Last Updated on August 28, 2020
Itching to grow something even though the ground outside is frozen? Emma from Fixtures and Flowers is here to help! Check out her helpful guide on how to grow vegetables indoors.
The frozen winter months can be a tough time for gardening enthusiasts. While some plants can survive frost, most vegetable crops cannot.
Thankfully, with a little know-how, you can garden all year round if you know how to grow vegetables indoors. Fresh veggies while it’s below freezing outside? Yes, please!
What You Need to Grow Vegetables Indoors
Like any gardening endeavor, starting an indoor vegetable garden requires a bit of preparation. Here’s what you need to know to start your indoor garden.
Choose a Growing Area
Choosing an area that gets sufficient sunlight is essential to have a successful indoor garden. Plants need adequate sunlight to reach their full potential. A space by a window that receives at least six to eight hours of daylight would be ideal.
If no place in your house gets enough sun, you can install ultraviolet grow lights. You can even use a portion of the basement or a space in the garage.
Select Your Seeds
You’ll need to choose what vegetables to grow indoors carefully. Some vegetables need more sun than others, but grow lights can help with that hurdle. Many of the vegetables that grow indoors are among the fastest growing vegetables you can choose.
Some vegetables that grow indoors include
- Garlic scallions
This seed selection has gotten great reviews and includes a variety of crops to choose from. Seeds of Change also sells a variety pack. You might also consider a packet of mesclun mix, which can be a cheap way to get a lot of seeds that can be used for microgreens or salad greens.
This herb kit comes with a lot of what you need to get started: seeds, starter tray, soil and all!
Prepare Your Soil
You can’t use regular garden soil when growing vegetable indoors, as it may lack important nutrients your plants need to thrive. You’ll be growing in containers and will need to use soil adapted to container growing.
Related: Gardening 101: How to Plant a Garden for Beginners
Grow Vegetables Indoors with Starter trays
Seed starter trays with a warming mat will help ensure seeds germinate properly. Small containers can also work, but seed starter trays are more efficient and make seed germination easy. The cover keeps in moisture, while a heating mat helps the soil stay warm enough for germination.
Grow Vegetables Indoors: Containers
Be sure you’re using large containers that can support your plants’ growth or you’ll wind up with stunted plants. While microgreens don’t need much space, a tomato plant will require a pot that gives them at least a square foot to grow in. Bigger is better.
Make sure that the selected containers drain well. You can also use large window boxes or flower boxes for indoor use. They work well for planting large quantities of smaller vegetables indoors.
Grow Vegetables Indoors: Consider Grow lights
Natural sunlight is the best source of energy, but it’s not always a viable option when you plant indoors. Supplemental sources of light can give your plants a boost on the cloudy days common in winter.
You can buy ultraviolet lights meant for growing plants, but even a full spectrum fluorescent light will work.
Grow Vegetables Indoors: Watering
Vegetables need plenty of water. Bring in a good watering can if you’ll be doing a lot of indoor gardening, as rain won’t reach your plants inside! Self-watering containers can also help get your plants the water they need more consistently.
Methods to Grow Vegetables Indoors
There are several methods to choose from when growing vegetables indoors. The simplest is using containers to grow vegetables in soil as you probably already do outdoors in summer.
If you’re feeling adventurous and don’t mind purchasing some additional equipment, there are other options to consider:
Hydroponic systems allow you to plant and grow crops without soil. Roots of plants are submerged in nutrient-rich water. Hydroponic growing systems are easily purchased and assembled. The sizes of the systems vary, and a wide range is available to fit various gardening needs. Here’s one popular model.
Aquaponics is a growing system would work wonderfully for gardeners that are also aquarium enthusiasts. Plants grow in a growing media which is then set on top of the fish tank. The microorganisms in the growing media break down fish waste into nutrients for the plants while cleaning the aquarium water. This is a small-scale system limited by the size of your fish tank. Here’s an aquarium meant to grow plants as well.
Aeroponics does not use soil or a water solution, or a growing media. The plants are housed in containers that keep them upright and expose their roots to open air. You use a spray bottle to mist the roots with a nutrient-rich water solution to provide the plants with all the sustenance they need.
Planting Vegetables to Grow Indoors
To ensure seeds germinate, use a seed starter tray. Fill starter trays with seed-starting mix and plant seeds according to packet directions.
Water the area where the seed was planted then cover. Most seed starter sets include a plastic cover that traps moisture. Depending on the type of seed planted, germination may take 7 to 14 days.
Related: Vegetables that Grow in Shade
Best Vegetables to Grow Indoors
Microgreens are leafy vegetables harvested soon after sprouting. Indoor vegetable gardeners love growing microgreens because they are so easy to grow.
A favorite of chefs and health enthusiasts, microgreens make dishes tastier as well as beautiful. These edible greens are grown from vegetables like beets, basil, cilantro, arugula, chard and radish. They are also believed to have the greatest concentrations of healthy compounds, making them potent anti-inflammatory and cancer prevention foods,
They’re a great use for all those extra seeds you didn’t wind up using last season.
