Grow an Indoor Garden without Grow Lights - From Lettuce to Tomatoes!
Grow Lights aren't Necessary
How to Grow an Indoor Garden in your Windowsill
This past summer, I caught 'garden fever' pretty intensely. I spent hours tending to my garden.
I had a beautiful garden in Oregon - the soil of the Willamette Valley is some of the best in the United States. My house was situated on a good plot of land, and I had plenty of space and soil to garden. The weather in Oregon is ideal for growing most vegetables and fruits and I took advantage of this. I had a hearty amount of spinach, leaf lettuce, broccoli, summer squash, peas, beans, carrots, radishes, watermelon, cantaloupe, potatoes, tomatoes (not to mention blueberries and the patch of fruit trees).
At the beginning of this school year, I made the trek to the mid-west. I am now at a small school in Minnesota. Fall-time was beautiful and the snow is wonderful (on certain fronts), but needless to say - I am not in ideal gardening conditions. Even though the conditions make a garden seem impossible, I could not shake the passion that I have for gardening.
I stopped by a local used book store and meandered through the garden section (if a kid can't garden, he can at least pretend right?). Then I saw it; a seventies gardening book with a picture of radishes, tomatoes, lettuce and corn all growing on a windowsill - The Apartment Farmer By Duane Newcomb. This book gave me a spark of hope, I bought it and read much of the book in one sitting.
I found that you can grow a garden virtually anywhere! On windowsills, in closets, on tables - all of this is open space for a claustrophobic gardener to utilize. So far, my indoor garden is in its beginning stages, but it is already quite successful (and it was cheap as well)!
Here are the steps I took:
I learned from this book that any unused closet space and table space can be perfect for growing a garden. But there are some difficulties to this - these plants need grow lights (it is really quite simple, but not so easy to do in a college dorm room). It is best to hang one cool bulb and one warm bulb closely above the plants. Although grow lights are a good option, they can be expensive and take some work to set up. I decided to see what I could do without grow lights.
A windowsill (or many windowsills) is an ideal place for an indoor garden, but there are some things you should remember. The direction that your window faces is very important to keep in mind:
A southern facing window is ideal. This window will get lots of sun light for most of the day. This windowsill is ideal for most vegetables (including those that need lots of sun, like tomatoes and beans).
An eastern facing window will get some gentle sun in the morning. This is not enough sun to grow a heap of tomatoes, but don't lose heart! You can easily grow radishes, lettuce, spinach and other cool weather crops in this environment.
A northern facing window is the window with the least lighting. If you hope to grow plants in this window, you will likely need artificial lighting.
A western window will have lots of sunlight for 8 hours daily. This is very good and you can grow most vegetables (and other plants) in this sun.
My window is a south-east facing window. It is almost ideal, except there is a building nearby that blocks the sun in the evening. I decided to start easy. I am currently growing radishes (in Saint Francis pots, if you check the picture below), beans, carrots, lettuce and peas so far.
Indoor Garden Supplies
My roommate and I headed to a large hardware store in town and found all the supplies we needed for under twenty dollars! We got plenty of potting soil (it is important that you either use potting soil or a mixture of soils - although outdoor soil can be great for planting outdoors, it is usually not ideal for the indoor garden), packs of seeds (including some flowers) and fertilizer. These are all the supplies you need to start an indoor garden. Of course you can take it to the next level buying pots, hangers, artificial lighting, etc.
Instead of buying pots, we found some recycled bottles and bags that ended up making some great plant pots. We simply cut the top off of some jugs, filled them with soil and planted the seeds.
Watering and Feeding your Vegetables
An indoor garden takes a bit more care than other gardens. This is because soil dries out quickly indoors. It is not uncommon to have to water daily (sometimes in the morning and the evening). This high level of watering drains soil of nutrients necessary for the vegetable. Because of this, it is important to feed your vegetables weekly (or bi-monthly). You can take your pick of fertilizers and supplements. You can choose from a wide range of pellet fertilizers, organic fertilizers, liquid fertilizers and many others.
If you live in a cold environment like I do, it is important to not leave your plants near the window when the sun is not shining. If you leave them near the window too long, it is likely that they will get too cold and their growth will be stunted. If you live in a warmer environment it is important to make sure your vegetables do not get too hot. The closest few inches to the window can be considerably warmer than the rest of your house. I recommend that you keep a thermometer near your plants and distance them from the window if the environment gets too hot or too cold.
Grow lights are a good option, but they are not necessary. If you wish you could garden indoors but are discouraged by the work involved or the expenses, fear not! Gardening without grow lights is a cheap, easy and fun option.