A Dozen Fun Winter Gardening Ideas

Contributed by Alyson Prokop-Baker, Education and Community Garden Coordinator

In the winter months, it's sometimes hard to motivate ourselves to garden, especially if you have a really small house like me (I estimate between my husband and I, our three cats, dog, seven beehives, four fig trees, we have about 650 sq feet of indoor living space. But we manage to keep a small "window" greenhouse growing year round). But when chilly winter temperatures force you inside for days on end, the indoor garden can be your savior.

Here are some ideas to get you started and thinking about indoor gardening projects for your home. I'm sure you'll come up with others and I would love to hear how you grow!

1.  Windowsill gardens. When snowdrifts keep you inside, try cultivating a windowsill garden. All you need is a sunny spot and a few containers of soil. Herbs are an excellent choice for windowsills.

2.  Peculiar plants. Who wouldn't be fascinated by an insect-eating plant? Many garden centers sell Venus flytraps in their houseplant section. Then visit your library or search the Internet for more information on the natural habitat and growth habits of this unusual plant. They are slightly high maintenance as they are native to Florida, so if you head south for the winter make sure you have a plant-sitter.

3.  Sprout some seeds. Line a glass jar with a damp paper towel and insert a couple teaspoons broccoli seeds between the glass and the towel. Place a lid on the jar, leave it on the kitchen counter, and check the paper every day to make sure it's still moist. Seeds should sprout in a few days. Also try peas, beans, zucchini, radishes, carrots, and sunflowers.

4.  Start a gardening club. If you haven't visited your garden center lately, you'll be pleasantly surprised to discover that many host garden clubs or special workshops such as building a birdhouse or starting seeds indoors. But if it is too far to grow - start your own! Lots of local coffee shops, libraries and community centres will provide you with space for your group, and guaranteed you'll have one other attendee and if you are in Halton Region. I'm always up for geeking out over gardening.

5.  Read a book. Books like Peter Rabbit or The Secret Garden can spark a child's interest in gardening, but what about adults? For some lighthearted reading ask your local librarian or bookstore owner for The Armchair Naturalist: How to be Good at Nature Without Really Trying, or pick up a copy of the Heirloom Gardener magazine. A few of my favourite reference books that are full of plans, lists, and great photos include Compact Farms and The Market Gardener.

6.  Decorate while you wait. Indulge your natural creativity by painting inexpensive terra cotta pots to use next spring, take up pottery at the Art Gallery of Burlington and learn to wheel throw some pottery. I guarantee you will have endless pots for repotting houseplants this winter, or for birthdays, thank you gifts, Christmas presents, etc ...

7.  Get a jump on spring. Plan a visit to your local Seedy Saturday to buy seeds! Or let your inner-child browse the glossies of rare seed and heirloom vegetable catalogs such as Baker Creek Seeds (USA), Hudson Valley Seeds (USA available in Canada from Cottage Botanicals), West Coast Seeds, Urban Harvest, and Matchbox Garden Co. Then start seeds indoors to plant outside after the last frost. Ask the experts at Royal Botanical Gardens and their Gardening Information Services  or check your favorite gardening book to determine when to start seeds.

8.  Worm farm. Line a large cardboard box with a garbage bag. Fill it with soil, organic matter, and a few worms. Keep it shady and moist, but not too wet. Add kitchen scraps (vegetables only!). Worms will help teach you about the interdependence of plants and organisms as they turn vegetable kitchen scraps into valuable compost.

9.  Garden crafts. Crafts aren't just for kids. Sure, there are several projects you can try with your kids, depending on their age and interest, such as hand-painted plant markers or homemade whirligigs to put between rows to frighten off birds. But throw off your garden gloves and visit your local craft store to bring your Pinterest boards to life!

10.  Terrariums. Carefully place some soil and a few mosses and plants (with roots) inside a clean jar. Keep your indoor garden moist with a plant mister, and cover the opening with clear plastic wrap.

11.  Feed the birds. Stock up on birdseed and suet at your local garden center, and feed the birds this winter. Challenge yourself in bird ID everyday and start your own Life List!

12.  Build a birdhouse. Birdhouse kits and plans are available at most garden centers and craft shops. This is a great activity for a cold winter's night.