If you love gardening, you probably feel like you could never have enough space for it. A lush patch of lawn where you can dig in the soil to grow colorful peppers is something many homeowners dream of—and aspire to.
But if you live in an urban jungle, the only squash you’re likely to see is at a farmers market. Fortunately, there’s a solution at hand. Growing fruits and vegetables indoors, in containers, is a fast and easy way for a city dweller to get her hands dirty and raise some delicious produce, too.
Indoors or outdoors, tending a personal garden can also result in better tasting, healthier produce, says health and wellness expert John Gilmer, vice president of research and development at Active Iron.
“Growing your own food means you have control over the whole process—and in a time when chemicals are overused, you’ll be the decision-maker as to what’s put on your veggies,” he notes.
Indoor gardening can also inspire apartment dwellers to cook more and even try something new (kohlrabi, anyone?).
Here’s what you need to know to grow your own fruits and veggies indoors.
Gauge your space
Photo by Jennifer Ashton, Allied ASID
A light and airy windowsill is ideal for gardening indoors, according to the pros. You don’t need a constant stream of light, but rather a spot that gets a few hours of sun a day.
If your grow space seems drafty, consider a heat mat to place under your containers, says Lester Poole, a nursery specialist at Lowe’s.
“Seedlings also need consistent air circulation, so think about a small oscillating fan kept on low to help move air through the room when your plants are growing,” he suggests.
Size it right
Most of what you’ll be growing (e.g., spinach, scallions, lettuce, radishes) will have shallow root systems. For these spring and early summer veggies, smaller containers are best.
“You can actually start some seeds in an egg carton,” says Chris Lambton, landscaping expert and host of DIY Network’s “Lawn and Order” and “Yard Crashers.” It even acts as a miniature greenhouse when you close the lid, he adds.
Poole suggests plastic cups, yogurt containers, or milk cartons with holes poked in the bottom for drainage.
“Just be sure to clean these with a solution that’s 10% bleach to kill pathogens before you add soil,” he warns.
Larger plants, such as young tomato and pepper plants, are best grown one per container. For these singleton plants, pick a container that’s at least 8 to 10 inches deep. You might want to purchase plastic pots over terra cotta, as they’re lighter and easier to move around as you try to catch the sun’s rays.
Start with lettuce
Photo by Steve Masley Consulting and Design
Fast-growing microgreens, spinach, and lettuces are most satisfying for the indoor gardener.
“You can enjoy a fresh salad in as little as a few weeks,” Poole says.
Other yummy veggies to try include radishes, spring onions, and carrots. Note that carrots will never be huge when grown indoors—bigger ones require a deep pot, depending on the variety you choose.
“Keep carrots in a sunny windowsill, and plant a new batch every few weeks to keep them coming all year long,” Gilmer suggests.
Feed your plants
Quality potting soil is a must—it contains fertilizer and has water-absorbing properties to keep it from drying out. You could also use a seed starting mix, which is specifically made for container planting and helps roots grow quickly, Poole says. And when it comes to fertilizers, go natural.
“Neptune liquid seaweed is a great one,” Lambton says.
Resist the urge to water
You might think you’re “helping” your little sprouts by sprinkling water over them every day, but the truth is, less is more. Be patient with the watering can, Lambton urges.
“Wait until the soil is dry before you water again,” he says.
Install grow lights
Photo by Greenology
We don’t all have a bank of huge windows that face west. For those of us in less-than-sunny climes, turn to technology to enhance seedling growth.
“You can either purchase an LED bulb separately and swap it into an existing lamp in your home, or put it in a fixture that’s built to shine down on growing plants,” Poole says.
Lambton starts his seedlings under an LED light every season. “It gives them a boost when the sun is not at its strongest yet,” he explains.
One to try: Ankace Grow Light ($22, Amazon.com).