It will be a while before winter loosens its icy grip on Northern Hemisphere gardens, so until then you need some simple garden projects to keep you occupied. It is important to wait a bit before sowing vegetable seeds indoors, because seeds started too early often fail. Besides, there are other ways to work with plants during winter’s second half. Here are six of my favorites.
Sprout Seeds for Salads and Sandwiches
I love having fresh sprouts in the kitchen, and my habit is to alternate between alfalfa sprouts for salads and sandwiches and mung bean sprouts for stir-fried dishes. You can sprout seeds in a plain glass jar, with no risk of contamination as long as you use clean water. Best of all, growing sprouts is an excellent way for new gardeners to learn about the germination process.
Some seeds germinate better in potting soil or perlite than in a sprouting jar, so sunflowers, peas, and popcorn are best grown as microgreens. Simply press seeds into a thin bed of soil and keep moist in a brightly lit place. Most microgreens are ready to be cut with scissors after five to seven days. And, though wheat and rye microgreens are not to my taste, my cat loves them.
Force Some Sleeping Chives
Most winter soups benefit from a sprinkle of green on top, which justifies digging a small clump of chives from frozen soil and growing it in a pot in a sunny window. I’ve learned to watch for aphids on tender new growth, but most years my forced chives are a trouble-free source of tasty garnishes for several weeks in late winter.
Make Infused Waters
Many people cut back on food and drink in January, making it a great time to try making infused waters from frozen fruits and dried herbs from your garden. Simply place some dried mint or other garden herbs in a clean jar of water, drop in a few frozen berries, and let the mixture sit overnight. The next day you will have water infused with the subtle flavors and aromas of the garden.
Brew Some Fire Cider
We wait until the soil gets cold to harvest horseradish, which will store in the refrigerator for months. The pretty pieces get set aside for grating into sauces and condiments, and I combine the others with garlic and hot peppers in the medicinal brew called fire cider. I can’t promise miracles from homemade fire cider, but if your household is done with being sick, why not try this old folk medicine for boosting immunity? At the very least, fire cider makes a killer salad dressing.
If you want to expand your flower garden without spending much money, winter sowing flower seeds will provide you with cold-hardened perennial and biennial flower seedlings for spring planting. Lavender, columbine, foxglove, and bachelor buttons love being winter sown, and most of my coneflowers came from seeds sown in plastic jugs in late winter. Because winter-sown seeds are exposed to plenty of cold weather, perennials handled this way often bloom their first year from seed.
Adopt a Winter-Blooming Houseplant
To lift your spirits day after day, adopt a winter-blooming houseplant if you’re not already overstocked. Cyclamens are widely available in stores, and they can be trusted to bloom for months when kept watered. Kalanchoes also flower for months with little care, and they are easy to bring back into bloom year after year. I wait until the holiday decorations are packed away to restart my dormant amaryllis, which then flower in late February. Without these indoor bloomers and other interesting garden projects, late winter would be dreary indeed.