Larry Hodgson has published thousands of articles and 65 books over the course of his career, in both French and English. His son, Mathieu, has made it his mission to make his father’s writings available to the public. This text was originally published in the newspaper Le soleil on January 21, 1995.
There’s nothing like picking fresh vegetables from your own garden to make you forget about the cold and snow of winter… your indoor garden, of course. As surprising as it may seem, it’s possible, even easy, to grow a few vegetables on a windowsill, in the middle of winter.
Enemy Number 1: Lack of Sunlight
In theory, there are no limits to the vegetables you can grow in your home: from eggplant to zucchini, all you need is enough space… and lots of light. But here’s the catch! The winter sun is so weak that, unless you add strong artificial lighting, there simply isn’t enough light in even a well-lit house to grow tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and more in January. So, choose fast-growing vegetables that won’t suffer from a lack of sunlight… and eat them young, long before the plant fully matures.
Keep Those Sprouting Onions
If some of the onions you put in the refrigerator start to grow on their own, it’s easy to use the foliage, like a shallot. Plant them in a pot, barely covering the bulb, and place them in front of a well-lit window. In just a few days, the leaves will start to grow. It is then a matter of cutting them, with scissors, according to your needs to have beautiful green leaves in quantity… and especially much fresher than in the grocery store. In the long run, the onion will wear out and will only be good for composting… but at least it will have given you several delicious leaves to put under your teeth!
You can do the same with garlic cloves that are starting to sprout. Garlic leaves are delicious, offering a very mild alliaceous flavor.
There’s no quicker way to get fresh vegetables at home than with lettuce. Sow the seeds in a low box or an old margarine container. As soon as the seedlings have two or three leaves, you can remove the excess (and eat them, of course!) to give the stronger plants more room. After three or four weeks, the young plants, as they grow, will again become very crowded. Thin out again… and eat the surplus that’s already big enough to make a very respectable salad.
After six to eight weeks, the stronger seedlings will be almost ripe and should be harvested without delay, before they go to seed. In fact, for continuous production throughout the winter, you can plant lettuce every two weeks from fall until the weather permits planting them again in the outdoor garden.
If you have a surplus of beet seeds, you can also sow them in the house… but only as greenery: the plant will probably not produce its beautiful root when grown in a pot. Beet leaves, on the other hand, are perfectly edible, very vitaminized and even delicious: you can cook them like spinach.
There are also lesser-known vegetables that can produce very well in your home… and very quickly, because they can be eaten only a few days after germination. Lamb’s lettuce (mache), for example, a very popular green in Europe, but little known in North America, grows very quickly indeed. You can start harvesting the surplus only 15 to 20 days after sowing, while the plants mature in only about a month and a half. Its minty taste is well appreciated in salads. You can find lamb’s lettuce seeds at good seed shops.
Watercress grows even faster than lamb’s lettuce, as it’s eaten as a seedling after only 10 days of cultivation. Just sow it… and cut it with scissors to make a delicious, tangy sandwich filling.
That’s Not All!
If you’re excited about growing vegetables in your window this winter, think of all the possibilities: sunflowers, wheat, cabbage, mung beans (chop suey is made of them) and much more. Any edible leafy vegetable can be grown for its young shoots to add a fresh taste to your winter salads. It’s simply a matter of discovering this easy crop… and putting it into practice!