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Ways to be a Winter Green Thumb

February 22, 2011

It may be cold and snowy here in Massachusetts, but I can assure you gardeners are already thinking about spring and planning their gardens!  Maybe you can’t wait until spring to get back to nature, to play with dirt or to watch plants grow, so  GoGreen has done its research to find ways to be a Winter Green Thumb.

Grow a Living Spice Shelf of Favorite Culinary Herbs. If you really like to cook with fresh herbs year-round, consider arranging a light table for them.  Set up fluorescent shop lights over a sturdy table or shelf. For most plants, provide at least 12 hours of light a day from a two-tube fixture suspended about six inches above the plants.  You can also hang the lights from two or three sturdy brackets. 

Keep in mind, if you brought your herbs indoors for the winter, they are apt to go dormant, performing sluggishly. The book Newspaper Pennies Cardboard & Eggs for Growing a Better Garden (Roger Yepsen and the Editors of Organic Gardening, 2007) offers a way to fake them out:

1.      Pot the plant and boldly cut back the top growth to just two or three inches

2.      Place the plant in a clear plastic bag with the opening on top and seal it.

3.      Place the potted plant in the refrigerator for two weeks, subjecting it to an additional two weeks in the freezer, and then finally moving it back to the refrigerator for two final weeks.

4.      Once the shocking is complete, place the plant on a sunny windowsill with the bag open and watch for new growth.

What else can you grow inside?  I bet tomatoes weren’t on your list!

Try Container Gardening Indoors. Tomatoes can be the largest and most unruly plants in the garden, but pint-size varieties can be grown indoors in pots, according to Yespen et al. A six-inch pot will be large enough to grow a plant, although a larger pot will allow for watering less frequently and you will see more vigorous growth.  Some varieties are better than others for growing indoors.  Try Healani, Pixie, Small Fry, and Tiny Tim.  While plants are small, place  stakes in the soil and they will grow stronger.  Another tip from the authors:  you may need to play pollinator once you see the yellow blossoms.  Just give the branches a gentle tap with your fingers to help spread the pollen.  Look for this dust around the blossoms.

Visit a Farmers Market. You may be thinking, ‘What farmers market is open in the winter?’ According to the non-profit, Mass Farmers Markets, there are 25 winter farmers markets operating right now.  With the help of their Find Market Feature , we found locations in Amherst, Carlisle, Chelmsford, Dedham, East Falmouth, East Longmeadow, Natick, Plymouth, Somerville, Springfield, Wayland, West Tisbury, and Westford.  So no matter where you are in the state, there is a winter farmers market nearby!  You can find greens, root vegetables, apples, honey, maple syrup and much more during the winter months.

There are also things you can do to prepare for being a Summer Green Thumb now. 

Set up a Basement Worm Bin. ‘Worms in the basement?’ you might ask.  Yes – that’s right. Worm composting, or vermicomposting, provides the highest quality compost – ten times the nutrient levels of regular compost.  At this point, everyone knows that compost enriches soil with nutrients, increases moisture retention, improves structure, and provides a good environment for beneficial soil organisms.  With vermicomposting, you can compost indoors.

To get started, and while you may look at this project as a DIY, I suggest taking the plunge and purchasing a worm compost unit.  Look for something with trays and a faucet to cut down on the mess.  Worms start at the bottom and migrate upwards as they go, leaving behind tray after tray of rich compost. A reservoir at the bottom captures “worm tea” — an ideal, odor-free liquid fertilizer.  I also suggest making sure you get the correct worms by purchasing them online  visit Flowerfield Enterprises, LLC, started by a great worm guru, or more locally, try Cape Cod Worm Farm and Wormpost Vermont.  The following guide will help you figure out the amount needed:

number of people quantity of worms bin size
1 or 2 1 lb. 15″h x 1.5’w x 2’l
2 or 3 1 lb. 15″h x 2’w x 2’l
4 to 6 2 to 3 lbs. 15″h x 2’w x 3.5’l

For more information, check out the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s vermicomposting Web site.

Start a Cold Frame Garden. Since Punxsutawney Phil didn’t see his shadow, we’re all hoping there will be an early spring.  But if you are itching to get out there as soon as the snow is gone, a cold frame garden–a raised, covered bed–made with reused, old storm windows is a great project.  Cold frame gardens will keep any spring snow off your budding plants.

Note you can also plant the following seeds before the frost-free date*: beets, broccoli, carrots, celery, lettuce, peas, and of course, everyone’s favorite – spinach.

*Both the spring and autumn frost-free dates vary by source and Massachusetts locale. Consult a knowledgeable local gardener for information on your area.

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