The Snarky Gardener has a new experiment for the winter. He’s growing jalapeno peppers at his office.
I’ve had much success growing indoor plants with my AeroGardens over the years. An AeroGarden is a small hydroponic garden with a grow light attached at the top. It’s designed so the light comes on first thing in the morning and shuts off 16 or 17 hours later. Once your seeds are started, just add water and (unfortunately chemical) nutrients every two weeks or so. Pretty straight forward even if you don’t know much about gardening.
Over the last 10 years or so (has it been that long? Wow!), I’ve grown a variety of edible vegetables and herbs in my 4 AeroGardens. The list includes cherry tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, basil, lettuce, spinach, thyme, chives, and arugula. They also have an insert you can use to grow starts for your outside garden. I’ve even started leeks and Swiss chard this way, so growing some peppers should be no big deal.
The twist this year is that I brought my AeroGarden 3 into work. This is the smallest of the AeroGardens I own, and fits in my cubicle nicely. Most of my co-workers know that I have a gardening blog and that I’m “the Snarky Gardener”. I had kept that fact under wraps for the longest time until this summer. People knew I was an avid gardener, and often ask me lots of questions (which I don’t mind at all). Once everyone heard about my blogging and such, it sort of hit a whole new level. It’s my own darn fault for passing out my Snarky Gardener business card to my boss.
My experiment this time is a social one. I’m seeing how my co-workers react to having peppers growing in the office. I chose peppers because people know what they are when they see them. Added to this is the fact they are fruit, so there will be flowers and tiny little peppers. I also like that pepper plants are prettier than tomatoes (at least in my opinion). Basil was my second choice, but wasn’t sure I wanted to be smelling basil every day.
In only a few short days, the Snarky Gardener will be eating homegrown cherry tomatoes in February. Of course there are only 6, so it won’t be much of a feast, but still, pretty cool. The Snarky Orange Cherry tomato plant is finally getting flowers. It had others a few weeks ago, but they grew into the lights and were burnt off (so sad). A cutting was also taken off the Chocolate Cherry to start a potted tomato plant. Not sure what I’m going to with it yet, but I’m sure I’ll think of something.
Spend some time to observe your chosen spot. You are going to want at least 3 hours of direct sunlight a day with more than 6 preferred. If you can’t get the minimum 6, then look for plants that will be OK with a little shade, like lettuce, herbs, Swiss chard, kale, spinach, turnips, and mustard greens. Another option is to plant in containers and move them to the sunny spots throughout the day.
2. Start small
Don’t go hog wild with a giant garden first thing out. Keeping it small will allow you to learn what grows best in your area without a lot of investment of time, money, and effort. Containers or a 4 foot by 4 foot raised bed would be a good place to start.
3. Grow what you like to eat
Sounds straight forward, but I’ve known a few snarky gardeners to grow things before they know how they taste (like me with my sunchokes). If you think you want to grow it, buy it from the store first.
4. Grow easy stuff
Some vegetables are easier to grow than others, by a significant margin. Talk to people in your area to learn what grows well in your area. For instance, in Northeastern Ohio (my neck of the woods), cherry tomatoes, beans, peas, onions, zucchini, potatoes, and turnips do well with little trouble. Broccoli, watermelons, Brussels sprouts, peppers, and eggplants are much harder to grow, to the point I’ve given up on some.
5. Mulch a bunch
Mulch is anything that covers the ground around your plants. Straw, grass clippings, newspapers, wood chips, and leaves (my favorite) all make good mulch. You can also use plastic mulch, but it won’t make your soil better over time like organic materials will. Covering the ground is important as it will keep weeds from overtaking your edible plants plus it holds in moisture which will keep you from having to water as much (or at all!)
6. Visit often
Gardens are probably ruined by neglect more than anything else. Visit a few times a week to keep up with the weeds, watering, and ready to pick food. Think of it as that exercise your doctor keeps telling you need to do. I find the garden as a quiet place to get away from it all. Also, try to plan around the weather (early or late on hot summer days, etc).
7. Learn about food seasons
Some plants can tolerate and sometimes prefer cold (like spinach, turnips, onions, peas, potatoes) but don’t like heat and others can’t handle frost (tomatoes, peppers, corn, beans, squash, pumpkins, okra) and love warm weather. It still surprises me that this isn’t common knowledge (it wasn’t for me when I started). Your frost dates (last frost in the spring and first frost in the fall) are the most important gardening times. They tell you when you can plant certain vegetables and when they need to be reaped. Too early or too late and you’ll be sad, sad gardener.
8. Watch out for critters
If you notice animals in your neighborhood, know that they may think of your garden as a free meal. A small fence (2 or 3 feet tall) will keep out rabbits, but you will need a taller fence (6 feet or more) to deter groundhogs, raccoon, and deer from invading your space. There are also garlicky sprays and fence clips that will deter them some. Most animals don’t like strong smells, so planting herbs and garlic/onions on the outside of your garden is not a bad idea. Also, keep an eye on your plants for damage, as even the best fencing can be leaped over or dug under.
9. Think outside the box
There are a lot of different ways to garden besides the standard “till up the backyard and plant in rows”. Indoor gardening can be done with systems like the AeroGarden. Containers or individual planters work well for situations where you can’t plant into the ground (apartments, limited sun, etc). If you don’t have a tiller or want to go to the trouble of tilling, you can build gardens on top of your grass, whether it be raised beds, straw bale gardening, or lasagna mulching. And don’t be limited to your backyard. Front yard gardens, if done tastefully, are a possibility as long as there are no prohibitions where you live (like city ordinances or home owner association rules).
Good luck and happy gardening!
Have any questions about your first garden? Please leave a reply.
The Snarky Gardener saw more progress on the indoor tomato front. Both plants reached the top of the fully extended AeroGarden hood (2 feet), so it’s just pruning from here on out. The Chocolate Cherry has 4 or 5 green tomatoes on it (yeah!). They are tiny but are a hopeful sign of things to come. The Snarky Orange has several flowers but has been running behind the other since the beginning.
Alternative title: The Report of My Tomatoes’ Death was an Exaggeration
Other alternative title: It’s a Winter Solstice Miracle!
After a scare with droopy branches, my tomatoes continue to soldier on. It was a case of over-fertilizing and once I replaced the water, the two plants recovered with only some leaf damage. As you can see from the picture, the Chocolate Cherry on the right seems to be doing better, but it’s a more robust variety anyways. I probably should have removed the flowers from both to help with the recovery, but my quest for winter tomatoes overpowered my logic and common sense. The chocolate cherry tomato plant’s flowers are turning into little tomatoes (yum!). Now all that’s left is the waiting (and waiting and waiting).
The AeroGarden’s hood is a full mast (2 feet high) so now I’ll have to keep up with the pruning. I finally put in the trellis system, which is why they look like marionettes. The vines have been sucking up all the water I pour and then some. Most of the time, AeroGardens can go a week or 2 before you have to refill. These are so needy, but soooo worth it. Hopefully the next post will show fruit ready to pick.