Nowadays, more and more people are turning to sustainable food practices in attempts to reduce their spending at the grocery store. Whether that means planting a large garden in your backyard or using a hydroponic system in your basement, there are plenty of ways to substitute your grocery list.
We’ll discuss exactly how to start indoor gardening if you don’t have land to till or it’s the dead of winter. We promise it’s easy!
And without further ado, here’s our guide to growing vegetables indoors for beginners:
The Best Vegetables for Gardening Inside
Typically, leafy greens are the best for indoor gardening. They don’t require as much light as say, tomatoes, and you can continuously harvest them once they’ve reached maturity.
Starting out, plant:
You can also grow carrots, scallions, and ginger year-round and they’re easy to maintain. While root vegetables aren’t great with hydroponic systems, you can plant a few pots and set them near a sunny window!
Additionally, vegetables like tomatoes, eggplants, and cucumbers can be nurtured to maturity with enough sunlight and constant maintenance.
How to Start Indoor Gardening
If you’re a novice when it comes to indoor gardening, you probably don’t even know where to start. Thankfully, there are a lot of resources online for growing vegetables indoors for beginners.
As long as you put in the time to nurture your plants and keep them healthy, you’ll be eating a home-grown salad in no time!
In this article, we’ll discuss some of the popular methods for gardening inside, including:
- Gardening with Mason Jars
- Pot and Tray Gardening
- Hydroponics Systems
Indoor Gardening With Mason Jars
If you’re on a budget, one of the best ways to get started with indoor gardening is by using recycled materials. We’re talking old tin cans, the bottoms of milk jugs, and old Mason jars. As long as it’s clean, you can use it for gardening.
Now, using Mason jars isn’t the best a great method if you’re growing vegetables indoors simply because they’re too small. However, you can use Mason jars to grow sprouts, like mung bean, alfalfa, or lentil sprouts, which are great additions to salads, soups, or as garnishes on pasta.
Here’s a step-by-step:
- Clean your Mason jar with hot water and soap. (Pint-sized jars work best)
- Make sure the jar is dry and free of food or soap. Add a tablespoon of your seeds.
- Cover the seeds in a few inches of fresh water.
- Add a mesh lid to the jar. You can buy mesh Mason jar lids online, or you can make one out of an old screen or strainer. Alternatively, you could use a hammer and nail to poke holes in the metal lid to let the water drain.
- After the seeds have sat in the water at least 24 hours, tip the jar at an angle to let the water gradually drain. Usually, propping the jar up in a bowl works best.
- Repeat the watering-draining process twice a day, and keep the jar out of direct sunlight.
- Harvest your sprouts after 3-7 days.
Indoor Gardening with Pots and Trays
You probably can’t grow tomatoes or cucumbers using the Mason jar method, but you can certainly grow them with traditional pots and trays!
The traditional method of indoor gardening is to use plant pots and seedling trays with nutrient-rich soil. While it takes up a lot of space, you can substitute your sprout production and hydroponic system with a few pots here and there for fleshy or root vegetables, like tomatoes, carrots, scallions, onions, and eggplants.
For this example, we’ll discuss how to get a constant crop of tomatoes year-round.
Growing Conditions: Tomatoes require at least 8 hours of sunlight (or growing light) every day, and must have a constant 65° F. Best growing conditions are around 75° F to 85° F.
Planting Seeds: To get a year-round supply of tomatoes, you’ll have to germinate new seeds about every 2-3 weeks. Use nutrient-rich starter soil. Red Robin, Toy Boy, and Florida Petite are some of the best varieties for indoor gardening.
Cultivation: After your seedlings are 3 inches tall, transfer them from the seed tray to larger pots, usually 4-6 inch pots with drainage holes work best. Place them in a sunny area or under a growing light. Rotate the plants every day to make sure every part of the plant gets the same amount of light. Water them frequently, making sure the soil is damp, but not oversaturated.
