It is December 21, 2021 today. It being the shortest day of the year, we thought it was a good time for an indoor garden update. Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere is the beginning of winter, not sure what we had the last month though ;), and it is also the beginning of longer and brighter days.
However, we still have 2 months to go, till our daylight hours reach 10 hours. The fact that the daylight from October 28 to February 14 is below 10 hours, and the low sun angle result in very slow growth.
What is growing
Over the years we have grown many plants in our indoor garden. With more experience, we do not grow more, we actually grow less.
Seeing how plants perform during the cold and dark months, we have increased food preservation during the summer months and lowered our expectations for winter growing. Read also where does our homegrown food come from in the winter.
As of right now, there is Chinese kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, arugula, some herbs, tomatoes, lemon, lime along with some ornamental plants growing in our indoor garden.
When I say growing, I mean they are alive. Chinese kale and occasional kohlrabi get to harvesting size. Lettuce and cucumbers that were planted at the same time are already done. All of this was planted on August 6.
We harvested cucumbers till mid-November and lettuce about the same time.
Chinese kale was ready for the first harvest at the beginning of October, 2 months after planting. And we have been harvesting a bunch about every 10 days. Roasted with some garlic, or with noodles and cream sauce, it makes for a delicious meal.
The other greens that are growing in the indoor garden were planted on September 27. In 3 months they haven’t gone beyond the seedling stage. Our fall has been warmer than usual, with many overcast days. That means less sunlight, and actually colder than usual in the indoor garden. Hence the very slow growth.
The tomatoes are growing from cuttings that I took from the greenhouse cherry tomatoes in the fall. I did not expect much from them, hoping they stay healthy for another month or two, till the growing will take off. After that, we should have some early spring tomatoes. The blossoms that you see have been flowering since early November. Finely one is forming fruit which brings a lot of joy, not so much food.
The Meyer lemon tree has gone through a lot of pruning this year. For one I wanted to get it into a bushier shape, and it also has had an aphid problem. Bugs are a constant battle in an indoor garden.
The lime tree has gotten too cold one night. The tomatoes and lemon tree next to it had no damage, cucumber seedlings that I started, and lime tree had damage. Plant survive differently from cold and frost.
Heating and moisture control
Our indoor garden is not a greenhouse, even though we call it sometimes that. The biggest difference is that there’s less glazing to the outside. The roof is insulated (R20), the north wall separates the garage and the grow room, the floor is raised with some storage space underneath.
The windows are double pane glass, instead of polycarbonate panels that are usually used in a greenhouse situation. For pannels, it would be important to be on an angle to the winter sun to have the optimal solar insolation, otherwise, the insulation value would be superior.
With the room as is, we try to keep the temperature above 10C (50F). We usually do not have to heat during the day. On a sunny day, the room can easily heat up to the mid-twenties C without any additional heat.
At night we have been heating the room with an electric heater and a fan. It worked surprisingly well, you can read more here. However, we did have problems with moisture not just in the room, but more so in the garage. In the growing room, we are running a dehumidifier, and we installed a heater for the garage/shop.
The heater heats both, the garage and through a duct with an inline fan the greenhouse as well. We keep both at about 10C degrees which is nice for doing a project and reduces moisture problems due to temperature fluctuation.
In the growing room, we still keep the electric heater as a backup and to keep the lime tree happy.
Would we do it again?
Since we just bought some land with an open slate of opportunities, would we build a growing room like this again? Or maybe even better upgrade to a real passive solar greenhouse to reduce heating costs?
Reviewing our experience, we have noticed that winter growing in latitude 51 and lover is really not happening much except if we used supplemental light. Using additional light though makes the experience quite costly. We would rather build a good cellar for that money and store cabbage and sauerkraut to keep us nourished during the winter. The nutritional value is also higher compared to indoor-grown lettuce.
We really enjoy the growing room as a hang-out place. Having a cup of tea, relaxing, reading, etc. Whereat first the tower gardens were growing, now a hammock is standing.
In the winter it is nice to have room to overwinter trees and flowers, that are frost-sensitive. Since we enjoy being in the room in the summer too, some of those never leave the room.
We also like to use the sunny room for seed starting in early spring. Whereas before the seedlings were taking over the house each spring, we now have a dedicated room for that.
All of this could be done even better in an attached to the house sunroom, with a double door. On cold nights the room could be warmed by the house and on sunny winter days, the room could help to heat the house.
An ornamental container with lettuce or even kohlrabi would look nice in the sunroom, too. And we would not mind the seedlings taking over the room during early spring.
For growing food, we have had amazing experiences with the geodesic dome greenhouse. A Dome Greenhouse can be built for a fraction of a cost compared to a passive solar greenhouse. Even with our greenhouse poly cover, we can grow in the dome from April to October. With polycarbonate panels, we could easily cover the longer daylight days from the end of February to the end of October.
So for now we are dreaming of an attached sunroom and a bigger geodesic dome. We are very happy we did build this room, out of an old garage with recycled windows. It gave us some real-life experience to know what would serve us best moving forward.
Thank you for following along. Wishing you peace, love, and light closing this year and starting a new one.