Microgreens are grown in soil in shallow containers. Once they have at least two sets of true leaves, microgreens can be harvested. Snip using a pair of scissors just above the soil level. Some will regrow, and you can cut them again.
Garlic greens are the shoot that grows from a garlic clove, and they’re a great way to put those sprouty bulbs to use!
Garlic greens may be planted them directly into a small pot at least 4 inches deep. Plant each clove about an inch deep, a few inches apart from the other cloves. Water regularly, and they will sprout in about one week or so.
Start harvesting when the greens are about ten inches long by pulling the whole plant up. It will look like a scallion, but will taste of garlic. For a continuous crop, replant a new clove everytime one is harvested.
Related: How to Grow Garlic
Scallions are another easy crop to grow from something you might otherwise throw away. Next time you buy scallions, save the root and replant. A new scallion will grow. More info here.
Lettuce is quite easy to grow indoors. A container at least 4 inches deep should be more than sufficient. You can use a starter tray or planting them straight into a pot. Allow the lettuce plant to grow at least 5-6 inches tall before harvesting.
Harvest the outer leaves rather than pulling the entire plant and it will continue growing to fill your salad bowl many times over. You can choose one variety or plant several for beautiful mixed green salads.
You’ll need a pot 6-8 inches deep. Here’s more info on how to grow spinach.
Many herbs, including chives, oregano, rosemary, and thyme, can be dug up from your garden and brought inside for the winter. You can also start new seeds inside if you prefer. Here’s more info on how grow herbs indoors from Grow a Good Life.
Kale is one of the cool season vegetables that grow in shade and can handle the less sunny conditions of indoor growing. Kale is also a perfect immune boosting food packed with vitamins and minerals. It can be harvested in the baby stage or allowed to grow bigger leaves and is a welcome taste of green in the frozen months. Both are delicious in salads or in one these delicious kale recipes.
If you have enough space, you can try planting potatoes. Use large containers or a large growing bag made for growing potatoes.
Use certified seed potatoes or cut potatoes you grew or got from a local organic farmer, as most potatoes from the supermarket have been treated and cannot be used for growing. Cut potatoes into 2 inch pieces, making sure each one has at least 3 sprouts, and allow to dry a few days before planting. Here are more details on how to grow potatoes in containers.
Potatoes need nutrient-rich soil, so using a potting mix with compost or vermicompost is an excellent idea. For a complete and full harvest wait two to three weeks after the flowers have died to allow for the potatoes to reach their full potential.
Growing carrots indoors is surprisingly easy. You need deep, large pots for the carrots to grow in. The size of the required containers will vary depending on the variety of carrots you are growing. You can choose shorter varieties for smaller pots.
Use pots that are at least twelve inches deep to accommodate longer carrots. Carrot seedlings don’t like to be moved, so start seed in the pot where they’ll ultimately grow. It is good practice to keep the soil moist, cover it with a thin layer of peat moss to assist in germination. Carrots seeds usually germinate in about two weeks.
Consider using a deep window box if you plan to plant large numbers of carrots.
Radishes are a quick-growing crop that grow well in pots. They don’t require much space, so you can grow quite a number. Plus both the roots and the leaves are edible! (Here’s how to make the most of the food you grow by eating root to stem.)
Extra seeds can be used to plant deliciously peppery microgreens.
Tomatoes are easy to grow, though they will take longer to mature than greens and roots.
Choose a compact variety (called “determinate” or “patio”) to keep their size in check. Cherry tomatoes will likely produce a bigger crop, and they’ll be ready sooner.
Use a seed starter tray to help ensure that your tomato seeds germinate. Once the seedling grows to three inches then re-pot them in a larger, permanent container where they can be allowed to develop .When transferring the seedling to a new container, be sure to add soil amendments to the potting mix.
Since tomato plants need to pollinate to produce fruit, use an oscillating fan aimed at the plant or simply just shake the plant periodically to mimic the wind. Tomato plants need at least 8-10 hours of sun.
Herb & Mushroom Kits
Growing vegetables indoors is a worthwhile project for any season. Not only will it scratch the gardening itch through winter but cultivation indoors will also produce a steady stream of fresh veggies. Choose one of the indoor vegetable gardening methods outlined above and grow crops of the most delicious vegetables right in the comfort of your own home.
Do you grow vegetables indoors? What crops have done best for you?
About the author: Emma is a part-time property developer, part-time home improvements and gardening blogger at Fixtures and Flowers, as well as a full-time mum. Check out her tips and tricks for making homes and gardens beautiful and functional.
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Photo credits: stux, coloboque, Kruscha
Susannah is a proud garden geek and energy nerd who loves healthy food and natural remedies. Her work has appeared in Mother Earth Living, Ensia, Northern Gardener, Sierra, and on numerous websites. Her first book, Everything Elderberry, released in September 2020 and has been a #1 new release in holistic medicine, naturopathy, herb gardening, and other categories. Find out more and grab your copy here.