Wouldn’t it be nice to grow an indoor vegetable garden during the long winter months?
I usually get antsy when January rolls around and I start craving fresh tomatoes and greens from my garden. An indoor garden helps satisfy the urge to get my hands in the dirt.
What do vegetables need really to grow? Air, water, light and nutrients.
Many homes have sun rooms or patios where house plants can soak up the winter sun. Vegetable plants can grow as well as your potted plants if provided extra light.
Most vegetable plants will do well in a sunny window. If you have a large south facing window a tomato or cucumber plant can grow with support and some added light to compensate for the shorter winter days. I like to use indoor grow lights, they are easy to setup and add the extra sunlight vegetable plants need.
The best spot to set up a growing area is where you get 5 to 6 hours of bright light and good air circulation. A temperature fluctuation between 45 and 70 degrees is best. So watch out for drafty areas.
Choose a sunny spot for your indoor garden, a south facing window if you have one. A southeast or southwest location works as well. The sun tracks across the sky at a lower level during the winter and the daylight hours are shorter. If you have a sunny spot or a sun room you may not need to add indoor lights.
Indoor vegetable garden in a sunny window.
Here I have planted one tomato on the left, two sweet basil plants, with radishes in the middle and on the left I seeded spinach.
I am using gravel as the growing medium. I used an ebb and flow Hydroponics system to flush nutrients through the gravel twice a day.
If your location gets less than 6 hours of sun each day, you’ll need to set up some indoor grow lights. I use shop lights that come in various lengths. I have 4 foot shop lights with regular iridescent light bulbs.
Shop lights are less expensive and are easy to find. Shop lights provide a good light frequency and I have grown plants with out the special grow lights that cost more.
Indoor lights can be hung over your vegetable garden area or set on supports. I use bricks to support the lights. I can adjust them easily as my vegetable garden grows. You want the lights to be 6-8 inches above your plants. These plants are growing in potting soil in flats.
The lights are easy to set up and take down as needed. I plug my lights into a timer so I don’t have to turn the lights on and off during the day.
Timers are inexpensive and come in digital and regular hand settings. Timers can be found at your home improvement store, the same place you purchase shop lights and bulbs.
To set the timer follow the instructions that came with the timer. Plug your lights into the timer and then plug the timer into your wall socket.
Using your growing area in the spring for starting your vegetable plants is a great way to get a head start on your summer garden.
The indoor vegetable garden could consist of lettuce, spinach or chard. These cool weather plants grow with less light than tomatoes or cucumbers. I have grown tomatoes, they take longer to grow and need extra attention, but they are fun. Fresh herbs are a great vegetable to grow and can be cut and used all winter.
Choose varieties that have shorter days to harvest. Vegetable varieties that grow well in containers and bush varieties are easier to grow indoors. Winter vegetables are great because of there short days to harvest like lettuce and greens.
Micogreens and baby greens are excellent choices for indoor gardens. They are harvested while young and only take a few weeks to harvest. They are a great addition to winter dishes and add a touch of freshness.
Space (F1) 39 days to maturity, good in baby green mix
Tyee (F1)(OG) 40 day to maturity, good indoors in salad mix
Braising Mix; 28 days to harvest. Harvest in baby and teen stage. Good in stir fries.
Ovation Greens Mix(OG); 21 days to harvest. This is a spicy mix that can be used in mirogreens as well as baby greens.
Five Star Greenhouse Lettuce Mix; 28 days to maturity
These varieties can be found at Johnny Seed. Check your locale nursery or favorite seed company for other varieties.
Vegetables need at least 4 inches for root space so any container with enough depth can be used. I have used plastic dish pans for tomatoes and herbs. Plastic dish pans can be found in department stores in the kitchen section. I bought mine for $2.30. Growing flats work well for lettuce mixes and microgreens.
You can grow vegetables in several different growing mediums. I have used potting soil blends, gravel, and vermiculite. Your growing medium provides support for the vegetable plants, holds moisture and nutrients. If you use gravel or vermiculite you need to water plants twice a day with a water/nutrient mixture to keep the medium moist for the plants. The water/nutrient mixture flows through the medium and drains out the bottom.
Potting soil holds the moisture for plants and is the more traditional growing method. Potting soil is preferable for growing micro greens and salad mixes that will be harvested in the early stages of growth. After you harvest your greens you can put the soil mixture in your compost pile and start a new flat of greens.
Do not use garden soil for your indoor vegetable garden. The soil is too heavy and compacts when you use it in containers. Mix compost with a good commercial potting soil to enrich the mix and add nutrients. You want your soil to drain well so the potted roots do not rot.
Over watering is the most common cause of indoor plant death and under watering is the next. I usually forget to water my plants. The drier the air the more the plants will need to be watered. Plants need less water during the winter as they slow and go dormant.
Allow the soil to go slightly dry to the touch between watering. Actively growing plants will need fertilizer every 2 to 4 weeks. If you have used good compost with your potting soil mix you can go longer between fertilizing. I like to use time release fertilizer pellets that release nutrients slowing each time you water and last 6 to 8 weeks.
The best part of your indoor vegetable garden is harvesting. Keep your plants cut back and use them often. Your greens and herbs will re grow and thicken up as you use them.