We recently decided to tackle some of the gardening FAQs that we get asked most frequently on this blog. Can I grow vegetables indoors? is one of those questions that pops up all the time and the short answer is yes, of course you can (longer answer to follow). Before dedicating a large chunk of my life to gardening I had thought that indoor gardening was only for house plants, succulents, and whatever random chilli plants or herb pots were sold in the local supermarkets.
Over the years I have grown quite the selection of vegetables, herbs, and fruits in a variety of pots and planters in my home. The good news is a lot of vegetables can be grown indoors in the same size of space as houseplants and without requiring special gardening equipment. Just like growing outdoors, some vegetables are easy to grow and some varieties may not grow inside at all. Yields will never be the same as those promised by crops grown in ideal conditions outside. Managing our expectations and planning accordingly can go a long way toward making a new indoor garden a roaring success.
Growing vegetables inside is not just for those without access to a garden or allotment, it can be the only option during the winter months when not much will grow outside. There are benefits as well as challenges facing growing your own food indoors. With a few exceptions, veg plants will grow slower inside, lower levels of light can also be an issue but this is easily solved by moving the plants into the sun as needed. Alternatively a small plant light or full spectrum fluorescent light can be used to provide the optimum levels that vegetables need. Inside, you will have complete control over watering, soil, and temperature, also you won’t have to worry about the weather turning against you.
A container is any pot or planter you choose to use, and the choices are endless. I have personally used countless pots, an old baking bowl, a hat box, a re-purposed bread bin, and a lot more over the years. When choosing what kind of container to use, make sure it has proper drainage (a hole in the bottom) to avoid water logging as well as enough room to accommodate the plant and it’s roots from start to finish. Of course the plant can be re-potted as it grows but moving house is stressful and extra work besides. Leafy greens and herbs for example have quite shallow roots and only require a shallow depth of soil compared to deep rooted plants like tomatoes.
To save having to water more often, try and use wooden, metal, ceramic, or plastic pots as clay pots dry out quicker. That said, indoor vegetable gardens do require regular irrigation as the soil swiftly can dry out in the higher temperatures. Watering spikes and globes are very easy to install to keep on top of this job for you, they are also very easy to get and very cheap. There are more expensive solutions on the market such as reservoir planters (self-watering pots) or automatic timed systems.
Vegetable plants need access to nutrients in order to grow, planted directly in the ground they take whatever nutrients are available. In pots and containers there is less soil and as a result, less plant food. A good nutrient rich soil is required to begin with, if you are using smaller pots or planters then make sure to use a multi-purpose compost as it will remain wetter for longer and prevent young plants from drying out. Add to this a slow release organic fertiliser like Seafeed to give your veg a boost if needed. Rockdust is a helpful additive in container growing with compost, it is powdered volcanic basalt and provides extra mineral content that is usually found in soil. For larger containers you can use a soil mix with about 40% good loamy soil mixed with 60% compost. As a rule of thumb I would recommend using compost for plants grown in pots for one season and soil based mixes for more permanent plants like woody herbs and fruit bushes.
Just like planning an outdoor garden, the best beginning is to try for an easy win the first time around. Leafy greens like spinach, kale, rocket, chard, and mustard greens are very easy to grow indoors. They need relatively little room and are one of the fastest growing food crops to grow indoors. This makes them ideally suited to growing on a windowsill or first indoor garden. Oriental salads including mizuna, rocket, pak choi, and mustard leaf fall in to this category and I would grow at least one of these varieties every year. They grow fast like spinach and kale and are the perfect ‘cut and come again’ variety (exactly as it sounds; you can harvest from the plant multiple times for the freshest possible greens to eat).
For more information on what to grow, check out our Vegetables you can Grow in Pots – Top 10 article.