What to do in December

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As we enter the dark, cold days of winter, you can still keep up your supply of fresh, highly nutritious food by moving some of your growing inside. With just two or three large jam jars for sprouts and four or five seed trays for leaves you can even be self sufficient in salad.

The salad you grow will be more nutritious and far more delicious than any salad you buy in the shops at this time of year – and it will cost you a fraction of the price.

Jobs for this month

  1. Make a sprouter (or three).
  2. Create a mini microleaf and shoots farm.
  3. Maintain outdoor winter crops, harvesting them sparingly.
  4. Enjoy planning and scheming for next year.

1. Make a sprouter

Sprouts are an amazing and extremely healthy food. If you’ve not eaten sprouts much before, you may find it will take a little time to get used to them and learn how to use them. Persevering – to find which sprouts you like and how to use them in your cooking – is really worth the effort.

Working out ways you enjoy eating sprouts can take a little experimentation. This is a simple salad made with alfalfa sprouts, chickpea sprouts, radish shoots, sunflower shoots, avocado and lemon and olive oil dressing.

Working out ways you enjoy eating sprouts can take a little experimentation. This is a simple salad made with alfalfa sprouts, chickpea sprouts, radish shoots, sunflower shoots, avocado and lemon and olive oil dressing.

Sprouts are so easy and quick to grow – and can be done at extremely low cost. All you need is a large jam jar – you can read all about how to do it here.

All you need to sprout is a large glass jar. These are alfalfa sprouts, often described as one of the most complete foods there is.

All you need to sprout is a large glass jar. These are alfalfa sprouts, often described as one of the most complete foods there is.

To grow sprouts in any quantity you’ll need a lot of seeds – and so you’ll want to find an affordable seed supply. Many sprouts, including lentils, mung beans, chickpeas, fenugreek and peas can be sprouted just as well from seed pulses sold for cooking.  Alternatively, buying sprout seeds in bulk (eg 500g bags), will usually cost you a fraction of the cost of buying the small packs of seeds sold for sprouting (in the UK, I use Sky Sprouts).

2. Create a mini microleaf farm

To grow micro leaves and shoots inside you need a reasonably bright window or grow light. I grow mine on a four plastic trays on a small table, next to the window.

Radish and sunflower shoots in trays on the left; coriander and cabbage shoots sown and about to emerge in the trays on the right.

Radish and sunflower shoots in trays on the left; coriander and cabbage shoots sown and about to emerge in the trays on the right.

Many crops are delicious harvested as shoots or micro leaves including pea shoots, rocket, sunflower shoots, radish, coriander, and cabbage.

You can harvest micro salad leaves 10 – 20 days after sowing. Sow them thickly in a tray and you can get 150 – 300 gram of high flavour leaves from just one tray. You can use the same technique shown in this video here – just put the growing boxes on a tray to catch any drips.

Sow a couple of trays every week and you can enjoy a continual supply of fresh leaves. Use them on their own or to add colour and flavour to shop bought salad leaves.

3. Maintain outdoor crops

As in November, remember to water during dry spells (it’s easy to forget when its cold). The one time you don’t want to water is just before a freezing spell – the water will freeze in your pots, potentially damaging the roots.

You can harvest a few leaves from your winter salads over the month. They’ll most probably taste amazing! So that you don’t weaken your salads too much, harvest the leaves sparingly. You want your plants to retain strength so that when the weather warms in early spring, they will put on a growth spurt.

I'm harvesting the leaves of these mustards sparingly this month - because I want the plant to survive the winter and put on a growth spurt in the spring.

I’m harvesting the leaves of these mustards sparingly this month – because I want the plant to survive the winter and put on a growth spurt in the spring.

 

4. Planning and scheming for next year

Long, dark, cold evenings …. What better time to reflect on your successes and learning of the year? Even when growing in a small space there is so much you can learn from your experience each year. Applying this learning is the route to abundance!

