By Kimberly Blaker
The move toward more sustainable living has gained traction in recent years with people looking to both support the environment and save money wherever possible. Gardening is a great hobby to support a more sustainable lifestyle. It’s fun, saves money on groceries, and helps you feel accomplished. It also promotes healthful living, home cooking, and more nutritious eating. When you grow your own food at home, you know exactly what’s in it and how it was produced.
Outdoor gardening can be difficult because there are so many variables – climate changes, unpredictable weather, and plants’ susceptibility to wildlife or pests. Indoor gardening, on the other hand, allows you to grow veggies year-round in the comfort of your home, with a greater likelihood of success because you control the environment. This is also beneficial for those with little or no outdoor space.
Growing plants indoors is good for your health in other ways, too. Plants remove carbon dioxide from the air and generate oxygen, making the air in your home cleaner. Exposure to nature and the accomplishment you feel from successfully starting a garden is also good for your mental health.
What types of vegetables and herbs can be grown indoors?
Herbs, leafy plants, and microgreens are the most common edible plants for indoor growing. They generally do well with shallow soil because they’re smaller and don’t need as much space. They also don’t need as much sun and are easier to grow. It’s possible to grow fruits indoors, too, but fruit generally needs a significant amount of sun and exposure to pollinating insects, both of which are difficult to replicate inside.
Examples of edible vegetables and herbs that can be grown indoors include:
- Leafy greens (spinach, kale, lettuce, arugula)
- Microgreens (vegetables like beets, radishes, and peas harvested as seedlings or sprouts)
- Mint varieties
Before you begin
Before starting your indoor herb and veggie garden, make sure your expectations for success are realistic and align with the time you can devote. Plants need tending and care. If you’re a newbie to gardening, you may want to start small and simple.
On a basic level, plants need at least water, nutrients, and light – and of course, you’ll need the plant seeds or seedlings. Also, think about what your space is like and what will grow best in that environment. Alternatively, if you have more flexibility, you can think about which plants you want to grow and how to adapt your environment to meet their needs.
Decide if you’ll use one room, spread the plants around the house, dedicate just a windowsill, or perhaps build a smaller controllable environment. Also, be aware of your home’s humidity, especially during dry winter months, since plants need a moister environment. Plants do best in stable, consistent temperatures in the 60s to 70s, with good air circulation to prevent mold or fungus growth.
If you’re planning to use mostly natural light from your windows, consider the amount of light they permit and at what time of day they allow for more or less light. Generally, a south-facing window will give you the most sunlight. This will likely change throughout the seasons. So be aware of how light exposure varies and affects plants.
The supplies you’ll need depends on your budget and how involved you want to be. If you have specific plants in mind, research what particular items you’ll need to support the best-growing environment.
Containers should be big enough for your plants’ needs. Consider how big the plants will grow, the depth needed for roots, and how far seeds must be planted from each other. When growing plants indoors, you need to consider drainage, so excess water doesn’t build up and cause problems like root rot or bacterial growth. You don’t need fancy, expensive containers. Depending on the individual plant, you can even repurpose old plastic containers.
The soil you use for growing indoors is different from ordinary garden soil. Use potting mix or soil made explicitly for seedlings and the indoors. These soil varieties are made to drain better than garden soil. They aren’t likely to contain organisms like fungus or bacteria.
If you’re growing plants throughout the winter, you may need a light source to make up for the lack of natural sunlight, depending upon where you live. Grow lamps are specifically designed to provide the right type of light to help plants grow. Common types of grow lamps are LED or fluorescent. Consider which plants will need more or less light exposure and place them at appropriate distances.
Since your plants won’t get rain, you’re in charge of making sure they have enough but not too much water. Always check how dry the soil is before watering, ensure appropriate drainage, and be aware of the plants’ needs. Self-watering containers, drip systems, and hydroponic kits that may use pumps or other methods to make the process easier can be helpful.
Planting your garden
Before planting your indoor garden, prepare your environment. Have all the supplies you’ll need so you don’t have to stop and run to the store mid-planting. If you’re using a growing system, read all the instructions before starting. If you’re doing the whole process on your own, have a way to track everything yourself and make sure you’ve researched what you’re doing. Depending on the plant, you need to put it into the soil the correct way. Each type of plant needs to be planted within particular dimensions, at specific depths and distances apart.
Caring for your garden
Edible plants generally take more effort than just putting seeds in the soil and forgetting them, especially indoors where you have to create the environment. Each plant has different needs: Some may need pruning, adjustments to watering and soil, and various harvesting or replanting times. To keep track of your plants’ needs, it might help to keep a journal or binder or some kind of tracking system. You can use your system to remind you to care for them and how to do so, and also track your successes or failures for next time.
In terms of harvesting, some plants need to be completely picked and then replanted. Other plants, especially herbs and leafy greens, can be harvested as you need while the plant grows and regrows where it was cut.
You might decide to use a growing system that does most of the work for you. In that case, you still want to check and track it to be involved in or aware of the process and make sure everything is working correctly. Be sure to always follow all directions for appropriate use.
Finally, keep in mind you can do everything correctly and still fail, which can be frustrating. Indoor gardening is a learning process. You can try new things next time for better results and a garden that contributes to a sustainable lifestyle.
Tips for indoor gardening with children
Gardening can be a fun and educational project for children of all ages. It provides them the opportunity to learn about how plants grow, about healthful eating and nutrition, and also about responsibility for a living thing. You know your child and their abilities best in terms of how much support they’ll need. Here are a few suggestions for growing an indoor garden with your child.
- Use a chore chart or tracking chart to help keep your child on track. Include what the plants need, how often, and what your child should look out for.
- Have your child create a journal. To make it more fun, they can take photos or draw pictures of what the plants look like as they grow.
- When the plants are ready to harvest, work together, so your child experiences the reward of his/her efforts.
- Involve your child in finding or choosing delicious, healthful recipes to make with the plants.
- Work together to prepare the produce to be stored.