Photo by Dave Trautman

Photo by Dave Trautman

We have officially transitioned from summer to fall here in Edmonton, and as we prepare our outdoor gardens for their time under the snow, I turn my attention to indoor gardening.

At least that’s my thinking. Part of the reason behind my shift in focus is economic. This past summer has brought extreme flooding, extreme drought and all around tough environmental conditions for farmers. According to Alan Bjerga, many farmers are switching away from commodity crops to high-value crops as a result of the drought, which will further restrict the supply of fruits and vegetables from North America, and force an increase in prices.

Another reason that brings me to indoor gardening is its tremendous and untapped educational potential. The physics, chemistry, biology, ecology and technologies inherent in hydroponic and aquaponic gardens provide context to the math and science that students are learning, provide ample learning opportunities for young and old alike, and provide pathways for students to engage their broader communities. The Farm to Cafeteria movement is taking off across Canada, and there are so many good reasons to get behind it.

The smaller scale of indoor gardening means that mistakes, i.e., killing your plants or producing plants that are bitter and tough, affects fewer plants, which reduces lost revenue and reduces the risk. Reducing the risk of any business venture is a good thing.

Indoor gardens also produce interesting mistakes that require creative problem solving, and strategic thinking which are always good skills to develop. With the vast internet of videos, blog posts, scholarly articles, and how-tos available, every problem a new gardener can encounter has been discussed somewhere.

All that is required is that you spend some time each day listening and observing your plants – a health promoting activity in the dead of winter that can help beat the winter blues.

Gardening IS mindfulness in practice.

With so many benefits, why aren’t more people transforming their homes into food factories?

The usual suspects are convenience, money and time. What all three have in common is that they come from the perspective of isolated individuals.

Photo by Dave Trautman

You see it in the car driving culture here. EVERYONE has a car so they can go where they want, when they want, in whatever temperature they want, listening to whatever music they want and so on. Our neighbourhood planning encourages this culture.

We are embedded within a culture of extreme independence that has made our society (and ecosystems) fragile and vulnerable to shocks.

I believe that all three barriers to indoor gardening can be addressed when we begin to see ourselves connected to a community with similar values and goals. When we begin to open up to the reality that we are healthier and happier when we are part of something meaningful.

We are, after all, part of the web of life, not outside of it.

Growing your own food is meaningful. Building friendships is meaningful. Transforming Edmonton into a resilient and thriving City for future generations is meaningful.

Introducing a 6-month Indoor Gardening Program built around people

The 6-month Indoor Gardening Program is built around monthly workshops where we meet as a group to learn and share our experiences together; however, during the rest of the month, we’ll be working in pairs. Each pair will use the same technologies and techniques, and support each other through the various phases of the program. One pair could work with Arugula, one pair could work with Collard Greens, and so on.

Another design choice built into the program is that everyone uses the same technologies in roughly the same configurations, just with different plants. The benefit is that everyone in the group becomes a resource to diagnose problems, share experiences and come up with realistic solutions.

Another benefit of working in pairs is that if you need to leave your garden for an extended period of time, you can turn to your partner to tend your crops in your absence.

Over the course of the program, local experts in hydroponics, indoor gardening, food preserving, composting, and commercial urban farming will share their wisdom, tips and tricks with the group as they move through the stages of germinating, transplanting, growing, harvesting, eating, preserving, composting and back again.

I feel really strongly about teaching gardening from the perspective of integrating with the cycles of nature. The Carbon and Nitrogen cycles, the water cycle, the plant life cycle, and so on. Every harvest should be eaten, if it cannot be eaten, it should then be preserved, if it can’t be preserved it should be composted, if it ends up in the garbage part of our practice as gardeners, not unlike Yoga, is out of alignment and needs our attention.

And that’s where the real learning curve comes into play. You’ve heard the affirmation, “Its not the mountain we conquer but ourselves” and it applies equally to gardening. The mountain we climb is adjusting our lifestyle to growing food continuously, and that’s why we start small and gradually increase the size of our gardens to match our skill level and goals.

The starting points for the 6-month Indoor Garden Program are microgreens and leafy greens (or herbs depending on what everyone wants to grow). Both require the same set of materials, tools and environmental controls for germination. Once seedlings for the greens are sufficiently mature, we transplant them into an innovative vertical tower system that supports their growth until they are ready to harvest.

At the end of the six months, each student will have grown a dozen crops of microgreens, and two or three crops of leafy greens or herbs. And they get to keep their indoor gardens to produce food into spring and summer and beyond. The skills that students learn from indoor gardening immediately transfer into outdoor gardening, and, in fact, allow proactive individuals to extend their growing season by a few weeks with the proper planning.

The Program is set to launch on January 14, 2015. 7:00 – 9:00 pm (Location: TBA), and I have set the capacity to 16 people to ensure that everyone gets the support they need.

You can register for the program here.

If you have questions or would like to share your stories of integrating indoor gardening into your life, I welcome your comments. You can also email me at [email protected]