As fall and winter creep in, your outside vegetable garden produces less and less until it stops altogether. But why should fresh veggies and herbs be a summertime-only harvest? You can bring those plants inside and, with a little set-up, produce food inside all winter. Here are some tips to get your inside garden going.
The first decision to make for your indoor garden is hydroponics or soil. Hydroponics is a water-based method of growing plants where the roots of the plant are fed directly with a nutrient solution. Working with soil inside is the same as outside – plant the seed, give it water and light, and it’ll grow.
There are some pros and cons to both methods of growing. Vegetable plants grown hydroponically tend to grow quicker, bigger, and have a higher yield than plants grown in soil. Hydroponics is a leader in the category of space efficiency and water cost. Because roots get bigger in soil than in water, using soil takes up more growing space. And since water is recirculated in a hydroponic system, you don’t lose as much to evaporation.
So what are the cons of a hydroponic system? The initial set-up cost can discourage some people. A basic hydroponic kit starts at around $100 for two or three plants, and then higher for more plants. Since these plants don’t get nutrients from soil, they also need to be maintained extra carefully with a special nutrient solution.
Compared to the relatively low cost of buying pots, soil and seeds, then adding water as needed, you can see the difference in price points. Also, if you are using soil, a general vegetable fertilizer will do the trick. Whichever method you choose, do your research and invest in the right tools for the job.
The ambient lighting coming into your house won’t cut it for your indoor veggies. There are too many gray days over the winter to provide the light your plants need. To make sure your plants stay well-lit and happy, purchase some grow lights.
The most popular lights to use for growing indoors are LEDs and fluorescents. Fluorescent lamps are usually tube-shaped to fit inside specific fixtures, or in spiral CFL bulbs that fit into a basic light fixture. LEDs come in larger, flatter panels, often daisy-chained together to work in conjunction with each other.
The type of lights you buy will depend on what you want to grow. Plants like lettuce and spinach, grown mainly for their leaves, grow best under light on the blue color temperature scale. If you’re looking to grow plants for their fruit like tomatoes or peppers, light on the red side of the scale is best. If you’re not sure what you plan to do, use LED lights that are designated as “full spectrum” and contain light on both sides of the scale.
Plan out your grow room and make sure you have enough lighting to cover all your plants. Pay attention to how far your lights are set away from your plants. Too close and they could burn; too far and they won’t get the full benefits of the light. It’s recommended to set up your lights so you can raise them as the plants grow and get closer to the light.
Your plants should not be under the lights all day and night. The dark period is an important part of growth for plants as well. To help regulate this, invest in a smart plug for your lights. Smart plugs are great because you can control your lights remotely, or set them up on an automated schedule. Set the timer so that your lights are on for sixteen to eighteen hours a day and off for six to eight hours.
Now that you have your hydroponics or soil and your lights all set up, it’s time to get planting! But which veggies will thrive the best in your new growing space? There are some vegetables that do better than others when grown inside.
If you want to grow leafy vegetables, spinach, lettuce and kale are great options for indoor growing. These plants don’t take up a lot of space, can be planted close together and harvested throughout the year. These three vegetables are fairly maintenance free – simply make sure they are getting proper light and water, and sit back and watch them flourish.
Tomatoes and peppers are more tricky than leafy vegetables because of the height and width they grow. For tomatoes, dwarf varieties are preferable as they stay relatively compact and don’t shoot too high. Some tomato and pepper seeds are labeled as “patio” seeds. These plants stay smaller and are meant to be grown in pots. They will fit in well with a small growing space.
Don’t let your winter go by without growing your own fresh herbs! Basil, rosemary, thyme and parsley are only a few of the many herbs you can grow inside. To save space, plant multiple varieties in the same pot and let them grow together. Like the greens, herbs can be harvested throughout their growing period – you don’t have to wait for one harvest.
Growing food inside over the winter can be very rewarding for the peace of mind of knowing where your food comes from, the mental health benefits of gardening, and for your diet!