Prevent the Winter Blues with Indoor Gardening

As an avid gardener who loves nothing more than to stick my hands in the warm soil and making sure that the plants provide a great space for wildlife, I have SUCH a hard time in the winter! I’ve overwintered my perennials, spread out leaves, and keep a careful eye out for little buds to pop up above the soil surface – but I want to do more!

Fortunately, there are many ways to keep the gardener inside of me happy all winter long.

The first and most obvious solution is to keep houseplants! There are many low-maintenance plants that do well inside. I spend much of my time in the winter making sure that these plants are getting adequate sunlight and watching them grow.

My personal favorites are my Monstera (see below for terrarium with some Monstera & Philodendrons), Asparagus Ferns, Air Plants (see image at left from when I got my 2-year-old Tillandsia to bloom!), and Lemon Tree …. But don’t tell the others!

I create terrariums (Check out my calendar of events for upcoming DIY Terrarium Nights!), mosaic decorative pots to help aid in self-watering, and photograph their bright foliage. Winter is a great time to learn about plant health care in regards to pruning, changes in water uptake, and dealing with potential pests in plants that are crowded next to each other. While these items may sound challenging or frustrating to deal with – I enjoy learning about them! The more that I learn about and experience a plant’s problems, the more I come to appreciate the beauty and importance of the plant’s life.

Monsteras and Philodendrons are some of my favorite plants to keep inside and observe their seasonal and nutritional changes. See those brown spots on the Monstera – those are mini educational opportunities!

Another way to get into winter gardening is by setting up mini hydro & aquaponic systems! These can be made easily and provide a great way to grow your veggies and herbs inside so you can have them fresh year-round!

One simple way to set up an aquaponics – or growing system where the plant relies on the natural cycle of nutrient uptake via fishy –  system is provided below. Enjoy!

Keep in mind that this is designed to be quick and easy – there are more sophisticated, fish-friendly designs out there. Let me know if you have questions about these designs!

Materials:

  • 1 fish (goldfish work really well, I’ve found)
  • 2L Soda bottle
  • Favorite Veggie/Herb seeds (or small established plant for quicker return)
  • Soil, Coconut Fibre, and Horticultural Charcoal bits
  • Coffee filter
  • Duct Tape or Clear Packing Tape
  • Exacto-knife or scissors or a drill
  • Cotton string
  • Water
  • Colored Gravel (optional)

Methods: 

  1. Cut the soda bottle in half using scissors or your exacto-knife.
  2. Flip the top part with the bottleneck upside down. This will be where the plant goes. It will look like a funnel with the neck pointing down.
  3. Poke a small hole in the coffee filter with a pencil and thread the string through it. You will want the string to be long enough that when finished, it reaches the bottom of the bottle.
  4. Add soil or coconut fibre to the coffee filter with a little bit of horticultural charcoal. Then, either add your plant (make sure that you keep some space for that!) or add seeds according to their packaging instructions. Then put this part of the bottle to the side.
  5. Cut or drill some air holes and one larger feeding hole to the bottom portion of the bottle. Remember, you’ll be adding water to this portion, so don’t put the holes down too low for the water to leak out!
  6. Add water and colored gravel (if desired). Keeping the fish in a small bag, place the fish in the water for 15-30 minutes for the fish to adjust to the new water temperature, then place the fish in its new water.
  7. Set the top part of the bottle (the part with the plant in it) gently on top of the bottom half. The weight of the top portion may cause the top part to fall into the bottle, so keep it raised a little higher and staple the sides in 2 or 3 spots so it won’t completely fall in (you will want the string to be hanging down into the water). 
  8. If needed, use the duct tape or clear packing tape (depending on your preference) to tape the edges of the bottom portion to the edges of the top portion in segments for extra support and reinforcement.  
  9. Place the completed aquaponics system in a sunny place away from the cold (a drafty window sill isn’t the best place…)
  10. When the water gets dirty, remove the tape and change the water. Remember to give your fish with an adjustment period so it can get used to the change in water temperature!
  11. Feed the fish through the larger feeder hole that you cut out every 2 days or so. 

The fish will eat its food and excrete waste. This waste contains valuable nutrients that the string will absorb and carry up to where the plant’s roots are. The plant will absorb these nutrients and the water, making it grow healthy.

While this is a fun way to get plants back into your life even during the winter season, it’s also fun to watch the little fish go about it’s fish business! The connection between plants and animals is an amazing one and this aquaponics system really highlights the connection that the plant growth has to the fish’s daily life.

I had the pleasure of teaching this “Intro to Aquaponics” for kids a while back. It was perfect to highlight the importance of the nutrient cycle in the natural world in an observable environment!

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