How to Grow Your Own Indoor Vegetable Garden
If you think home-grown vegetables are a luxury reserved for the yard-endowed, think again. As long as you have a window, fresh vegetables are just some light, water and a couple weeks of patience away.
There are few more satisfying feelings than preparing a meal with ingredients you’ve grown yourself. Not only are homegrown fruits and vegetables healthier than what you can find in the store, with none of the preservatives and other toxins often found on grocery store produce, but they’re tastier and more nutritious as well (not to mention cheaper). What’s more, growing your own produce is a fun activity, especially during coronavirus times, for adults and children alike.
It’s easy to assume personal vegetable gardens are a luxury reserved for those with yards or outdoor space, but this couldn’t be farther than the truth. With a little light, soil and patience, you can easily start cultivating your own foods in just a few inches of indoor space. Below, EAT SMARTER’s tips for starting your own indoor garden.
When it comes to indoor growing, not all produce is created equal. Like any plant, certain vegetables and fruits grow much easier indoors than others. Factors such as the climate where you live and your home’s access to light will also influence how well certain seeds grow (as well as how good a gardener you are). However certain types of produce almost always do well indoors, no matter how cramped your space or unversed your green thumb. Leafy green vegetables with high cold tolerances such as arugula, swiss chard, kale and spinach are always good picks. Brussel sprouts, broccoli, carrots and peas also fall under this category. These kinds of vegetables thrive in small spaces and lower to moderate light, making them especially good for smaller apartments and beginners. They require about 12 hours of moderate sunlight a day and should be kept cool, around 60 degrees. If that’s too cold for you, you can always put them outside during the early fall months when temperatures are cool.
Herbs are another great place to start for the indoor gardener. They thrive in small spaces, can be kept at around 70 degrees, and only take about 2-4 weeks to grow. Oregano, rosemary, basil, spearmint and thyme are all great picks.
On the other hand, vegetables with longer grow periods, such as tomatoes, aren’t great for indoor gardening, necessitating more space and targeted conditions to yield healthy fruit. Larger vegetables and fruits, like cabbages and bell peppers, also require much more root and flowering space, and should be avoided for smaller indoor gardens.
Set Up is Key
Even heartier vegetables that don’t require optimal conditions or tending have some non-negotiables when it comes to healthy growing. The first, obviously, is light. Your plants should always be placed as close to your source of natural light as possible-- the windowsill is an ideal place for your garden, or even an outdoor ledge or fire escape, if you have one.
If natural light is limited in your home, it’s worth investing in a small LED gardening light. These lights are specifically calibrated for indoor gardening, containing a balance of cool and warm light that replicates the natural solar spectrum, making it just as nourishing to your plants as natural light. You can find portable ones online for around $35.
What to Buy
For most people, potting your produce individually is a great option. This means you can grow multiple vegetables next to a few light sources, instead of taking up a bunch of space next to one window. You can also move your plants at night if you need the space.
When it comes to potted growing, make sure you’re buying a planter with drainage holes and enough space for the produce to grow properly. Herbs and leafy vegetables like radishes and most kinds of lettuce require a smaller pot, around 4-5”, while heartier vegetables like carrots, fennel, cucumbers and even some herbs like rosemary and parsley require larger pots around 9-10” in diameter. If you’re placing your pots on wood or other materials which water can stain, make sure to put a tarp or small piece of water-proof fabric under your pots for spills.
Indoor growing requires special indoor potting mix, which is available at any nursery or online. Soilless potting mixes are especially good for indoor growing; a good one will contain peat moss, vermiculite and perlite, a mixture which absorbs moisture particularly well and is resistant to compaction, an issue wherein soil particles become too packed together that can often arise in indoor growing. Soilless mixes are also sterile, meaning your plants are much less susceptible to pest or disease problems.
Seeds for about any vegetable or fruit imaginable can be purchased cheaply and easily online or at any nursery. What’s even more fun, though, is growing vegetables from scraps you were going to throw out. A ton of produce can be easily grown simply by re-planting certain parts of fruit or vegetable, including potatoes, onions, carrots, apples, cherries and much more. Planting processes will vary for each vegetable; scallion scraps need to be submerged in a jar of water to produce the sprouts necessary for re-planting, for instance, while sweet potatoes need to be suspended above a shallow cup of water before roots begin to regrow. If you’ll be planting scraps, it’s always best to look up the exact prep instructions before you regrow.