Do you get depressed in the winter? If so, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that 10 million people in the United States experience seasonal affective disorder. Many others get the “winter blues.”
When the days are shorter and colder, we spend more time indoors. That means less vitamin D from the sun, less time in nature, and often less exercise.
Luckily, there are many ways to boost your mood in winter. You can start a new hobby, cuddle up with a pet or family member, or load your diet with more fresh fruits and veggies (spoiler alert: cold-pressed juice is one of the most convenient, delicious ways to do that). You can also start a garden!
Gardening? In winter? Yep! While we may associate gardening more with spring and summer, winter gardens can be a rewarding experience that yields crops like cabbage, beets, carrots, kale, and dark leafy greens. (Incidentally, kale and other leafy greens are a rich source of vitamin C for natural immune-boosting.)
If you’re concerned about cold weather or you don’t have a backyard, winter is also the perfect time to try indoor gardening. But don’t just take it from us. We recently sat down for a chat with Kevin Espiritu from Epic Gardening, who offered some expert advice on winter gardening and indoor gardening for beginners.
Little West: What advice would you give to someone starting a garden for the first time?
Kevin Espiritu: Don’t kick yourself when a plant dies. Instead, use that as a learning experience. Every gardener kills some plants while they’re learning.
But by the same token, start with easier things to grow. A packet of tomato seeds is very inexpensive, and if a few plants die, you’ll be less heartbroken than if it were an expensive plant. Gradually move up to more complex plants, learning how to care for them as you go!
LW: What essential items do you need to start a garden?
KE: You need light, water, and some form of soil, as well as some seeds. That’s it.
Gardens can be built out of reclaimed or recycled materials. One of the coolest gardens I’ve ever seen was made out of old two-liter bottles with the bottom cut off. The cap end had multiple holes poked into it for drainage. Those bottles were then tied to an apartment railing with twine, filled with soil, and herbs were planted in them. It turned garbage into a garden.
You can go fancier if you want. A good, solid raised bed is a lovely thing! But even if you are low-income, you can still grow things. Nature doesn’t have fancy containers or specialized equipment, and it still finds a way.
LW: What are the easiest things to grow in an apartment, or an area with limited outdoor space and limited light?
KE: If you’re growing indoors, consider plants that need lower light conditions. A cast iron plant (sometimes called a bar room plant) is a great option for people who don’t have grow lights or bright windows, and they’re practically unkillable. There’s plenty of other plants along the same line, but think large-leafed foliage plants rather than flowering ones. Flowering plants need at least some level of light for good flower production.
LW: What are some “Do’s” and “Don’ts” for urban gardening / gardening in an apartment?
KE: Don’t leave your plants sitting in saucers of water. While you may not want the water draining out of the plant to get on your bookshelf or desk, you also don’t want the pot to stay sitting in it for long. That can cause the plant’s roots to be sitting in oversaturated soil and can lead to rot or other problems. Drain off those saucers regularly.
Do choose places based on the plant’s light or humidity needs. For instance, plants that like lots of humidity will often love it in the bathroom, because every time you shower you’re giving them the moisture level they crave.
Don’t keep indoor plants that are dangerous for your pets. Cats are often tempted to chew on greenery when they have upset stomachs or are trying to pass fur-balls. Having the wrong kind of plant for your pet may result in a rushed trip to the vet.
Do consider all outdoor options that you have available to you. Do you have a sunny railing in front of the apartment or a balcony space? Are there windows that open that you can attach a window box to? Areas like that can provide extra light exposure for your indoor plants while you’re at work, and then you can bring them back inside when you get home.
LW: If you don’t have access to a greenhouse, how can you grow a garden in cold climates?
KE: A cold frame is an easy option for most gardeners. The simplest form is made
from clear sheet plastic over a frame, although in cooler areas it can be useful to make a double-walled cold frame to add extra warmth around the plants. Other options include plant blankets for trees or shrubs that may need a little extra warmth.
LW: What are some DIY hacks or tips for a successful winter garden?
KE: Plan ahead for the best winter garden if you’ll be growing outdoors. You’ll want to select cold-tolerant plants that work well in your climate. Perennials can be a great option as well, as long as they can be grown in your region. Make sure to overwinter them properly so that they sprout and come back to life in the spring months!
Consider growing microgreens indoors during the winter. You’ll get all the joy of maintaining your garden, and it’s nearly instant gratification. You can start new crops regularly and use them in salads, on sandwiches, or in multiple different dishes. Plus, you’ll get to watch hundreds of seeds germinate, which is exciting on its own!
LW: Does winter gardening have any unique challenges compared to gardening in other seasons? If so, how do you overcome these challenges?
KE: In some areas, getting good sun coverage may be trickier, particularly in the northern part of the United States. You’ll have sunlight, but the farther north you are, the more the sun will be coming from the south rather than overhead. This changes the whole pattern of your yard layout in terms of sun exposure. Some areas may become mostly shady in the winter.
Cold is obviously a challenge as well, but it can be overcome with some preparation. And, of course, some plants can always be grown indoors as the temperature inside is better year-round than it is outside!
Love winter veggies like kale and beets? Try Little West’s Go Big, a nutrient-dense blend with 2 pounds of cold-pressed raw veggies in every bottle.