by Mark Anderson, owner, Anderson’s Seed and Garden

Children potting plants

Now that the leaves have fallen and the yard is put to bed (hopefully you finish that job before the snow sets in for good), we can still enjoy a little gardening during the winter months… inside!

For years, gardeners have survived the winter by growing a few herbs and greens in the windowsill, but with steady improvements in lighting and hydroponic systems, it’s relatively easy to successfully grow a lot more than a few “herbs.” It’s also a lot of fun; harvesting fresh greens, growing sprouts and trying to get a tomato to set indoors makes for an entertaining and rewarding experience.

My kids love fresh sprouts — winter, spring, summer and fall. Simple to grow and ready to eat in just a week to 10 days, sprouts pack tons of nutrients and flavor into a small bite. Don’t get stuck in the alfalfa rut either.

There are many different flavors to sample: turnips, kale, radish, spinach, buckwheat, onion and broccoli. As a child, my mother and I would grow them in an amber-colored mason jar with a screen lid for rinsing. To do this, put about 1 tablespoon of seed in a jar, attach the lid and rinse (and drain) the seeds with fresh water morning and evening. We would let it sit on the kitchen counter and enjoy the fresh sprouts about a week later. Now I use a four-tiered tray that drains from top to bottom. Super easy!

Indoor plant container

For a different twist, try growing a renewable crop of microgreens. They are exactly what they sound like: mini greens that are harvested young, but loaded with nutrients and intense flavor. Some of my favorites include beets, chard, basil, lettuce, kale, celery, peas and sunflowers. I grow mine in a Nanodome greenhouse kit. It consists of a 10 x 20 plastic tray, a 10-inch tall greenhouse dome with vents and a full spectrum light fixture and bulb that fits perfectly into the dome.

Our microgreens grow on the shelf in the pantry — they never see the sun — and once they are ready to harvest (after about two to three weeks), we cut them and they grow back for cutting again in about 10 days. For soil, use a seed-starting mix or a fiber propagation mat. The roots don’t need more than an inch of soil, and the mats are re-useable.

For the more experienced indoor gardener, hydroponics have increased in popularity over the last few years, becoming more accessible and easier to use. Hydroponic basics include a soil-less medium to grow in (expanded clay pellets or zeolite), containers to hold the plants, a pump to recirculate the water and a nutrient solution to feed the plants. The more lights the better as Mother Nature does not provide much light indoors in January and February. Needless to say, there are Cache Valley gardeners producing fresh tomatoes and peppers from their own hydroponic systems during the winter months. It can be done. Basically anything you can grow in soil will work equally well in a hydroponic setup.

Just because the garden is finished for the year outside, doesn’t mean you can’t keep your thumb green throughout the wintertime as well. Start small and easy, and work your way up to the more complicated systems as you get familiar with indoor gardening. The key is to have fun growing and enjoy fresh, homegrown produce while everyone else is at the grocery store this winter.