We don’t have a greenhouse on this rented lot of ours — at least not yet — so this is how our summer garden gets started in the winter: on a “mini-farm” in our dining room. The seeds I sowed a few weeks ago have germinated well and have already been transplanted into individual pots. A second batch is now on its way to full seedlinghood, along with some vigorous micro-greens I’m growing from broccoli seeds, to be used in salads and green juices. My hope is that, starting in March, we will be able to get at least all of our salad greens from our garden. Let us declare lettuce independence!
Last year we put together two very low-tech but essential setups to enable this extension of the growing season: the grow lights system for indoors, and the cold frame for outdoors. Both are entirely DIY. You can find very fancy ready-made grow lights systems in gardening stores or online, but it’s really very simple to assemble one yourself. All you need are fluorescent light tubes and a fixture, a heating pad, and a timer. (The last two are not even essential, but the pad speeds up germination considerably, and the timer helps to regulate how much light the seedlings get per day.) We probably didn’t spend more than $30 at the hardware store. The shelves are standard storage shelves we already had, and the light fixture is attached to the top shelf with a metal knitting needle that just fits through links in the fixture’s chain — in other words, I got to apply one of my favorite principles, “work with what you’ve got.”
For the cold frame, we got an old window and salvaged wood from the Rebuilding Center. The whole thing cost us maybe a few dollars and took us no more than an hour to put together, even with our rather elementary woodworking skills. This is the nursery where the seedlings come once they are past their infancy under the grow lights and are ready to enter into the world, but still need some additional warmth and protection along the south-facing wall of our house. I also planted some hardy and interesting winter greens directly into pots here: miner’s lettuce, corn salad, and chervil. All working for the same fine cause of lettuce independence.