I have to do it. I just have to. I skipped the column last year and regretted it all winter. Not this year. If you live in Alaska, you need a light system under which to grow plants.
Yes, this is the column where I remind those smart folks out there to set up their lights and start using them to nourish houseplants, herbs and whatever other green living things you have at home. Now is the time.
Obviously, this is also the column where I try to convince those who go lightless all winter to get some sort of lighting setup this year. After all, your plants can do better through the winter with even the most rudimentary setup.
The standard argument I use is the indoor versus the outdoor growing season ratio. Being charitable, we spend 4 1/2 months outdoors — and that includes May, not even really a growing time. What about plants during the other, longer, 7 1/2 month indoor season?
And, don’t forget these very same lights can be used to start seedlings to transplant outdoors in the spring; you don’t have to buy everything from a nursery. If you do start seeds, you will end up spending twice the amount of time growing indoors under lights than you spend outdoors growing plants.
These grow-light systems used to be all about making sure your houseplants made it through the winter. Given the pandemic-induced, increased interest in exotic houseplants, there should be an emphasis on keeping them happy during long winters now as well.
Then there was a trend to grow herbs in the winter. You don’t need one of those kitchen systems with lights to grow them. You can do the same thing under the same lights your houseplants enjoy. Winter herbs are easy, easy, easy, if you have lights.
Ah, but now folks are also using their lights to grow some real food crops during the winter: Tomatoes, for example. How about trying those self-pollinating cucumbers? And lettuces do great. You can even grow carrots in pots. All are easy to germinate — under lights. But you need lights because we simply do not get enough once we hit our indoor season.
Listen to the “Teaming With Microbes” podcast:
There are all manner of lighting systems to consider that go beyond the old two-bulb fluorescent shop fixture I recommended 40 years ago. That will still do, but come on. Let’s get serious here.
Search the internet for grow lights. You will find both systems and local sources ranging from grow shops to box and chain stores that have lighting departments.
You will need a timer to control your system if there isn’t one built in. You may want a tent in which to grow so you are not disturbed by the lights or so you can control the humidity and temperature. A heat mat for germinating seeds is fun. You may also want to buy some trays to put plants on. Indoor plants can be messy and you don’t want water stains on your table.
How much should you spend on an indoor light system? All I can say is think about how much you spend on the outdoor growing season, and the enjoyment it gives you. This indoor season is darn near twice as long, as is the enjoyment. And, it comes at a time when there is a limited number of things to do.
Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar:
BOOtanical is back this year at the Alaska Bootanical Garden. Sept. 15-Oct. 22, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. This is a family friendly fall display. It’s $8 per person but members and children 6 and under are free.
Freesias: If you see them for sale, they grow great — and fragrant — indoor flowers.
Houseplants: Check for visitor pests. Neem oil works pretty good and is safe.
Garlic: Plant now.