Maren gardens in PA, specializing in earth-friendly, unconventional, creative, joyful artistry. She works for eco & climate health.
Ready to Try Indoor Homegrown Healthy Greens?
If you've embraced growing salad greens and vegetables in your yard during the summer months, you may be saying to yourself, "wouldn't it be so nice to continue enjoying fresh produce that I grow after frost sets in!"
After all, wasn't it delightful to just walk out your door to snip leaf lettuce and pick arugula minutes before you wanted to eat it?
Didn't you eat more healthily due to that convenience?
I have happy news for you. You don't need to stop during the colder seasons.
Indoor Gardens Are Different From Outdoor Gardens
Successful growing happens when you truly accept that indoor gardens have both obvious and hidden differences requiring adjustments from how you work in your outdoor gardens.
It's more than "duh, I need to water the plant and give it some light."
When you recognize that there are additional needs beyond water and a window, you'll be on your way to understanding what indoors veggies need to thrive inside.
- Indoor-Type "Non-Dirt" Growing Medium
- Blowing Air
- Placement Allowing for Air Circulation
- Appropriate Lighting
1. No Dirt? Get Out of Town!
This tip blew me away. In fact, I rejected it for many years. I regarded all those bags of "container mix" and "potting mix" I saw in garden supply centers as slick marketing gimmicks to lure gardeners to spend more money.
However, I have totally turned around due to the logical arguments made by Elizabeth Millard in Indoor Kitchen Gardening: Turn Your Home Into a Year-Round Vegetable Garden.
It helped that she used to be as deep down skeptical as I.
Elizabeth and I intuitively felt that one can't improve upon Mother Nature, and that if vegetables, herbs, and flowers absolutely thrive outdoors in natural dirt (also known as soil), then who are we mere mortals to mess with success?
But, we were both wrong back then when we were novices and this is why.
Comparing Outdoor and Indoor Conditions for Growing
Insects, bugs, and micro-organisms are welcome and desired
Insects, bugs, and critters are usually not welcome
Bugs and micro-organisms dig channels which aerate the soil
Artificial aeration is needed
Roots have more room to expand
Roots have less room in a container
Soil might be more moist
Central heating could make soil drier
Drainage tends to be better
Drainage may be poor
Nitrogen levels are usually appropriate
The nitrogen of outdoor soil placed in a container or pot will burn plant roots
Why Indoor Potting Soil Is Needed
Those companies selling "container soil" are actually performing a service. Given the differences shown in the chart above, you can see why using outdoor soil is a poor choice for indoor veggies.
The indoor mixes often contain:
- peat: promotes moisture retention
- vermiculite: aerates the soil plus promotes moisture and nutrient retention
- perlite: aids in drainage and aeration
The specially developed container mixes also have less nitrogen and fertilizer than one would usually find in nature. This is good. Due to the small, enclosed space of an indoor pot or container, the proportion found outside would actually be harmful to your plant.
2. Blowing, Moving Air
Until I became "woke," I thought of the gentle breezes outside as incidental. I never thought they were a factor in plant growth. How wrong I was!
The gentle daily breezes (even when we may not sense them), create an airflow that helps plants with temperature management, oxygen uptake, and even disease control. Some of the fungi and molds that love to attack our fruits, veggies, and greens can be thwarted by enough air circulation to cool and dry the leaves and stems. Disease-fostering humidity is truly "blown away" by a breeze.
In addition, low levels of wind are a good stress to plants. Seedlings become stronger when coping with a light air stream.
How can we add this element to our indoor growing environment?
Pretty easy: Use a small box fan or oscillating fan set on a low speed to simulate Mother Nature's windy caresses. Occasionally change the direction from which the air blows and you'll be doing your indoor garden a big favor.
3. Pots Placed to Allow Air Circulation
You must not only supply blowing air, but you must also maximize its ability to work. This means the placement of your pots and containers is important. Some arrangements help and others may actually hinder optimal growth.
After all, you are growing them for food. Arranging the plants for successful growing comes before arranging them to meet your artistic tastes. (The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but maximize your food yield first.)
There are two considerations in placing plants.
First, containers and pots must have a "belt" of space surrounding them. The blowing air must be able to circle around them. There should be no "cheek to jowl" touching of pots.
Second, if you can, place pots on shelves that are strong and have openings. A wire shelf or a strong, steel utility shelf with slats fits the bill. These openings increase the amount of air circulating around your veggies.
Are fancy garden grow lights necessary?
However, if you want to go that route, feel free.
What your plants need are "full spectrum" lights. These provide everything we get from the sun. They are available in bulbs and tubes as LED, fluorescent, and incandescent forms for as little as $15.00 for one bulb. To me, that sure beats something marketed for gardens and three times the cost.
If you are using old-style incandescent light, be aware that they create heat. Do not place it so close to a plant that you are "cooking" it.
Another interesting fact is that plants need night and day. That's easy to manipulate. Just turn the lights on when you arise and turn them off when you go to bed.
Ultimate Indoor Veggie Growing Guide
More details for growing specific categories of greens are found in my new go-to source book by Elizabeth Millard. I hope you will be encouraged to adopt these practices with your gardening.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Maren Elizabeth Morgan