Can't wait for spring so you can garden again? Here are some ideas for a cheap to free indoor winter garden, to scratch that green thumb itch!

Satisfying the urge to keep growing things with this modest, experimental, table top garden.

Usually in winter I can be just distracted enough by Christmas to not be overwhelmed by how much I miss gardening, but this year it’s not happening. The garden restlessness that usually doesn’t start plaguing me until February has been assaulting me pretty much since our first hard frost in late October. I don’t know if it’s everything I’m learning at school, or what, but I want to be growing something! Slowly, I’ve been building up a fairly descent indoor, winter garden to scratch that itch.

There are a lot of ways one can do a winter garden, from cold frames and aquaculture to potted herbs and terrariums. Winter gardens can be kept indoors or out, can be for food production or ornamental, and can be as complex or mundane as you wish. It’s winter time, anything you can do is pretty awesome if you love gardening as much as I do.

We’re saving money for a trip to Paris to visit our surro family next year, so I’m putting my winter garden together on a shoe string budget. I haven’t paid a penny for any of it yet this year (a few things I did purchase a year or more ago though) and I don’t think I’ll need to purchase anything either. Here’s what I’ve got going.

A sourdough starter is a great homestead project during the cold winter months!

My sourdough starter has already provided me with several tasty loaves of home baked bread!

Sour dough starter

This isn’t really a plant, it’s a culturing of mostly yeasts and some bacteria, which I can use to bake bread with. I bought my starter culture from Cultures For Health earlier this year because I was too lazy to catch my own for free, and then was too lazy even to start the culture for months. I guess now is the time.

You don’t need to purchase a starter though, you can catch that shit right out of the air. You don’t even need to leave your house! All you need is flour, water (not chlorinated), and a container to put it in (I use an old spaghetti sauce jar). It’s actually really easy so it’s stupid of me to be lazy about it. I guess I thought the store bought cultures would be special or something. I don’t know, I was pregnant when I bought it, and I’m not always rational when I’m pregnant.

Note: Once you have a good sourdough starter going, it’s a good idea to preserve a bit in the fridge or freezer in case something goes wrong and you lose a starter. Shortly after writing this post, but before it went live, I went to feed my starter one morning and found it covered in black mold! Luckily I had some bread dough in the fridge, and I used a chunk of it to inoculate a new starter, and it was in good shape within 24 hours, but had I not had that chunk of dough in the fridge waiting to be baked, my fancy purchased starter would have been gone! I suspect the culprit was some non organic flour I fed my starter with the day before, which brings up another point, it’s best to use organic flour to make your sourdough starter. Conventional flour may still have residues of pesticides or herbicides on it, which can kill the beneficial yeasts in your starter, and pave the road for tougher, opportunistic fungi and bacteria to move in, like the black mold.

Here’s a good tutorial for how to catch your own sour dough starter.

Missing fresh grown greens during the winter? Try growing sprouts indoors!

Growing my own sprouts has yielded edible greens for our household very quickly! A great addition to a winter garden!

Sprouts

Here’s another thing I bought, at least a year ago, I don’t even remember. I bought this sprouts grower thinking I was going to grow my own sprouts because my local grocery stores had stopped selling them due to safety concerns. WTF? Safety concerns? I’ve been eating sprouts my whole life, and never has my safety been of concern. It’s not like cantaloupe and spinach haven’t been E. coli orgies in the past, they don’t stop selling those. Whatever.

In any case, I put the damn thing in a corner of my kitchen and forgot about it, living a miserable, sprout free existence all that time before I remembered I had it and pulled it out to use. It came with a free little packet of salad blend sprout seeds, which is cool because those are my favorite kind of sprouts and I didn’t want to have to buy them. Most seeds people grow sprouts with you can buy in a bulk bin or pre packaged bag at your local grocery store, rather than buying them as seeds specifically intended for growing sprouts. I grow pea sprouts and bean sprouts that way for my own munchies, and I grow lentil sprouts for the quail that way. It’s much cheaper to buy them that way. If I really want alfalfa/broccoli/whatever else is in those tiny sprout blends, I guess I’ll buy those the expensive way. Luckily, it doesn’t take much seed to make a respectable amount of sprouts, so I think this sample of alfalfa blend that came with the grower will last a long time.

You don’t need a fancy grower to grow sprouts though. You can easily grow them in a jar. Here’s a good tutorial on that as well.

I’m wondering what else I could sprout, and how good it would be. I know sunflower sprouts are a thing, as is wheat grass, although you kind of have to juice those and I don’t have the kind of juicer you need to get the juice out of wheat grass. Can I eat chia sprouts? Quinoa sprouts? More research is required!

How do I eat sprouts, you ask? Pretty much any place I’d eat lettuce. On a sandwich, in a salad, on a taco, whatever. I also will use them as a fancy, edible garnish. Oh yeah. Since growing them, I’ve eaten sprouts on omelets, on sloppy joes, in a burritos, on tomato soup, and lots of other places I can’t remember right now. Bean sprouts go mostly in stir fry, for me. Whatever I don’t eat, I feed to the quail. They love sprouts! It’s a nice treat for them.

