Monday, 30 September 2013

Extend the Season - Bring the Garden Indoors.

Its that time of year again when danger of frost puts an end to our outdoor gardening - fortunately we can extend the season for a while longer by simply bringing the plants indoors. Herbs in particular are great for this. I do have a lot of herbs frozen, in one form or another, but fresh is still best so being able to carry on indoors is pretty neat. However, gardening indoors is not quite the same as gardening outside and allowances have to be made for the differences. Plants reach for the sun, which is fine outside, but inside that only makes them grow tall and leggy instead of full and wide. To counteract that, when herbs are needed, the sprigs - only one or two inches long - are pinched from the growing tips of the plant. In addition, herbs grown inside will never do as well as when they're grown outside so they should never be over-picked. Pinching off a bit of mint or lemon balm to add zip to a cup of tea, adding a sprig of parsley to a soup or stew or spicing up a pizza with fresh thyme and oregano is fine, but picking enough basil to make fresh pesto every month just won't be happening. Finally, the soil in a pot doesn't provide enough food for the plant so needs to be supplemented with a 20-20-20 fertilizer every couple of weeks.

In our area, zone 5B, we  have already had four frosts and for the first two we simply covered the plants, however, when the third frost was forecast I decided I better spend a day preparing plants for the move inside.These plants included parsley, in the blue pot to the left. Beside and slightly behind the parsley is rosemary and in front of the rosemary is lemon verbena. Then comes the Kew Red Lavender, a tender lavender that grows in Zone 7-9. Other lavenders are much hardier and can even grow in zone 4 but this is such a pretty plant its well worth some extra care. The grassy looking plant is exactly that, lemongrass, a tropical plant that grows best in zone 11+ so definitely one to protect. Behind it, in the clay coloured planter is the candymint.

I only had leeks and kale left in the salad garden and as these were placed along the outside perimeter of the bed, it left a lot of room in the centre to use as work table. I make such a mess when I transfer the plants to pots that its best just kept outside where it doesn't matter. Before I started, I grabbed a pail of rain water, an assortment of clean, sterilized planters and a good quality potting soil. The pots do need to have good drainage - roots left in wet too long will just rot and the plant will be ruined.

Below I show the steps I take for bringing the plants indoors. In the pictures I'm potting rosemary. This is the third year we've brought this same plant inside and the good solid stem, shown in the centre picture, is a pretty good indicator that what we do has suited the plant just fine.

Step One.
I carefully dug up the plants - since they were grown in raised beds where the soil doesn't compact, that was easy. I then lightly knocked off any loose dirt and stuck the root-ball in the pail of water to get rid of any little beasties living in the soil.
While the plant was soaking in the water, I filled a clean pot about half way with new potting soil.

Step Two.
I didn't water this soil since rosemary really doesn't like wet and it had enough of that sitting in the water.
The plant was then placed in the pot on top of the dry soil and the roots carefully tucked in where needed.

Step Three.
More clean soil was added and then firmly patted down. When re-potting other plants, the soil would now be saturated with rain water - rosemary is the exception. 
Finally I sprayed the entire plant with an organic pesticide. In order to get to the under-leaf, I carefully tipped the plant onto its side to spray, rotated it and sprayed some more until the entire plant was covered.

To make the transition from the garden to the indoors less shocking, the plants are then placed in a shady spot for a week or so. I set the plants in my back porch away from the window, then open the window during the day and close it again in the evening. Besides acclimatizing them, this also allows me to do a final "bug" check before bringing the plants further into the house.
I don't really have a big problem with bugs once they're moved into the house, but if I do notice bugs on the plants, I move them to the back porch again and soak them good with the organic pesticide.

Plants grown indoors need, at the very least, 6 hours of sunlight daily - more is better. I have a south-facing window that is ideal for this. Since the heated inside air is dry, I mist the plants every couple of days to keep them hydrated. Any plants that look dry and droopy will get additional deep watering.

The plants may start to look unhappy after a few months indoors and usually, around the beginning of the new year, they're moved to the workshop where they become my husband's responsibility. The workshop averages a temperature of 16C which basically puts the plants in a dormant stage. They're placed on a workbench near a small west facing window and watered only once in a while, which keeps them alive until its time to replant them outside again in the spring. 

My Windowsill Herb Garden
Recipe for Organic Pesticide. Can be used both indoors and outside.
Finely mince 1 garlic bulb (that's the bulb, not just one clove).
Finely chop 1 onion
Mix 1 tsp. of ground cayenne pepper with 4 cups of water, then add the garlic and onion.
Let steep for no less than 1 hour.
Strain through sieve or cheesecloth, then strain again through funnel lined with cone-shaped coffee filter. (The reason for the double straining is to ensure no little particles will clog up the sprayer.)
Add 1 Tbsp. liquid dish soap. Mix well.
Use this to spray your plants, making sure to also cover the under-leaf.
The spray can be stored, well covered, for one week in the fridge or any other cool spot. It has a strong odour so a back porch or garage may be the better storage place or another alternative, cut the recipe in half.

So that's it -.finished for another week. Think I'll now take advantage of my work and relax with a cup of mint tea - might even add a chocolate or two.

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I want this blog to be interesting, informative and current. Your comments let me know if I'm on track, so comments are greatly appreciated.
Thanks - Lenie