Does your green thumb start twitching when the weather turns cool? Are you a yard-less soul, yearning for a place to till and toil?
The great news is this: You don’t need acres of rich, black soil in order to reap a harvest. In fact, indoor gardening has become a sustainable and trendy way to grow everything from fruits and veggies to flowers and herbs.
Amy Pennington, author of “Apartment Gardening: Plants, Projects, and Recipes for Growing Food in Your Urban Home” (Sasquatch Books, 2011), lives in a one-room apartment with an east-facing deck. Over the years, she’s crowded the space with dozens of pots, containers, hanging baskets and window boxes.
She considers small kitchen gardens the perfect extension of a well-stocked pantry and has narrowed down her choices to vegetables and herbs that are prolific producers and add big flavor to meals.
Indoor gardens can be created in whatever space you have available. Perhaps you’ll want to start with a windowsill or table; shelves provide ample room for plants while taking up little space. Or perhaps you have an entire room to devote to your new garden.
When selecting the perfect growing spot, make sure that adequate light reaches every plant. If using artificial light, HID (high intensity discharge) lights, which hang down from the ceiling and convert electricity into usable energy for plants, are highly recommended. Areas with tile or linoleum floors are best, or you’ll want to use tarps to protect wood floors or carpet from unavoidable drops of water.
A good planting medium is essential when setting up an indoor garden. Soil found outdoors is generally too heavy and dense for use in containers. Instead, shop for a mix that is specific to indoor plants – one that will hold moisture and nutrients, and drain well.
When deciding what to grow, plant size and production should be serious considerations. Growing sweet corn indoors, for example, would be difficult for most considering that stalks grow 6 to 7 feet tall and must be grouped in order for them to pollinate. Then, after a 60- to 90-day growing period, each stalk will only yield two to three ears of corn.
Five smarter, more obvious choices for an indoor garden include:
Even the most space-challenged indoor gardeners can find room to grow a couple of varieties of herbs. Fill a planter with quality potting soil, plant your favorite herb seeds and put the pot in a spot that gets about six hours of sunlight each day. Herbs you may want to grow include basil, parsley, oregano, cilantro, rosemary, chives, Vietnamese coriander and thyme.
Small-fruited varieties of tomatoes often do well in indoor spaces. Cherry-type tomatoes (Tumbling Tom Red, Sweet Chelsea, Sun Gold and Sweet Cherry 100, for example) and grape tomatoes (Juliet, Juliet Roma Grape) will put your gardening skills to the test while producing bowls full of tasty red, orange and yellow fruit. If space is especially tight, consider growing tomatoes in an upside-down planter suspended from the ceiling; the plants grow downward out of a hole in the bottom of the planter.
Lettuce, spinach and endive generally do well when grown indoors. Loose-leaf lettuce is easy to grow and, because lettuce is a short-season crop, you can get an ongoing harvest by making small plantings every week or two. Because lettuce is made up of 90 percent water and has shallow roots, you’ll need to be sure to keep soil evenly moist but not soggy. In a warm, dry house, you’ll likely need to water plants every other day. To prevent fungal diseases, it’s best to water from the bottom using a watering tray. Look for the words “baby” or “little” on the seed packets when selecting the lettuce for your indoor garden.
Because they require very little fuss, radishes are perfect for rookie indoor gardeners. Nearly any container will work to grow radishes as long as it’s at least 12 inches across. Unless you have a deep container, you’ll want to plant round (also referred to as “globular”) varieties. Radishes grow so fast that you’ll be ready to harvest in just three weeks. For continuous harvest, make additional plantings every one to two weeks.
Yes, healthy beans require a lot of light (at least six hours of sunlight daily), but you can grow them indoors if you’re able to supplement natural sunlight with artificial grow lights. Use a container that’s at least 12 inches deep, and look for varieties of beans suited for container gardens, such as Topcrop, Tendercrop and Derby. Most varieties will be ready to harvest 50 to 60 days after planting.