Thursday, March 22, 2012

Windowsill Garden: Lessons Learned

So how did our garden grow? Check out the beginning, February, and March updates. 

Our windowsill gardening experiment lasted a mere three months this winter, but in that time we learned a few things.  Some of our plants grew strong and hearty, and others fizzled.  As amateur gardeners, we didn’t expect everything to work perfectly, but I think experience has taught us a few lessons. 

1. Some plants will thrive, with or without your best efforts.
Our parsley plant is the prime example of this lesson. We abandoned it when it was barely sprouted (we forgot to take it home over Christmas break!), and it survived.  It is thriving now, and I hope that it continues to do well in the future.  I take no credit for its health.  
Our green onions, which I wrote about here, did great in the windowsill and were basically effortless to grow. Again, I don’t feel like this is any sort of spectacular green thumb of mine, but rather a plant doing what plants do. 

2. Some plants will utterly fail, even with your best efforts.
Our chives basically failed to germinate until last week. I think this was because I followed the package directions to sow the seeds on the surface of the dirt, when they need a little cover to keep them wet enough to germinate. We had a similar issue with the tom thumb lettuce.  Those two, however, I think we can chalk up to experience.

Our cilantro is another story. It was one of the first things we planted, with the parsley, but it didn’t survive abandonment. We re-planted, barely got one sprout (about a month later), and that sprout quickly died. We tried again with new seeds, which are germinating decently. It might take us a while to get cilantro growing well for us!

3. If at first you don’t succeed, try again.
See lesson 2 – each time something failed, we tried again. Usually, we adjusted our approach.  Usually, it seems to have helped. We've planted cilantro three times - maybe this time it will stick around.
A corollary to this lesson is that you must be flexible. Things won’t necessarily work as you planned, or as you want them to. Accept that fact, and do the best you can with what you have. 

4. Small space = small yield.  Therefore, herbs are a great choice.
We tried growing some lettuces too, and some micro greens and sprouts.  The micro greens worked alright, but I think we would need to use a much larger container to make them worthwhile in the future. Sprouts were fun, but I didn’t really keep up with them. They were enough to top things with, but we barely grew a salad’s worth altogether. I don’t think we got our money’s worth out of these things, but we might have if I committed to containers with a larger surface area. 
Although the parsley was the only herb we really got to take off, it has worked well. Because we only use a few tablespoons at a time, the plant can keep up with our demand quite easily. And financially speaking, fresh herbs can really get expensive at the grocery store, so growing your own can actually save you money. Plus, I find freshly picked herbs are the tastiest.

Mesclun sprouts

5. Keep it simple.
Stick to things you know you will use often, and focus your space and energy on a few plants. You don’t need to grow the whole produce section at the grocery store. I’d also advise not growing things you don’t eat a lot – I don’t eat tons of salads in winter, and I didn’t find many uses for my sprouts other than mixing them into salads. 

Next year, I’m thinking some herbs, and maybe microgreens – but that’s a big maybe. Our windowsill gardening future might be all about the herbs. And that’s fine – it’s simply what we use. 

6. Don’t start in January!
I think windowsill gardening will work much better in the future if we start around, say, October, and the plants get some real sun before toughing it out through the darkest months. If we go into the winter with more mature plants, I think we’ll both have an easier time of it and see a better return. 

There are still some issues that I haven’t figured out.  We had some problems with things growing very “leggy” (long and scraggly), and I think that was partially due to the fact that our windowsill wasn’t super-sunny. With the weak winter sun and short days, the plants simply didn’t get enough light. We added a UV bulb, and that helped quite a bit. But some things, like the tom thumb lettuce, grew very leggy anyways. It’s an issue I’m hoping to read up on so I can address it in the future.

Now that things are warming up, we’re looking forward to starting our outdoor container garden! Next week, I’ll be talking all about our plans for that, including our containers, space, seeds, soil, budget, and progress so far.

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