This time of year many people get the itch to start plants indoors in cold climates, but we are still months away from outdoor gardening. Starting tomatoes, peppers and other warm season plants indoors now is too early and the results will be disappointing. Yes, you can purchase heating equipment and lights to jump-start high input plants. However, there are easier and less expensive plants to cultivate to chase away those winter blues.

Lettuces and greens that prefer cool, low-light conditions are ideal plants to start now and we have grown these to maturity indoors. The sustainable approach is to grow things that you will use and in the conditions that you already have.

Here are some things to consider regarding growing conditions indoors:

Light: There has been concern about low-e coatings on glazing reducing the types of light plants need. There may be a small reduction in light by modern windows, but the whole picture matters too. Multiple panes of glass, dirty windows, reflective coatings, window screens (cause shading), low sun angle and short days all reduce light to indoor plants by at least 50% compared to outdoors. Many greens prefer part shade, so a south facing window, even with a reduction in light can provide suitable growing conditions.

Temperature: It has never been easier to do research on-line to find germination temperatures for different types of plant seeds by putting “germination temperature for pick a plant” into your browser. When the optimal temperature range is not achieved; seeds will sprout erratically or not at all. Many gardeners have noticed that discarded seeds from tomatoes, squash and pumpkins often sprout and outgrow carefully nurtured, indoor-started plants. This is because the compost pile is creating the ideal conditions and temperatures that these volunteers thrive in. Lettuces and some greens will germinate at temperatures as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit. but do better at higher temperatures. You can place newly planted seeds in a warmer spot to speed up sprouting and then move them to the windowsill where it might be cooler.

Water: Some of my friends claim they have a “black thumb” when it comes to indoor plants. That just isn’t true. Many problems associated with house plants are just because of over-watering. Lower temperatures and less light contribute to stem and root diseases that are exasperated by high levels of moisture in the soil. You can use a small spoon or screw driver to dig into containers to monitor soil moisture. Water when you can determine that the soil is dry at least half way down in the growing container. There should not be standing water in trays or saucers that hold plant pots. Plants that appear to be wilting in waterlogged pots are dying-time to start over with less water!

So, lettuce remember (yes, a pun), if you want to start growing indoors early, pick the low-hanging fruit (oh! another pun!) and experiment with some greens and lettuce now!

These sprouts are from seeds that were several years old and surprised us.You can research freezing and refrigerating seed to preserve viability. If you have more sprouts than expected they can be transplanted or harvested as baby greens.
This quote is from a Wall Street Journal article on gardening. Sustainable gardening achieves multiple, true benefits for the participants. Hopefully he shares his harvest with a neighbor who likes vegetables!
These lettuce seedlings are 21 days from planting. Expect slower growth in cool and low light conditions. Monitor moisture levels in the soil closely during the first few weeks.