Category Archives: Indoor Gardening

Chard Gone Wild = Garden Omelet

When I got up this morning, everything was different. No water falling from the sky; no rain. From my bedroom window I could see the mountains over my neighbor’s roof.  No fog, no low clouds.

Downstairs, there was a weird brightness to the world. I had to squint to see, and when I looked up, I couldn’t see at all. What was–wait, I remember–it’s–it’s–it’s sunshine! Yes, the sun was shining. I would get into the garden today.

So I made an omelet for the Significant Other and myself. (If you cannot follow the reasoning here, go away.)


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This Cold House: Chard for Organic Indoor Gardening Any Sixty Degree-Day

As mentioned a few week ago, the tomatoes I brought indoors last autumn haven’t exactly thrived. They are still, by most definitions, alive, but the aphid population is doing better than the tomatoes.Chard_2_indoor_4

The chard, however, is thriving. At the end of fall I crowded six or seven tiny plants into a two-foot long planter and gave them the best spot I could. The room is unheated, but the window is sunny, so temperatures in winter range from sixty odd by day to thirties at night.  The plants haven’t burgeoned, but they’ve grown, and seem happy. The left-hand photo was taken December 18th; that on the right twelve weeks later, on March 9th.Beautiful_chard_2

Chard is a cold-weather crop, better suited than tomatoes to conditions in this cold-weather climate and this cold house.  It’s also a lot less vulnerable to infestation and disease than tomatoes. The main problem I’ve had with chard here in Montana has been the same I’ve had with spinach and broccoli: leaf-miners, and those I seem not to have imported along with the plants.

There was a slight setback when one of our cats got locked into the room with the chard and uprooted half of it in a desperate search for a cat toilet, but most of the plants seem to have made an excellent recovery from that unfortunate event.

I love these multi-colored stems; they make traditional white chard seem washed-out, bleached, in comparison. When I brought in a fistful of red-stemmed chard one summer a year or so back, my mother thought they were beet greens.

Next year, I’m going to bring in larger plants, and more of them. Next year I won’t let the cat uproot them. Next year…

For the moment, though, I have chard for miso soup, and for omlettes. It’s as tender as spinach, the stems crisp as celery, but prettier.

Tomatoes, the inside story

Having taken a breather last year, I tackled the tomato front again this year, bringing in the runts from the spring planting, little ones that I’d stuck in pots rather than tossing, plants that were only just starting to flower when I repotted them and brought them inside.

As the photo shows, they do produce tomatoes–that photo is from December, and there have been more tomatoes since then.  The thing is, there aren’t many–the photo really gives a false impression, since one assumes that the rest of the plant is similarly laden with ripe fruit. Not so. I seem to remember working myself into an awkward, yogi-worthy twist for that photo, in an attempt to get the only two tomato clumps into the same frame.Dec_upstairs_indoor_2

Even worse, the tomatoes I do get don’t taste that great.  It’s no wonder, I suppose, as our house temperature rarely gets above sixty, and I have no really good sunny windows to offer them.

This year I’ve done my best by them, shaking their blossoms daily to encourage germination (this works), ferttilizing, snipping their tips when they outgrow their stakes, and generally mooning over them.  The results?

Of the seven plants I brought inside, one died outright (just pined away for no clear reason, like a girl in a ballad), and the rest, while still producing both flowers and new greenery, are clearly feeling the strain of a winter indoors.  They’re afflicted with a variety of pests and diseases I haven’t had the energy to identify, much less fight.

Every year I bring plants in, and every year they cause more trouble than they’re worth.  Yes, even I am ready to admit it.  My family could have told me (actually, they DID tell me) this years ago, but I’m a little slow.  The addict is the last to know or admit she’s got a problem. But I’m finally ready to take that first step, I’m ready now, lord, I see the light: tomatoes belong outdoors, not in. 

If anyone knows different, keep it to yourself, if you value your life; there’s no telling what my family might do to someone who re-instills in me the belief that I can raise tomatoes indoors.

Indoor Tomatoes, or The Tomato Within

The last of the summer’s tomatoes are long gone by now, and December’s fresh tomato soup is a but a fading memory. Of course, there are always the tomatoes inside, but somehow I doubt they’re going to produce enough fruit to make soup.

When I look up from my computer I see a tomato plant in a six-inch pot. It’s maybe a couple of feet high, and while its upper reaches are green, all the lower leaves are yellowing. Three ripe cherry-tomatoes hang from it, two together, one alone.

I am looking at a plant that might make it till spring, but even if it does, is it just going to infect the rest of my young seedlings with whatever is making its leaves curl inwards?

You’d think I’d know better by now…

Two years ago I brought in a number of outside plants including massive things containing tomatoes, hanging pots with strawberry plants, and a range of assorted others. My husband and sons greeted this influx of outdoor greenery with only the occasional muttered aside; "Want to make the house look like a jungle?" from the sons, or a cautiously worded suggestion from my husband: "I’m not sure the strawberries will do that well inside." This after I’d virtually obscured our livingroom windows behind a combination of hanging plants and potted ones whose greenery fitted together as neatly and tightly as puzzle pieces.

I never precisely conceded that he was right, but I did eventually retire the hanging strawberry plants to the garage for the duration of the cold season.

The tomatoes, however, I refused to reliquish, and one made it all the way through winter and all the way through the following summer, which it spent on our patio, doing its tomato thing, which resulted in a modicum of tomatoes. It was more a curiosity than a vegetable, a conversation piece I used to startle fellow gardeners, including the visiting plant experts from Mali: "That tomato is over a year old," I’d say, but in an easy, offhand manner, as if this were nothing special, at least in my garden.

Only I remembered the slow train of dead and dying plants that I’d escorted out of the house through that late winter and early spring.  The tomato I bragged on was the only one that had survived.

So you’d think I’d have learned, wouldn’t you.

Tomato Harvest in December

A few days before Christmas I harvested my tomatoes. This is late anywhere in the northern hemisphere, but here in Montana it’s absurd. I wish I could claim credit of some sort (Breakthrough! Cold-Busting Tomato Developed! Local gardening Gardner touts cold-tolerant tomato.) But no; the late date just testifies to my late start last spring.

I did my picking in the basement, where I’d hung my vines a couple of months back, upside down and full of green tomatoes–over eighty on my finest specimen, even after I’d plucked those damaged by frost. These were soft, and a darker green than the healthy ones. I’d done everything a good tomato-mother can do to protect the plants from frost–swaddled some plants, put hoops and  plastic over others, erected full-fledged greenhouses around others–but despite the protective layers, some suffered.

So at last I conceded, pulled the plants, and hung them from the big nails in the basement beams near, not so conveniently, the washing machine and the table where I dry sweaters in winter and plant seedlings come spring. Somehow, picking in the basement lacks romance, and the crumbling leaves sticking to my sweater and drifting to the floor couldn’t compete with flexible foliage. Still, there’s something satisfying about picking tomato after ripe tomato and piling them all in a bowl in the kitchen.

As the photo shows, I also picked plenty of green tomatoes, and these are unlikely ever to ripen no matter how much I swaddle and coddle them. I’ve made green-tomato chutney before, so this year I may try green-tomato pie. As for the ripe ones–they’re probably not of salad quality but should make good sauce.


The photo is pretty true to color, and you can see that while some of the tomatoes are the classic slightly orange of  "tomato red," several lack that orange tint. These are my heirlooms, and the pity is that I don’t know the variety, since I just planted a few seeds from a package of mixed heirloom seeds. It is true though, as heirloom aficionados insist, that these tomatoes have an intensity that puts others to shame. Interesting that that intense flavor is matched by this intense color.