Grand Community Gardens (GCG) is a not for profit organization dedicated to promoting growing sustainable vegetables through education and offering fenced, irrigated raised garden beds for rent in three garden locations: Fraser, Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs. GCG is supported by volunteers and many generous donations from local government and grants. In this series of articles, we’ll cover the basics of successful vegetable gardening in Grand County.
There are ways to start growing some produce indoors now since the outdoor growing season doesn’t begin for at least another month. Gardening supplies are available in limited quantity at our local grocery, hardware and plant nursery stores. Ordering seeds online currently is very limited as many companies have become inundated and are suspending new orders.
The quickest way to grow fresh vegetables indoors is to grow your own sprouts. Since you will be consuming the outer seed coat, it is recommended to only use seeds that are labeled for sprouting to ensure that they are untreated and tested for food borne pathogens. Although I haven’t tried it, I’ve seen articles about sprouting vegetable scraps such as onion or the base of lettuce or celery heads in water.
Another fast growing method for indoor produce is microgreens. Unlike seed used for sprouting, any garden seeds can be used since you are eating just the seedling, not the seed coating. Microgreens are ready to harvest in about two to three weeks. Some plants that are commonly grown as microgreens are beets, radish, Swiss chard, peas, lettuce and other salad greens, broccoli, Pac choy, kale and other mustard family members plus some herbs. There are microgreen mixes available or you can mix your own.
Baby greens are harvested in three to four weeks and are grown the same as microgreens. The difference is that baby greens can be harvested multiple times from the same plant. To start growing microgreens or baby greens you will need a clean container with good drainage and a high quality potting soil. There are many container options including repurposing household items. A standard gardening flat placed inside another gardening flat that has no holes works well for microgreens and you don’t have to worry about water running out.
- Fill container with a moist, high quality seed starting mix or potting soil leaving space (1/4”) from the top.
- Place seeds on soil surface. For a microgreen planting, the seed spacing will be dense, one seed every 1/8”-1/4”. For baby greens, the spacing increases to ½” – 1”.
- Lightly cover seeds with soil, gently press down the soil and lightly water. A spray bottle works well for this or a watering can with small holes.
- Cover the container or tray with a clear plastic lid or bag, creating a mini greenhouse to keep the humidity high while the seeds are sprouting.
- Place container in a warm, sunny area. Once the plants sprout, they will need roughly 12 hours of direct light. More about artificial lighting later in this article.
- Check the seeds on a daily basis. Lightly water as the soil surface dries out, being careful to keep the soil damp but not overly wet.
- When the seedlings sprout, remove the plastic cover. If you are growing in a window, rotate the container for more even growth. Water plants as needed.
- If growing microgreens, they are ready to harvest when the plants are about an inch tall with a second set of leaves. To harvest, simply cut at the base of the plant with scissors and wash when ready to eat.
- If growing baby greens, you can starting harvesting when the leaves are 3-4” tall. There are two methods: cutting off some of the outer leaves from each plant as wanted or trimming the entire plant leaving a one inch base for the plant to regrow.
- Baby greens will need to be fertilized lightly following the directions of the product used. Many potting soil mixes include fertilizer, check the package.
In addition to salad and other greens there are other vegetable plants that can be grown indoors but it takes longer to produce. These include carrots in a deep container, radish, dwarf peas, bush beans, onions, garlic and many herbs. Tomatoes and peppers are best grown indoors in the mountains as they can’t be grown outside without protection – in a greenhouse or brought indoors nightly as they are very frost sensitive. You will likely need to pollinate pepper and tomato plants to produce fruit. This is done by using a cotton swab or small paint brush to touch the inside of the flowers or gently shaking the plant.
A sunny window will often not offer enough sunlight to prevent vegetables getting “leggy” – when the plant stretches out towards the light source. To prevent this situation, use supplemental lighting. There are many types of grow lights available in varying prices, light output and energy usage. The most inexpensive florescent followed by LED. Grow lights that use High Intensity Discharge cost the most to purchase, use the most electricity and put off a lot heat.
For more information about high altitude vegetable gardening, check out our website, www.grandcommunitygardens.org