You can also dream about what you want to grow next year, and plan where you’ll get your seeds (any seed swaps in your area in the spring?), where to add more pots (there’s nearly always space for one more!), and any new structures you might want to build.

Your turn

Are you eating home grown food this month? If so, I’d love to hear what you’ve been able to grow in the comments below.

 

There is more about the huge variety of sprouts and micro greens and how you can grow them in the Vertical Veg Club

 

 

27 comments… add one

  • Sorry to say that as nice as they look and how easy it is for them to gorw, I can’t stand the taste of sprouts! People always shout at me at christmas time because of this, still, very enjoyable read.

    Abby – Artificial Grass Birmingham

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  • Very interesting post. What would you suggest is the best plant to grown indoors during the winter months, in regards to nutrition and ease to maintain?

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    • I would go for pea shoots – easy and fast to grow, high yielding (if sown close) and very nutritious. Grow best in not too warm a room and in the lightest spot you can find.

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  • I’m still harvesting chillies – and I don’t have a greenhouse. Some are on a shelf in the potting shed, others are simply in pots outside. They’ve been cropping for about five months and are all in pots. And they definitely taste better than supermarket chillies in a lot of dishes. But I wish I’d got cracking on the salad…

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  • We’ve had a lot of “wild mushrooms”, they tasted great, we’ll surch for new culture. And of course a lot of herbs, lovely, we can’t without them.

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  • Hm, I find it harder in winter to care for my plants as it’s dark and cold and I don’t really want to go outside. So I tend to forget watering, as you mentioned above.
    That said, I’ve taken my pepper and physalis plants inside, so there’s them plus some lemongrass (very great idea, yummy for curries and tea) and rosemary on my table near the window.
    Outside, most of my salad and radish plants have died. There’s some fall/winter spinach growing super slowly, so I’m not too optimistic about it. The thyme and lavender are doing fine, as last year, although they come from a warmer climate. The beets I sowed (sew?) in spring are fine, but still have no roots worth picking, I guess their pot is just too small. They’ve given me some leaves over the summer, so that’s ok, if not the most worthwile thing I’ve done.
    But the most amazing thing is my tomato plant. It’s really looking kind of bad by now, but it’s still blossoming and producing tiny tomatoes (smaller than the nail on my little finger). I pick them green, but I haven’t done anything with them so far. On the seed package it was called a wild tomato variety, so I guess it’s just really tough!
    So sprouts.. I just keep forgetting to rinse them and they go bad. But you’re right, I should give it another try this year. When I’m back home from the weekend. Anything fresh one can get in winter which is not some sort of cabbage or flown across half the globe is kind of great, isn’t it?
    Concerning those microplants/shoots you suggested, I’m just too sentimental. I get all these happy mummy feelings when something is growing and just don’t want to tear it all out again. So I guess I won’t try this in the near future.
    As always, good luck with your plants!

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    • Very nice to hear from you again Sarah, I was wondering how things were. I’ve had a similar experience with beetroot, I think its quite tricky in pots. Stuff does grow very slowly at this time of year – but often, if you can keep it alive during these cold months, they’ll come back with a vengeance in the early spring. Fingers crossed for your spinach!

      With rinsing the sprouts…. One tip is to keep the jar somewhere where you will see it every morning and evening. I keep mine next to the sink and just rinse them while I’m waiting for the kettle to boil. You only need to rinse them twice a day – even once a day can sometimes be ok. I’m not sure what you’re using to sprout but I used to use a sprouter with trays and that seemed to need rinsing more often – a glass jar seems better (and my wife loves those large gherkins so we always seem to have a plentiful supply!).

      Ha, ha! Your comment about shoots made me laugh… You’re not alone. If you feel brave one day, do try sunflower shoots – very easy and quite delicious.

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  • Hoy estoy consumiedo de la choyetara del jardin y, guayabas del jardìn, muy importante su comentario.

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  • I sowed some fennel seeds from a spice packet a few days ago and they have already sprouted. Next I want to try pea shoots from a packet of dried peas. As I’m limited for windowsill space, could I try this in my unheated greenhouse or will they do better indoors at this time of year?

