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All We Can Eat
Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 01/12/2012

Bring the garden indoors this winter


Coffee in Washington via the Sprout ‘n Grow Greenhouse? Only if the District suddenly adopts a tropical climate. (DuneCraft)
It may not look like the dead of winter, but summer is definitely over. I miss the days when I could run out to the backyard to pick a couple handfuls of plump Campari tomatoes, a few fresh basil leaves and a colorful myriad of jalapeno, Serrano, Thai dragon and habanero peppers, then implore my wife to whip up some of her signature spicy ragu. We have a few Tupperware containers full of that sauce squirreled away in the freezer, but the tastes of the sunny season are mostly just memories now.

Without that flavorful harvest on hand, I began casting about for ways to garden indoors. Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of renting a home with a temperature-controlled greenhouse or even an indoor porch. That left the sun-drenched kitchen windowsill, which limited the size of the plants I could reasonably expect to cultivate.

After an hour of Googling, I came across four DIY gardening kits that looked like they were compact and creative: coffee, oregano, oyster mushrooms and watercress. Just what would I cook with that jumble of vegetation? A coffee-braised, oregano-spiced oyster mushroom casserole topped with a sprinkling of watercress? Sure, whatever; I didn’t care. I just wanted to enjoy fresh, homegrown produce again. So, for the next three weeks, I cared for my new charges according to the manufacturers’ specifications, which produced varying results.

The first signs of success from my indoor Eden came on the eighth day, courtesy of the organic oregano GrowBottle (Uncommon Goods, $35). This simply ingenious kit is fashioned from a recycled wine bottle cut in half with the neck inverted back into the base. This forms a cradle with a drain that’s filled with clay marbles, which retain moisture and create a landscape where the seeds can find a foothold. Sure enough, the oregano took root and is well on its way to sprucing up a wintertime ragu.

Unfortunately, the PostCarden (Uncommon Goods, $12.50) didn’t deliver. The premise is that you turn a postcard into a garden (thus the clever name) by sprinkling seeds and water onto its cardboard growing base. However, after three weeks of just enough H2O, lots of light and tons of love, there wasn’t a single shoot of watercress. This one is Return to Sender.

Next on the windowsill is the coffee Sprout ‘n Grow Greenhouse (DuneCraft, $9.99). According to the packaging, a coffee plant can grow higher than 15 feet and will ultimately produce a pound of coffee. Unfortunately for me, that would involve replanting the seedling outside, praying that Washington suddenly becomes tropical and waiting for four years. Nonetheless, two out of four seeds did sprout, which added a little color to my morning routine of French pressing a batch of dark roast from Portland’s Stumptown Coffee Roasters.

The fourth kit wasn’t on the sill, because it didn’t require direct sunlight. Instead, I put Mushroom Garden (Back to the Roots, $19.95) in the corner of my home office. All I had to do was tear off a flap on the back, mist the spore-speckled recycled coffee grounds and relax. Ten days later, I had enough ’shrooms to make any home chef or Phish fan happy. Perhaps the best part about the kit is that it will yield at least one more crop, so it looks like some version of mushroom casserole will be on an upcoming menu.

Though these kits ultimately didn’t come close mimicking the bounty of my garden, they did keep me in the rhythm of caretaking. On dark mornings when I was wishing I was outside weeding, watering and harvesting, they made me feel like it was summertime again.

By Nevin Martell  |  07:00 AM ET, 01/12/2012

Tags:  Nevin Martell, gardening

 
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