I’m sitting at home and dreaming of a fresh spinach salad with juicy cherry tomatoes. Or maybe some sweet ripe strawberries. Then I look outside and remember it’s snowing. The freshest berries or tomatoes I’ll find have been flown in from Mexico and just don’t quite hit the spot.
I love fresh foods. The zing of fresh basil in a spaghetti sauce, or the rosemary aroma that can turn same-old-spuds into gourmet fare. The taste of one ripe strawberry while watching it snow – it feels like a little piece of forbidden magic.
Food is what got me into indoor gardening. But there are lots of reasons to think about greening your apartment space.
- Fresh flowers for free! With a little research into which flowers are likely to bloom indoors, you can stop picking up bouquets and have live flowers all year long.
- Enticing herbs. Chefs everywhere agree: dried spices just don’t pack the flavor punch like fresh-picked varieties. But bundles of basil or cilantro can really bump up the grocery budget. For just a few dollars, you can start potted herbs and never pay again.
- Healthy home. Plenty of indoor plants pull double duty by cleaning dangerous chemicals out of your indoor air. Check out which plants fit your style and cleaning needs.
- Fresh food all year! My favorite. Better flavor, no grocery store run, and the satisfaction of growing your own food.
Okay, you’re hooked. How to get started? Let’s look at a few simple ways to get started with indoor gardening.
Super Simple Hydroponics
I started indoor gardening with a plug-and-chug style system like the Aerogarden. These cost a bit up-front, but the system includes pre-programmed lighting programs for your crops of choice. Just trade out the seed pods, fill the water basin, drop in nutrient capsules (included) and wait a few weeks for greens, herbs, tomatoes, or berries. They’re dirt-free and can be used all year long. Accessories can make them wall-mounted or counter-top. These are pretty fool-proof.
If you like the latest in green-tech, check out the kick-starter for the chic “CounterCrop” perfect for modern indoor kitchen gardens.
Buckets, Pots and Jars
Container gardening is just what is sounds: pick a container and put some dirt and plants inside. Containers come in all shapes and sizes from yogurt cups to kiddie pools, so can fit your style, space, and growing goals. Since your container probably doesn’t come with everything your plant needs, there are a few more choices to make with this option.
Choose the Container
- Pick a container that will be big enough for the full-sized plants. Roots typically grow about as deep as the plant is tall, so if your container is short, plant seeds further apart to let roots spread.
- Reusing old soda jugs, coffee cans, or wooden crates can make your indoor garden extra green. Be sure to avoid chemically treated containers, especially for plants you want to eat later!
- You have two factors to balance here: a spot in your home that can be just for plants (and out of the way of kids or pets), and getting the right environment of warmth and light.
- Most plants grow best between about 65-75 degrees. Steer clear of the unheated porch or next to drafty window.
- You’ll need at least 5-7 hours of direct sunlight to have garden-like success. If your window space won’t reach those levels, think about supplementing with a broad-spectrum grow light mounted directly above the plants.
Pick Your Plants
- If you decide to use big containers with more than one kind of plant, make sure your plants “like” each other. Good companion plant pairs include tomatoes with basil, strawberries with spinach, or carrots with peas.
- Some plants thrive more easily in pots than others. Good starter container crops include salad greens, kale, onions, carrots, cherry tomatoes, bush beans, “Italian” herbs, cilantro, lavender, strawberries, or blueberries. For flower gardeners, start with marigolds, pansies, zinnias, geraniums, petunias, begonias, and shasta daisies.
Scoop Some Soil
- It’s best not to dig up the backyard for your houseplants, unless you test it for chemicals, pH, and nutrients. The easiest option is to buy packaged potting mix from the local garden store (organic preferred for healthy plants). Adding some gravel or small rocks to the bottom can help with drainage.
- Easier on the wallet is to mix your own soil. Be sure to include ingredients that allow drainage, moisture retention, nutrients, and aeration. Here are some step-by-step instructions.
Plant, Feed, Protect
- Plant your seeds or seedlings and keep them happy and growing! It’s good to add mix-with-water fertilizers or a sprinkle of compost every few months to keep up nutrients.
- Soil should be the wetness of a rung-out sponge – all the way through. Test it with your finger daily, or buy a moisture meter if you’re techie.
- Remove brown spots, wilted leaves, and visible bugs regularly to help prevent disease or pests from spreading.
Soon you’ll be enjoying thriving plants all year round!
- Want to go with the seasonal flow? Be sure to acclimatize plants before moving them between inside and out.
- Up the ante and design your own hydroponic system.
- Or combine systems and let fish fertilize your salad.
- Anything can grow in a container! Try dwarf trees or citrus, vining melons, or your favorite fruit or veggie.
Most importantly, have fun. As you get to know your space, taste, and time-commitment, you can fine tune an indoor garden to be a retreat that’s perfect for you.