While bone-chilling temperatures and frozen soil this time of year may have Midwestern gardeners pining for warmer days, they need not sit “dormant” until spring planting season. Winter can be a productive time for greenhouse and indoor gardening.
According to John Porter, a Nebraska Extension educator, greenhouses can yield produce all year round and require a minimal investment to get started. A novice can begin small and expand growing space and plantings over time, learning as they go along, he says.
Building a greenhouse from scratch can be done with relative ease, says Taylor Rogers, owner of In Season, a produce grower for local high-end restaurants based in Douglas, Nebraska. The first step is to simply visit a hardware store and purchase lengths of PVC pipe that can be bent into arches and act as a frame. The bent pipes can be anchored to the ground on each side with rebar stakes. One PVC arch every five feet of greenhouse length is adequate to support a plastic-sheet covering, Rogers says. (For long-term greenhouses, a frame made of metal electrical conduit is a better option, as PVC deteriorates with time, he says.)
Rogers recommends using plastic sheeting with a 6mm or greater thickness for the best durability and protection from harsh winter conditions. One 6mm layer creates greenhouse conditions similar to two gardening zones south, he explains. In the summertime, the plastic covering will protect plants from hail and other adverse condition as well. Adding a shade-cloth covering makes it possible to grow lettuce, even in the heat of July.
Those who find the prospect of building a greenhouse from scratch a bit too challenging can purchase a ready-to-assemble greenhouse kit. Rogers says this is a great option. Many kits on the market today are available online and easy to build, and some are extremely affordable as well, he says.
Leafy greens such as kale and spinach fare well in winter greenhouses, as they don’t freeze, Rogers says. If established in mid-October, spinach will be ready to harvest in January, and again in the spring. Other cold-hardy crops that do well in winter greenhouses include carrots, beets, onions, garlic, and radishes.
Another option for winter gardeners is to grow microgreens indoors. Microgreens are tender sprouts grown in dirt and are extremely nutritious, Rogers says. They include kale, cabbage, basil, mizuna, arugula, peas, bok choy, and even brightly colored flowers such as chrysanthemum. Microgreens make excellent salads and beautiful garnishes, and “Chefs love the bright color,” he says. Rogers began his business growing primarily microgreens in his apartment. They’re ideal for small spaces, as they don’t require a lot of room to thrive. Vertical growing racks are available online in many styles and are a great space-saving option.
Porter says microgreens are easy for people to get started and have a quick turnaround—two weeks from seed to produce. They can be grown indoors throughout the winter with ease, as they don’t require special lights to grow beyond standard fluorescent tubes, such as office lights. They’re also great for kids due to being low-maintenance and fast producers.
Whether in a greenhouse or indoors, growing winter crops is a great way to bring in the new year. It will keep gardeners’ green thumbs busy, and their taste buds will thank them.
This article was printed in the November/December 2019 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.