Indoor lights open up possibilities for winter gardening

Even the casual reader knows that I insist that everyone have a lighting system to maintain plants during the winter months. Maintenance is, of course, just one of the benefits of having a string light. Not having to wait until April, when there is enough natural light to start seeds, is another. You can start seeds at the same time as local nurseries.

Far too often, however, I even overlook a third benefit of having a set of plant lights, and that might just be the best thing about owning lights. Simply put, we can grow whatever we want during the winter months. Whatever.

I was thinking about this the other day when someone mentioned that they only use Stevia to sweeten things up. I’ve always wondered how this plant would do outdoors here, and I know that in some places it overwinters indoors. Why don’t Alaskans grow it? Perhaps because stevia plants need at least 15 hours of light per day to produce enough leaves to make growing them worthwhile. With lights, all you need is some organic potting soil and some space, as these plants can grow up to 3 feet.

All major seed houses sell stevia. There are several varieties, but Stevia rebaudiana is recommended. As a bonus, you can grow your plant outdoors this summer and bring it back under lights to continue harvesting through the winter. Stevia plants last up to five years. Now that’s nice!

It made me think of the so-called “miracle berry”, Synsepalum dulcificum. It is the plant that produces a berry which, when eaten, gives acidic foods a sweet taste. Eat a lime! Here is a plant that you could keep under lights all year round. I grew some once from seed, but didn’t realize it took three years to get fruit and I didn’t have a place where the temperatures would stay warm. I didn’t have the best lighting system either. Time to try again? To verify this fascinating berry on the Internet. You might want to order a few berries first and then consider growing a plant or two.

No need to stick to exotics when growing under lights. Really, a set of lights lets you grow anything. What about potatoes, for example? Again, you need a bit of space, but the idea of ​​growing potatoes in the dead of winter may have escaped your imagination. You can use supermarket potatoes if they sprout – not all of them will. Next year save some of your summer harvest to use.

You can grow your potatoes in one of those 5 gallon plastic buckets after drilling drainage holes. Place a few inches of mulch or well-drained potting soil at the bottom. Plant your chips – pieces of potato, each with at least one eye. Place the buckets under lights and, as you would outside, add soil or mulch as the plants grow so that only a few inches of spikes show. Once they start to flower, place the buckets in a cool place to move the sugars from the leaves to the tubers.

And, of course, you can grow tomatoes in the middle of winter. How can you beat that? You can not. Try several different types. You can grow indeterminate tomatoes as perennials under lights. Who needs an outdoor greenhouse?

Really, you can grow any herb you like if you have lights. We like to do a bit of Japanese cooking, so perilla – shiso – is an ideal herb for us. It’s so easy, but you can’t do it in the winter unless you have lights. The same goes for all the traditional herbs like dill, mint, chives, oregano and fennel. All it takes is a lighting system.

Try it. Who knows what will happen to using your winter lights to grow new things instead of just tending to your houseplants. It could become another side of your hobby. Instead of just growing for the winter, for example, you can end up growing things under these lights year-round, things like licorice, which takes three to five years, or that miracle berry plant. Now you can even grow cannabis. Try feminized auto-flowering strains.

My Point: With a grow light set, you can grow anything. They aren’t just for maintaining your houseplants or starting summer plants from seed. What do you want to grow? Just use your web browser to see if you can grow it indoors and look for instructions. If you are a regular reader of this column, you should already have the lights.

Jeff’s Alaskan Garden Calendar

Alaska Botanical Garden: Ice Sculptures! Exhibited during daytime opening hours, Wednesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., as well as Friday and Saturday evenings in January during the holiday season. Tickets required; see alaskabg.org. The sculptures will be displayed until the weather melts them.

Nurseries: It is always interesting to see what they are doing at this time of year, so try to visit them. In addition, the seed rakes come out.

Sweet peas: You can start your own and pinch them to create bushy plants that will bloom earlier than the traditional start of April. As you wish. Our favorite sweet pea vendor is reneesgarden.com

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