Pre-emptive Gardening - Avoid the Winter Blues with Indoor Greens

I'm looking out at my yard and feeling depressed. The only living plants left in the garden are weeds. I miss the color and excitement of summer's skyscraper sunflowers, abundant cosmos and showy delphiniums. Winter means less sunshine and, for many of us, a general feeling of melancholy. To perk up my mood and my cooking, I moved my gardening inside and planted a tiny farm on my windowsill.

All you really need for an indoor garden are some plants or seeds, potting soil, and containers with holes for drainage. But of course there are a million products you could buy over and above that. These range from the "garden in a bag" kit for the not-so-green thumbs to the high tech (and high priced) AeroGrow Indoor Garden. The bag garden requires you to dump some seeds in the bag, water, and somehow it grows without leaking all over the place. The AeroGrow is a countertop gardening gadget that has its own grow light and a seeding system that only needs water and air. This one is great for growing vegetables inside when you don't have much light or window space.

I'm using a few of the terra cotta and other clay pots I had stacked on my potting bench and the window over my kitchen sink which is appropriately called a "garden window." However, in the summer I can't grow anything in this south-facing window because it gets so hot the plants burn. Hopefully, it will prove true to its name this winter. Since I have a lot of space and light I planted three separate gardens: flowers, leafy greens and herbs.

For the flower garden, I decided to grow nasturtiums because they're easy, pretty and edible. If you do this, make sure you pick the "compact" or "mounding" variety, which stay under 12 inches, instead of the "trailing" or "climbing" kinds which might grow you right out of your home. For my mood-lifting interiorscape, I chose to use seeds of the mounding Copper Sunset variety quite simply because they were the brightest ones I could find. Once they start showing their vibrant orange flower faces, you can use them in salads and salad dressings, soups, sandwiches and seafood.

For salad greens I chose a spicy mesclun mix and followed the advice on the Seeds of Change website. This is a great choice if you have a sunny window, and mine poked their tiny shoots up just two days after I planted them. If you don't have a sunny window, you might want to try spinach instead. Choose a container that is deeper than 3 inches. A long and skinny container is a good shape and will fit nicely on a windowsill. Start with a good organic potting mix (or make your own) and lay the seeds in your soil with just a thin layer of soil over the top of them. To speed up the process, you can put a piece of clear glass over the top so the soil stays moist. It's important to keep the soil consistently moist as your seeds are starting. Rotate the container every few days so your salad doesn't lean in one direction. Once the plants start filling in you can begin harvesting. To keep your supply going until your outdoor garden takes over, it's a good idea to plant new seeds ever three weeks

For my herb garden, I used four different containers to grow chives, sage, oregano, and chocolate mint. I bought plants instead of seeds for some immediate garden gratification. Each herb went in their own container so I can easily transfer them to my outdoor garden in the spring. The mint, however, will stay a container plant because it spreads too fast and would take over my garden outside. To keep each of these plants manageable in their containers, it's important to harvest often and your cooking will be richer for it.

So after just a week, my seeds have broken ground and the herbs are starting to fill out. I'm waking up every morning with that familiar excitement I get in summer. What's going to happen in the garden today? What can I create in the kitchen from today's harvest? If you're feeling the winter blues or just want some more healthy greens in your life, I highly recommend planting your windowsill.

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