Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Winter Garden

In which our Heroine turns Greenwitch.

Here are a few photos of the indoor garden I’ve been working on, along with a little history in story-book format.  Once upon a time, I had this crazy idea that I could grow some fresh greens and herbs during the fall and winter in Alaska.  “What brilliance!” I thought to myself. “I’m sure I’ll save scads of money on lettuce (which tends to look wilted and slimy in most stores at winter), plus I’ll have a fun hobby, all season long!” I also thought of the perk of being able to start seeds in the early spring to get a jump on those short Alaskan summers.  I thought of the awesomeness of starting something brand new and of doing yet another crazy experiment—an occupation much loved by moi, except for all those times when such experiment fails. 

To continue to tale:  Once upon a time, a beautiful maiden began growing lettuce, parsley, and other such wonders inside her snug cottage.  This mythical maiden was known far and wide for her green thumb.  But she soon found that light was needed as fall faded into winter, and the girl was poor.  Turning to her magic mirror, she cried, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, can you give me sunlight at all?”  Much to her surprise, the beautiful girl was taken up in a cloud of fairy dust and magically whisked into her local Home Depot, where stood a vast assortment of fluorescent lighting as well as some inexpensive shop lights, which she duly set up on wire shelving in a sunny spare bedroom.  But would these cheap lights work?  Only time would tell…

The second day, early in the morning, the maiden arose to check on her seeds and the wondrous new lights.  A miracle had happened!  The dry, hard seeds had been replaced by small seedlings.  How magical.  But in the afternoon, an evil sorcerer sent a plague of locusts (whiteflies and aphids) and the seedlings withered and died.  The maiden would have liked to feel morose and to have a tantrum, but she was too innocent and sweet for such nonsense.  Instead, the lovely girl scattered new seeds and went to bed. 

In the morning, she looked into her little kingdom of flora, and—once again, she found that elves had come in the night and replaced the seeds with tiny plants!  This time, the maiden found a secret potion to keep the evil sorcerer and his demonic minions at bay.  The plants grew and grew until they were large enough to serve in many a magical dish.  And the maiden, her prince Charming, and small fry lived happily ever after. 

Translation of magical objects in the fairy tale and other things of note:

1. The Potion: Brammer’s Peppermint Soap will keep just about any pest away, whether indoor or out in the garden.  I have since learned that my grandmother poured the dregs of her dishwater over her garden plants every morning way back in the day.

2. Magical lights: plain old fluorescent bulbs stuck in 4 ft long shop lights.  It is probable that the really expensive “grow” lights work better, but these work too, as long as the top of the plants stay within 2-4 inches of the bulb.  I use a simple, and pretty ugly system of boxes to put the shorter plants up higher when needed. 

3.Elvin-grown seedlings: I have experimented with romaine, butterhead, Greenleaf, and redleaf lettuces.  The redleaf is best so far.  All herbs seem to work.  Both lettuce and herb get leggy.  My banana sweet pepper is a surprise success, and my bok choi is a steady hit.  Spinach is a fail—I don’t know why—but three tries and its out.  Someday, I will get seeds for carrot, radish, summer squash, etc and will try those out.  I’m really only in the beginning stages of an all-consuming project here.  We’ll see what happens next.

4. “Poor” maiden: Not as cost effective as I would have liked, and the vegetables grow slowly—but it is one of my favorite random experiments to date.  And there’s nothing like having fresh parsley and basil whenever I want it.  I also look forward to having an early start on spring in a few months.  I am hoping that seeding everything myself will save a lot of money!


  1. that is awesome. I have tried going peppers before several times and have never gotten it to work. you seriously do have a green thumb!

  2. The neighbors are going to start wondering if you have some illegal drug plant growing going on from the continuous glow of florescent lights! Haha. But seriously...Very.Impressive!!! I can't even grow anything outside in the light of the real sun in California. You've got talent!!