Testing out all those "Foods you can grow from scrap" memes you see on pinterest.

It’s growing a little bit, can you see? I don’t know if I’ll be making a salad any time soon but it’s still kind of fun!

Romaine lettuce butts

You know those infographics you see on Pinterest that show you what foods you can regrow from scraps? Well, I’m putting all those to the test this winter because it’s a free source of gardening! Right now I’ve only got one romaine butt planted, and I was pretty skeptical it would grow, but hot damn, it did! I don’t know if I’ll ever get edible quantities of lettuce out of it, but it’s still kind of interesting to watch it grow.

Putting all those pinterest memes about food you can regrow from scrap to the test!

These old sweet potatoes are perking up now that they’re getting water and sunlight!

Sweet Potatoes

Here’s another grown from kitchen scraps addition to my winter garden. These sweet potatoes must be at least a year old. They’ve been under my cabinet forever, I think they were from that organic food delivery service I used to use, and that was over a year ago! When I found them, I was amazed they hadn’t rotted and dried up to black crust in the time I had forgotten about them. They were alive and growing! Without sun, without water. For over a year! That’s a testament to the awesome survival capacity of tubers, I suppose.

I don’t know if they’ll ever produce vines that will give me edible sweet potatoes, but I figure they’d be fun to grow anyhow. These little survivors deserve to catch a break. If they are happy and strong by summer time, I may attempt to plant them outside. Sweet potatoes can be tough to grow in this zone because of our short growing season, but what the heck? Worth a try, right?

How to put together a low cost/free indoor winter garden.

This is probably the most boring plant picture ever. Will it grow? Only time will tell.

Basil

I got this little pot with basil seeds at our local garden and home show probably 4 years ago. Found it while cleaning my kitchen and thought “What the hell? Let’s plant it!” So here we are. It’s not growing yet, but we’ll see what happens.

Putting all those pinterest memes about food you can regrow from scrap to the test!

Growing green onions is easy and works great. Give it a try!

Green onions

I had to pick up some green onions for a recipe I tried out recently so I stuck them in a glass of water and intend to keep them going all winter. I’ve done this before and know it works well. This one isn’t an experiment.

Putting all those pinterest memes about food you can regrow from scrap to the test!

My pit has not done much since I planted it. How long does it take?

Avocado pit

I decided to give this a go for the first time in my life, which is surprising, because I freaking love avocados. You’d think I would have tried this earlier. The reason why I hadn’t? I always imagined it was really hard to put tooth picks into an avocado pit. Like I would need a small drill or something to get holes in the pit before I could put tooth picks in. Avocado pits are not as hard as I imagined. It’s really easy to just push a toothpick right into it. I feel really stupid now.

Future additions to my winter garden

That’s all I’ve got so far but I intend to grow it further. I want to try to grow some ginger and turmeric, and whatever else I can off those grow stuff from scrap infographics. Why not, you know? I have leftover seeds from last year, mostly herbs and lettuce, that I could plant in containers as well. Might as well, while I’m growing stuff. I’d love to snag cuttings of some house plants to try and root too, I know Pothos and Wandering Jew (which I propose needs a better, non race related name) are fairly easy to root from cuttings. And since I’m counting a sourdough starter as part of my winter garden, I suppose I could consider brewing Kombucha again. I always seem to fall off the wagon with it.

Finding containers

Containers are the most expensive part of container gardening, especially if you want your containers to look nice. Sure, you can find cool containers that weren’t meant for growing plants, but sometimes it takes a long time to find nice ones. In the mean time, if you are like me and you don’t give a fuck, you can plant things in just about anything. Old sour cream containers? Check. Old peanut butter jars? Fuck yeah! Lids from Costco sandwich ham for drainage trays? Of course, yo. I’m not going to buy stuff! Psh.

A good rule of thumb to remember is that anything growing in dirt is going to need drainage, while anything sitting in water will not. So save the glass jars for things that sit in straight water like sweet potatoes, Pothos, sprouts, and green onions, and put the dirt plants in plastic. You can poke holes in the bottom of plastic containers with a knife to facilitate draining. And don’t forget to put a drainage tray underneath!

Light

I have my winter garden sitting on my dining room table next to a south-facing window. Pretty much any sunny window will work, and for some plants you don’t even need a super sunny window. It all depends on the plant. You can also supplement with grow lights, or just use fluorescents. I use fluorescents for seed starting. It might not be the best possible light but it works and it’s cheap, so if it’s the best you can do, go for it.

Do you grow a winter garden?

Indoors or out? For food or ornamentals? Fancy or cheapo, like mine? Tell me about it in the comments! I’d love some new ideas, what’s working for you, what isn’t?

Also, send me your pictures on Instagram, tag them #rockingthehomestead and I’ll re post them!

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