It is the season of nearby bright and festive holiday arbor and garden illuminations in popular public spaces in BrookfieldGlencoe, Chicago and Lisle.  All of these family-friendly events run through the end of the year.

Without a doubt, I am all lit up by every one of them, and have been to several already.

This year, though, I am also discovering that December is a great time for any backyard gardener to consider illuminating themselves about how fluorescent “grow” lights will extend the growing season of those crunchylettuces and tasty herbs that are usually sown in season and cultivated outside.  For the fun of it, recently I became a year-round edible gardener, and have found out that it is all about me being able to pick and serve up home grown produce over winter, which is always an instant cold weather pick-me-up, for sure.

Rocket science this isn’t, but there is big time science involved here, particularly in how plants via photosynthesis are able to be cultivated indoors on a sunny window sill, or with a simple grow light set up, as I do.

To do it I am harvesting sunshine alternatively, and it is working for me at a minimal start-up cost for the grow light and stand.  But I already had the containers, soil, and of course worm castings as fertilizer, so to get started you have to think about accessing those items, as well.

Since November, and for the first time ever in a garden window I had installed to create a productive growing space in a kitchen that is light-challenged, with that supplemental lighting, it is finally a great space for my basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme and curry.  These plants had previously been growing in a large, reclaimed container outside.  So far, all of the transplants have been “happy” with the fusion of natural and artificial light, or at least that is my take on it.

A couple of years ago, when I grew these herbs just under the lights, they did not survive.  However, there were a few other factors, as well, including those nasty swarms of gnats that infested them.

I later found out I was the cause of that.  Since then, I have learned how to correctly water my indoor plants.

The success of this latest gardening experiment motivated me to lug from outside and into the basement myrecycled ceramic wash basin.  Formerly conveniently placed just outside my backdoor, in mid- November still growing in it was harvestable plant matter: e.g. several varieties of lettuce, kale, Swiss chard, a few herbs and some beets I put in there for the fun of it.  Several weeks ago, I even planted small groupings of  new seeds, which have germinated and will take me through early Spring, I’m thinking.

And now, with it stationed in my basement growing room, this cool, exterior garden accent has become a perennial (four season) container, and by Christmas Eve, with those cultivations I should be able to assemble this Red and Green Salad.  BTW, I add a few things I don’t grow to it, including a spray of pomegranate seeds and wedges of avocado to wrap up and put a bow on this seasonal starter.   

Well, not to repeat myself, but of course I will, my point is to spotlight how easy it is to continue growing certain edibles  — over winter — under grow lights in your home.  

But, now is a good time to get back to those other shows of light I started with, the glittering festivals located due west, south, east or north from Oak Park.  Even now when I trek out to those places, I am reminded how bedazzling they are, not only on a cold dark night with lights dancing and twinkling, but also year-round, with or without all those spectacular blooms.   

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Deb Quantock McCarey

Deb Quantock McCarey is an Illinois Press Association (IPA) award-winning freelance writer who has worked with Wednesday Journal Inc. since 1995, writing features and special sections for all its publications....

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