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    • Hi Lora, pea shoots are quite hardy and will often survive even light frosts – so they will probably grow OK in your greenhouse, it depends a bit on how cold it gets in there. Where are you growing? The speed of growth is very much determined by the temperature – so it may take a long time to get a crop when growing them outside at this time of year, and it will probably be much quicker inside. I reckon it would be worth trying in your greenhouse – if you do try it, do come back and tell us how it goes! Mark

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      • I’m in London, but a hilly location so it’s a bit colder than the lower lying/central parts. I might try a little of both and see how they compare. I’ll let you know how it goes if I try it.

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        • Unfortunately I’ve had no luck at finding dried marrowfat peas yet – which I wanted to try rather than the more expensive seed packets of peas. We only seem to have them in tins down South!

          Oh, and my ‘fennel’ seems not to have germinated, but lots of small tomato plants rather too early! I think some seeds got in my homemade compost…

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          • Good luck in your search for marrowfat peas. Sometimes health food stores – or anywhere that sells pulses in large bags or bins (not that easy to find these days) – will stock them. Where are you Lora?

          • Hi Lora – I found dried peas in boxes in Sainsburys, of all places. You might have to rummage around a bit among the packets and tins, but they’re around. Very cheap too,and mine sprouted every time I sowed them, living quite happily in trays on a sunny windowsill.
            Maybe try Lidl or Aldi too?

          • Well found Valerie! I’ve never seen them in Sainsbury’s I will keep my eye out!

  • I have lettuce seedlings on my sunny window sill and sorrell in pot outside together with oca plants which are just losing their foliage ready to bulk up the tubers in other pots. I will try sprouts again – I haven’t grown any since the 80’s!

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    • Oooh, Oca! I haven’t tried that yet and really want to. Next year. Do try sprouts again, Mary, as I said it can take a bit of experimenting to find the best way to enjoy them – but the number or recipes and ideas online has exploded since the 80s so hopefully you’ll find some you love!

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  • Kale is the big one here too, and chard. I have the remnants of this year’s crop for picking in the coming weeks and some summer grown ones that will go dormant but sprout back to life in early spring. I must try sprouting some seeds this year! Just eating something homegrown helps keep my spirit up. And even if Mr M doesn’t (initially) partake of the harvest, he usually adopts my ‘oddities’ in his own good time…

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    • Do try sprouting, Meg – its a brilliant way of topping up the homegrown food intake, and its so quick and easy. The key to enjoying them – and perhaps enticing Mr M – is finding some great recipes to use them in. There are loads on the internet now, many are extremely simple and very delicious! If you do try it, would love to hear how you get on.

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  • We have lots of kale growing on our balcony garden in San Diego- in a “city pickers” grower. It’s working great so far! We also have mint and a very happy aloe vera plant… I planted a few carrots too but i’ve never grown them before so im not sure what’s going on with them! :)

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    • Sounds like your winter balcony is a great success! Kale is a brilliant winter crop for containers – and high in vitamin C and antioxidants – great stuff. Over here we need to sow carrots in August time to get a crop for early winter, not sure about your climate – if your mint is still happy, it sounds like it may be a bit warmer than the north of England? Very good luck with them!

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  • I have some nice kale in the garden, covered up with clear plastic held down with bricks. :)

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  • My mum used to do this back in the 70’s. Alfalfa seeds in jam jars on the kitchen window sill, spending hours up the allotment, mum and dad with their herbal baccy roll ups. Kind of Woodstock meets The Good Life.
    Happy days :)

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  • I am awaiting a dry (er) day when I can go outside and see how big the Jerusalem artichoke harvest is this year!

    Also need to read up on how to prune the grape vine. The freezer is packed with about 4 kilos of grapes and I have 3 jars of grape jelly in the pantry.

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    • Jerusalem artichokes: delicious crop for winter – hope its a good harvest!

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