Summertime for the Indoor Gardener

Summertime is an interesting time for the indoor gardener.

Right about now, everyone is starting to grow their own little treasure piles of fresh veggies and flowers. People at my work are bringing in extra armloads of herbs and peonies from whatever enormous and fertile valleys they live in. These super-gardeners make me jealous with their real sunlight and their real bumble-bee pollinators. Ugh.

I feel like this weird coronavirus-summer has gotten everyone talking about gardening just a little more intensely than I’ve seen before.

I guess it’s not surprising. Gardening brings a normalcy and rhythm, and maybe even a small sense of control back into our lives. Studies prove that exposure to plants and green space, and gardening especially, is beneficial to mental and physical health.

I especially love this quote in Clinical Medicine from the Royal College of Physicians,

Few complementary therapies have been convincingly shown to be effective, but gardening and nature, which are alternative therapies, offer a proven, cheap and nearly universally available means to improve the nation’s health. Although there is evidence that knitting can also help!56

Journal List
Clin Med (Lond)
v.18(3); 2018 Jun

“Knitting can also help”. Those British docs.

So during the summertime, and especially this summertime, it’s oddly nice to have a whole other breed of gardening to talk about. I mean, I love hearing other people’s remedies for removing ants, or techniques to string up peas, or compost tea recipes. But sometimes it’s kind of fun to say, “Well, these outdoor gardens are fun and all, but indoor gardening…Now that’s where my true interest lies.” And then they have nothing at all to say. Because they usually have no idea what I’m talking about. And they might even think I have a screw loose.

Seriously out of control green beans.

“Indoor green bean gardening…” I might say. “These beans were growing out of control in the bathroom! I had to cut them down because they were shutting out the light for other plants, and the vines were starting to creep their way into my walls and even under the shower tiles!” See if anyone tries to figure me out after that.

My very civilized, not crazy at all, tub garden.

But interestingly, summertime actually reminds me of why I started the indoor garden in the first place.

  • I have no yard for a garden. I love my house, but it is one of those oddly-too-big houses that takes up the whole lot to within a foot of the property line. Every place where I think I could maybe plant something, on further inspection turns out to be only about a foot wide, and gets sun exposure for maybe 20-25 minutes a day, due to the shadow of the house.
  • Even if I did have a space to garden, the climate here is insane. For example, I am writing this post on July 11th and we are STILL seeing nightly temps dipping to the mid 30’s. In our community garden, just last week, the tops of everybody’s tomato plants turned black from a legitimate 6th of July Night Frost. Come the first of October, it’s pretty much game over.
This is our temperature gage in Minturn over the last week.The daily highs are in the mid 80’s, and the night- time lows hit 35 degrees twice.

Because this is the mountains, many of the people I work with may live just half an hour away, but they could be a full 1500 feet lower in altitude. That makes for a whole different ecosystem. They are going to be able to grow stuff outside that I just never will here in my beloved Minturn, which sits at 7800′ above sea level. And I am going to be very jealous.

What does grow well here, though, is lettuce. The cool temperatures at night prevent the plants from bolting. In fact, in the 1920’s, Minturn’s Evercrisp Lettuce Company grew enough lettuce that Minturn was the unofficial lettuce capital of the United States. They also harvested ice from the Eagle river and so were able to ship the lettuce to far off locations. You can still see the remains of the lettuce farmer’s cabins dotting the hills above Meadow Mountain. This era was short lived, however, as growers realized that lettuce could be grown year-round in warmer states such as California. Well, duh.

But what does not grow well here, is strawberries.

This summer has been fun doing some side-by-side comparisons between the tub garden and the great outdoors…of Minturn. Obviously, my tub garden is going to come out the winner. Not biased at all.

I had two strawberry plants grown from seed. We took one outside to the community garden and the poor sad thing is clearly still in shell shock. It isn’t making any strawberries, in fact it isn’t making any new leaves, it’s just getting too cold at night. Maybe I should knit it a little sweater and do us both some good. The one inside, by contrast, is doing very well and it’s strawberries are getting bigger each time it flowers.

I have another head-to-head experiment going with some snap peas plants and edamame. I started 6 of each in the tub garden’s seed starting area and planted 3 of each outside, and 3 of each inside. So far, they are almost exactly the same in size and maturity. We’ll keep you posted.

Here’s the tub indoor garden zucchini, growing and growing and growing…And the community garden one? Well, it’s in that great zucchini farm in the skies now.

The clear victor. Since the other one is dead.

These experiments are just for fun, and to explore the impact that nightly temperature swings has on a plant. Certain things, like lettuce and many flowers for example, really thrive in these conditions. But this is July. It’s just going to get colder at night from here… And my fancy tomatoes certainly don’t find it very agreeable.

So yeah, summertime gardening here in the Rockies reiterates to me how neat it is to garden in one’s bathroom.

Sometimes I feel like I am doing this experiment and writing this blog for no one but me. It brings me great pleasure to write it, so that’s ok. But I wonder if anyone else is trying this kind of thing.

There just has to be other places where people can’t make gardening work outside, though. Maybe you don’t have any outdoor space in a NYC apartment, or maybe you just can’t keep the deer out in the midwest, or maybe it’s so hot that your plants’ faces melt off in Texas.

Maybe you like-minded indoor gardeners are out there and you, too, want to find a different way. And maybe you’ll find me.

Then, come January, when everyone else is stuck knitting to keep calm, we indoor gardeners can still be eating fresh tomatoes from our bathtub-top gardens, enjoying the nature around us, and the greenery of our own indoor creations. And we will be satisfied.

Not crazy.

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