Friday, March 28, 2014

Gardening in the Dark: Surprisingly Not Impossible!

Last week, while I was out for a jog, I came across garage sale in my neighborhood where the majority of the things seemed to be seeing sunlight for the first time after a fifteen year imprisonment in the attic. Me, being the anachronistic sucker that I am, immediately jumped head-first into the pile of things and stumbled across a ridiculously awesome set of finely engraved clay flowerpots. When I questioned the owners as to why these pieces of art were being sold and not prominently featured in their yard, they informed me that they were moving into an apartment with no real sun access and couldn't afford to ship the pots safely if they weren't going to be able to grow food in them.
I realized at that moment that the concept of growing food in sun-deprived environments doesn't often occur to your average apartment dwelling gardener, and I’ll have you guys know that I was seriously presented with a heavy moral choice. These pots were absolutely beautiful, and the asking price was beyond reasonable. I could have easily kept my mouth shut and walked away with a wallet that was only slightly lighter and a set of flower pots that would be the envy of the neighborhood. I walked up to the counter with my money practically in my hand when I noticed that neither owner seemed entirely comfortable with the idea of selling the pots.
My conscious kicked in and I ended up informing them of the easiest things to grow in a mostly shaded environment; and we actually had a rather pleasant conversation on the different types of lettuce we enjoy and why.  It was disappointing for sure, I could have done wonderful things with those pots, but I knew it would be better for them if I dispensed of the belief that you need 10+ hours of sun a day to even bother gardening.
When I was younger I moved into fairly crummy apartment, and I was tired of spending all of my hard-earned paycheck on spinach. I’m being completely serious, my local markets had experienced a shortage and it was seriously getting to the point where I was going to have to choose between gas and spinach. In a fit of desperation, I started researching the plant, looking to see if I could convince my mother to grow it in her garden for me. Much to my surprise, I saw that spinach is just one of the expansive list of things you can grow in a mostly sun-less place.
So, without further ado, here are some tips for how to plant a garden in minimal sunlight:
  1. What do you have to work with?
    1. I had buildings on three sides of me with quite a bit of shade coverage on all windows. If you have similar issues, then you’re going to have to learn to maximize the amount of light that you have.
      1. If you don’t have windowsills, you can install shelves under the window, or use end-tables.
      2. If you have indirect sunlight - you’re in luck, there’s a wide array of plants that don’t require constant sunlight.
    2. The temperature outside when I started was just cooling down, and the leaves were just starting to turn.
      1. Different plants grow during different seasons. It may seem silly to say this as though you don’t know, but you would be amazed at the amount of people who tell me that they get discouraged because they can’t grow tomatoes indoors during winter!
      2. Temperature’s can be controlled using heating lights, in case you have the option or desire to grow things out of season!
    3. I drowned absolutely everything the first time I tried my hand at indoor gardening.
      1. Do your researches before you turn your mint into a mess. Look up exactly how much water your plants should get by size for indoor planting. It could mean the difference between having a successful indoor garden or having a desolate ghost-garden, populated only by the wails of the ghost celery.
      2. Water-logged plants are still save-able. Simply drain the pot of excess water and leave in a warm spot for a few days, re-pot if needed.
  2. What can I possibly grow?
    1. Indirect light of 6+ hours a day granted me access to the following list!
      1. Arugula.
      2. Asparagus (this is a “plant it and forget about it” vegetable, it can take a few years to get yield).
      3. Spinach!
      4. Broccoli.
      5. Strawberries.
      6. Lettuce.
      7. Thyme.
      8. Aloe… and more!
    2. No direct sunlight still afforded me a few more
      1. Mushrooms.
      2. Mint (I was actually wary to keep this plant in the house, with how invasive of a species it is, I was sort of worried that I would wake up to it trying to depose me as head of the household). But no worries, I’m still here!
        1. Smells good, too!
  3. How can I possibly keep up with this?
    1. As with regular gardening, indoor gardening is a very “plant as you need” concept. Don’t plant a dozen heads of lettuce if you don’t plan on eating a dozen heads of lettuce.
    2. Look up how to “force” certain plants to sprout faster in the shade, this makes it possible to have a yield that will be smaller, but get to maturity faster.
    3. Learn the timetable of your plants, and schedule accordingly. If done right you can have an almost non-stop supply of veggies, provided that you keep up on your calendar
    4. Chin up! This is gardening, not “Instant-Gratification-Veggie-Time”, it’s gonna take a while to get into gear.

My first indoor garden almost ended in tears, and I’m going to end this the same way I've ended most of my articles: do your own research before trying to grow anything. Research things specific to your area. And if you have cats or dogs, learn about which plants could be toxic to them, or could attract them to muck up your potted plants.
I didn't do my research beforehand on the difference between watering an outside plant and watering an inside one, and I actually killed my marjoram.
R.I.P.  Marjoram.

About the Author:

Damien Marty once tried to be a pioneer in domesticated Yellow Jackets; now he and his horrifically swollen face sit at home and write informative articles about food and science, other other fascinating topics. If you ever need a helping hand with a hard-to-remember factoid, or are interested in having him (terribly) sing at your doorstep, simply yell loudly out your window and he'll be there when he can.

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