Everyone has discovered by now that the pandemic isn’t going to shut down the food-supply chain. Supermarkets and farm stands will have plenty of food available.

That does not mean, though, that Mainers should not grow food indoors this winter. First, fresher is better, and nothing is fresher than vegetables you harvest at home just before you eat them. But mostly, it will be an interesting project while we are prevented from attending in-person events and visiting friends. If you are successful, you’ll feel good about yourself.

Back in February, when COVID-19 had just received its name and the outbreaks were in other parts of the world, I wrote a column about growing microgreens. At the time, Pamela Hargest, a University of Maine Cooperative Extension educator, was giving a class on the trendy topic.

Microgreens, as the name implies, are greens that you could grow in the garden, but picked very young – depending on preference, between one inch and 6 inches tall. They are usually grown in 10-by-20-inch plastic trays, filled about an inch deep with potting soil. A south-facing window will work, but they do better with artificial light. And it is best to use a clear plastic cover on the trays, to preserve heat and moisture.

Microgreens are eaten in multiple ways: sandwiches, salads, stir fry, soups and tacos. Johnny’s Selected Seeds offers more than 100 varieties of microgreen seeds – either as single species or mixes.

Another, maybe simpler way to grow greens is sprouts.


My wife Nancy and I first did this in the 1970s, skipped it for a decade or so, and then resumed for a while. You buy sprouting seeds from local stores or catalogs. Cover the bottom of a quart-size jar (Mason jar or recycled mayonnaise – whatever you have) with seeds and then add water. Remove any seeds that float. And, no, you can’t use up the seeds left from your garden planting earlier this season because they may have been treated with chemicals you don’t want to eat.

Cover the top with screening or cheese cloth. Add water, swish it around the jar and drain daily for about a week, depending on the seed, and you will have edible sprouts.

You shouldn’t have the jar in direct sunlight, at least at the beginning, but you can put it in the sun a couple of days at the end of the cycle – the sunlight will “green up” the sprouts. When you have decided they are ready, drain for about six hours and then put the sprouts in a container in the refrigerator.

We have typically used a sandwich mix for our sprouts, but you can use broccoli, radish, alfalfa, kale and others. Options that I have never tried include pea shoots and onions, which sound good.

Another option for home-grown indoor food is mushrooms, although I have never tried this. Pinetree Garden Seeds in New Gloucester offers three kits for growing mushrooms indoors: black oyster, white oyster and shiitake. Although you order through Pinetree, the kits will be shipped by an out-of-state company – taking two to three weeks to arrive.

The kits include pieces of log inoculated with mushroom spores, and you just follow the instructions. The catalog says you need an area in your home with a temperature of 67 to 72 degrees.


You also can grow herbs indoors, but it isn’t as easy as it seems for some of them. There is a soil sweet spot between too moist and too dry, and that can be tough to find.

The ones that seem foolproof are basil, chives, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary and thyme. Actually, the only way I would grow mint is in a pot, because it can be aggressive and take over an outdoor garden. While clay pots are more aesthetically pleasing it might be easier to balance soil moisture if you use plastic pots for this.

You will need a south-facing window, because these herbs want six hours of sunlight each day – and that’s about all Mainers get in December and January. If you don’t have such a window, it’s again time for artificial light.

Some fruits can also be grown inside. I wrote a complete column about them a year ago, so I won’t repeat all of that now.

One hint, though. If you buy a Calamondin orange, get one with fruit and/or flowers on it. The one that we bought last year with neither fruit nor flowers is still alive, but it has just three blossoms on it. Calamondin is self-pollinating, so maybe a few oranges are possible.

Our coffee bean plants are looking healthy right now, but there’s no sign of blooms on them as yet.

I have hope.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at: tomatwell@me.com

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