Is there anything better than fresh veggies? While you can find most vegetables at the store, nothing beats the freshly-picked flavor straight from your garden! But not everyone has the yard real estate to start a sprawling outdoor garden. That's where indoor vegetable gardens come in handy! Whether you're trying to avoid the grocery store or just enjoy fresh produce, we'll show you how to start your indoor vegetable garden.
Seeds or sprouts?
The first step of starting an indoor garden is figuring out where to start! Starting a vegetable garden from seeds can be difficult for beginners. Fortunately, many local nurseries and even grocery stores sell seasonal vegetable plants that have already sprouted. Simply pick out the baby plants you want to grow and transplant them into your growing medium at home.
If you are confident with your green thumb and want to start from scratch
, you'll need to start a little earlier. Most experts recommend starting seedlings indoors or in greenhouses anyway, though, so you're already off to a good start. When you grow vegetables from seeds, you can be confident that they were well cared for during critical growth stages. Also, if you're interested in growing microgreens (more on that later) you'll need to start from seeds.
Selecting a space
The only limit to the size of your indoor garden is how much space you want to dedicate to it. Whether you have an entire garage to fill or just a few square feet in your kitchen, it's not difficult to make the most out of what you have.
- Even if you're very careful, a little bit of water spillage is probably going to take place. That's why it's important to find a place that has a hard floor surface, such as tile or concrete. Linoleum and laminate floors can work, but you have to be careful not to let water sit for too long on surfaces such as those.
If you don't have an adequate hard surface, you may want to consider starting your project on a large table or shelves.
- If you're short on floorspace, shelving can be a great way to optimize it. A good wireframe shelf unit can turn 3 square feet into 9 easily. However, you might want to consider getting adjustable shelves to allow plants room to grow.
Finding the light
As you may remember from your high school biology class, plants need light to photosynthesize! Outdoors, they can rely on the ample sunlight, but inside, they may need some help. Even if you place the plants inside outside a window, they probably won't get what they need. For this, you'll need some sort of artificial light or lamp.
Types of indoor gardening lights
So what kind of light should you use? Does it make a difference? It does! Not all light is the same. In fact, some plants need different light for growing and different light for flowering. With that in mind, it's important to understand what kind of light different bulbs and fixtures produce.
- These are fairly common and are typically what you find in overhead light fixtures at home. They're not ideal for an indoor garden, and they aren't very energy efficient.
- Fluorescent lights usually come in tubes and can be a decent light source for plants that don't require a lot of light. However, they generally don't put out enough light for plants that are budding or flowering.
Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFL)
- These are designed to put out a lot of light without using much energy and without producing much heat. This means you can position them near your plants without worrying that they'll be damaged. While they're a little more expensive, they can be a good option for an indoor garden lighting fixture.
- Plants that are in the process of growing leaves prefer light in the more violet-blue range of the spectrum. That's why many commercial nurseries use metal halide lamps, which are a specialized type of bulb that produce the perfect color of light for vegetative growth stages
. They are on the more expensive side of things, however.
High pressure sodium
- Plants that are ready to sprout buds and flower usually need light in the red end of the spectrum. High pressure sodium lights are effective at covering this need and are used commercially to promote healthy flowers and the veggies that come from them.
LED (light emitting diode)
- Because plants like different types of light at different stages in their lifecycle, LEDs can be the ultimate light fixture for growing an indoor vegetable garden. They are incredibly energy efficient, and a single fixture can produce a wide range of different colors of light. For the early stages, they can produce the white and blue light needed for leaf development, and later, they can produce warmer red and orange lights to promote healthy flowering.
Hours of light
As you can probably imagine, different vegetable plants require different hours of sunlight. 12 hours is a good rule of thumb for plants while they are in the beginning stages. However, when they are flowering and getting ready to produce their veggies, they may need as much as 16 hours.
But just like animals need a break at night, darkness is very important to a healthy plant
. They use the light to produce energy during the day, but use that energy during the night to grow in a process called respiration. That's why it's important to give them at least 8 hours in darkness. Fortunately, a simple outlet timer can help you keep a strict schedule.
If you're growing your vegetables from seeds, the packages should come with the recommended light schedule. If you're buying plants that have already been started, ask a local nursery for best practices.
Soil or hydroponic?
Growing your indoor garden in soil
In addition to light and water, plants require nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and so on. To make sure that your plants get enough of the nutrients they need to make delicious veggies, it's best to provide them with specially made indoor soil.
Even if you have good soil in your yard, starting with a specialized mixture is still your safest bet. This is because the dirt in your yard, or otherwise found outdoors, usually contains all sorts of seeds, insects, fungal spores, and other things you don't really want in your dirt.
When shopping for good soil for your indoor garden, it's important to find soil that is loose and drains adequately. Depending on the contents of the soil, you may need to provide supplemental nutrients with an indoor fertilizer formula
Growing your indoor garden with hydroponics
Another popular way to grow an indoor vegetable garden is through hydroponics. This simply means that instead of growing your plants in soil, you suspend them in nutrient-filled water. If done correctly, this can produce incredibly healthy plants in record time because the roots are able to easily absorbed the nutrients through the water.
While starting a hydroponic vegetable garden is a little more involved that simply planting in a pot of soil, it's not as difficult or expensive as you may think. There are a number of hydroponic DIY guides
, kits, and videos online to help you through the process.
Hydroponic systems are also great because they are scalable and can support a lot of plants within a relatively small space. Because the roots grow into water, they're less likely to become intertwined, which means you can use smaller containers. With a few large plastic totes, you can have dozens of plants without dedicating an entire room to your indoor garden.
Best vegetables for indoor gardens
There are certainly some vegetables that do better than others in an indoor environment. Some plants require much larger areas for their roots to grow, but most of your common veggies will do just fine! When selecting vegetables for your indoor garden, consider the following:
- Green onions
Vegetables are delicious, but herbs can kick your recipes up a notch. Fortunately, most herbs do very well in an indoor garden, too! Add these herbs to your indoor garden for extra flavor variety:
If you've ever had sprouts in a salad, then you'll probably like microgreens
. Microgreens are simply leafy plants in the stages following sprouts (when their first leaves come in). They're delicious, nutritious, and best of all, fast. The process is simple: germinate the seeds, plant them, and harvest them in around 2-3 weeks. These are some of the more popular varieties:
- Mustard greens
- Beet greens
These are just a few of the more common options, but there's really no limit to what you can grow indoors if you get creative. With a little time and practice, you'll have pot-to-plate veggies on demand!
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