Pollination: Once flowers open up, you’ll have to pollinate your plants by hand since you probably don’t have bees or other insects indoors. Use a cotton swab to gently collect pollen from the flowers and transfer it to other plants.
Harvest: Indoor tomato plants usually bear fruit in 2-3 months, which is why starting seeds in batches is important for having a constant harvest. As your plants grow taller, stake them up to avoid drooping or broken stalks.
Indoor Gardening With Hydroponics
Even though it’s more time-consuming and requires a bit of investment, hydroponics is a great way to grow your own indoor garden. Not only does hydroponics do away with soil, the process:
- Reduces overall water consumption
- Produces higher yields
- Saves space
- Reduces bugs and diseases
Now, there are a few different types of hydroponic systems out there. You can use an ebb and flow system, a drip system, and nutrient film techniques. All of these different systems require specialized equipment, which might be too much of a hassle for indoor gardeners.
Instead, we’ll outline what you need for a basic deep-water culture hydroponic system for your kitchen counter or sunroom table.
- A deep container, like a plastic storage bin or a 5-gallon bucket
- A lid for the container
- Net pots
- An air pump and air stone
- pH tester
- Nutrient solution
- Growing lights
- Phosphoric acid (known as pH Down)
Step 1: Find your basin. Typically, deeper containers will work best because the depth of the water helps decrease fluctuations in pH.
Step 2: Create your plant rack. This is a fairly simple step. Drill holes in the lid to your container to the width of your net pots. Net pots are kind of like the reusable Keurig coffee pods, and they allow the roots to hang down into the water. Make sure you leave enough space between the holes so your mature plants don’t become too crowded.
Step 3: Set up your air pump and air stone. The air pump is a vital part of the deep-water culture system because it ensures there’s a constant supply of oxygen for the plants. The air stone will disperse the oxygen throughout the water. You can purchase air pumps for fairly cheap online, and air stones frequently come in value packs of 4, 6, or 10, making it easy to have replacements or create multiple systems. Make sure your air pump has a check valve so that water doesn’t travel up the tube while the machine is off. If yours doesn’t have a check valve, the pump will have to sit above the level of the water to prevent backflow.
Step 4: Fill your tank and adjust the pH. Fill the tank with water, leaving about a quarter of an inch between the water level and the lid. Then, follow the instructions on provided on the nutrient solution bottle or packet. You’ll have to test the pH of the water to get the best growing conditions for your plants. To adjust your pH, follow the directions of your pH Down solution.
Step 5: Add your plants. Seedlings grown from soil can be added directly to the net pots as long as their roots are long enough to touch the water. Alternatively, you can grow your seedlings in rockwool plugs or clay pellets to reduce mess.
You’ll have to do some routine maintenance to your DWC system. Make sure you’re keeping the water at a consistent level, and adding more nutrients/adjusting pH whenever you add new water. After 2-3 weeks, you should clean the system and add all new water and nutrients to keep your plants happy.
Hydroponics vs Aquaponics: What’s the Difference?
Hydroponics refers to the process of growing plants using water, an air pump, and nutrient solutions.
Aquaponics is a similar process, but it involves raising fish in the water used to grow plants. Where hydroponics makes use of nutrient solutions to nurture the plants, the fish used in aquaponics develop a symbiotic relationship with the plants to provide them with nutrients.
Through their excretions, the fish provide vital nutrients to the plants, while in turn the plants filter the water, making a clean environment for the fish.
Aquaponics takes more effort than hydroponics, but if you’re looking to reduce the amount of nutrient solution you’re using, adding a few fish to your system is a great method.
Growing Vegetables Indoors for Beginners
And there you have it! One of the biggest misconceptions about indoor gardening is that it’s an extensive and painstaking process, which simply isn’t true. You can easily start harvesting the fruits of your labors in as few as two weeks!
Plus, indoor gardening is great for people living in city apartment complexes or with little outdoor space. Even if you only plant a few pots here and there under your windows, you’ll be able to cross off a few items from your grocery list!