Lowther: Food plants can be grown all year long

David grows flowers; while some of them are edible, they are not much use during the winter months.

David grows flowers; while some of them are edible, they are not much use during the winter months. Besides, most of them are consumed by deer and rabbits rather than people so their culinary value is debatable.

I, on the other hand, can go into my garden and produce food even at this time of year. Under that snow are Brussels sprouts and young turnips that are literally dying to join us for dinner. Flowers are seasonal, but fresh food can be grown year round.

Even during the hardest winter we can produce food in the warmth of our homes. I sprout seeds on the window sill and repot herbs to grow indoors, but have never attempted anything as ambitious as a lemon tree. Hold that thought.

Fresh sprouts provide a welcome boost of nutrients and flavour, regardless of the season. I’ll often use my extra saved seeds and grow them in my sprouting tray until they look big enough to eat and before they turn brown. We can buy inexpensive packets of sprouting seeds but why not use the ones we’ve saved? After all, they cost nothing.

All of my saved seeds sprout well, but peas and sunflowers grow better in soil. Get a baking tray with rims, a casserole dish or a trimmed-down cardboard box lined with plastic. Soak the seeds in a jar for eight to 15 hours then drain for eight more hours.

Mix enough earth together with coir (coconut fibre available at Home Hardware) and some organic fertilizer to cover the tray one inch deep. I use pre-mixed potting soil that I prepared before the cold weather in anticipation of this winter.

Water the soil thoroughly but don’t overdo it; you want very damp soil that isn’t waterlogged. Sprinkle the seeds all over the soil and press them in lightly to ensure good contact. Spread more soil to cover the seeds and lay clear plastic over the tray to prevent the soil from drying out but do not tuck the plastic underneath as the seeds need air.

Four days later remove the plastic, water the seedlings and place the tray in as sunny a place as you can find. Water once a day in the morning with tepid water and they will be ready to cut and eat on the seventh day. If the sunflowers haven’t dropped their shells, wait another day or so and they’ll probably shed more. Don’t eat the shells though, just pick off the rest before you harvest the greens. You might get away with a second crop on this soil, but toss the spent soil into the compost after that and start afresh.

Now, back to the lemon tree. Two years ago Honeymoon Bay resident Ian Morrison stopped at Dinter Nursery and found the perfect birthday gift for his wife Brenda. One plant smelled wonderful and promised years of enjoyment, so Ian snapped up Meyer’s Improved Lemon Tree along with a container of citrus food and took it home.

Each summer they place the tree outside in the sun and come winter they bring it into the living room under a grow lamp where it fills the house with a scent reminiscent of jasmine. When the tree blooms they use a soft brush to sweep across the anthers of each flower to ensure pollination. In the first year the tree put out two delicious, sweet lemons. This year it’s sprouting 11 more.

I am sending David to Dinter’s for one of my own.