (even snow and cold rain) but not freezing weather — unless protected by a covering of snow. I’ve harvested lettuce a number of times when it was covered with a layer of snow but this usually happened after having a late snow in April or early May.

In another separate pot, plant some sweet basil along with some purple leaf basil to give color to a salad or even to add as a condiment to your homemade hot soup. The reason to keep this in a separate pot is that basil is extremely sensitive to cold temperatures and will frost and die very easily.

In another pot, plant some chives or green onions (if onion sets are available) to round out your salad fixings.

Obviously, some of the normal ingredients of a salad will have to be purchased because of “length of time to maturity” like tomatoes (55 to 70 days) or green bell peppers (70 to 90 days) with red, yellow, and gold bell peppers taking as long as 100 days or more.

This early experiment of growing salad fixings should probably be limited to the easier-to-grow varieties that you can simply pluck off several leaves and toss them into a bowl and sprinkle a vinaigrette dressing or your favorite dressing at hand on them.

Don’t have seeds to sow? Then trek down to your favorite garden center or big box store where they are displayed prominently this time of year. You’ll be one up on many of your gardening friends and also satisfying your gardening urge by getting your hands dirty in planting soil.

While in the gardening section browsing the seed selections, you may even see other packets of seeds that catch your eye that you may get an early start by planting now.

With early planting of longer maturing plants in an indoor environment, the most common occurrence (and fault) is lack of light and/or sunshine to keep plants from getting “leggy.” Plants will reach for light and sun and the only way to keep them in check is to keep them in a sunny spot to keep them stocky and heavy branched. Turn them daily to keep them from leaning one way toward the light.

Good luck — and happy “early” gardening!