Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Indoor Garden of Vegetables!

So you want to set up an indoor garden? That's great!

However, we do need to consider and plan a bit before we get started. In this post I will discuss each of the following:

  1. Vegetable Selection - what veggies should you grow?
  2. What type of soil should you use?
  3. What are the best containers and pots to use?
  4. What type of climate and light do I need to provide?
  5. How to maintain nutrients, water levels and avoid pests.

Vegetable Selection and Suggestions

A common problem with the indoor garden is finding sufficient space. With this in mind, it is often beneficial to look for miniature versions or vegetables that you can eat while immature. Some examples of this would be baby greens, baby carrots, spinach, short-vine cucumbers, as well as cherry and/or grape tomatoes.

Personally, I tend to mix it up so new flavors are mixed into my diet throughout the year. I tend to primarily cycle through these vegetables:

  1. Spinach is a staple in my diet, so I keep this going year round. It is easy to maintain a steady crop by sowing a new row every couple of weeks to replace the row you are currently consuming. Spinach will reach maturity in as little as 4-6 weeks from seed.
  2. A few radish seeds can be planted weekly in a similar style to the spinach.
  3. Tomatoes. Requires a large amount of light but worth it. See the light section to get a better idea of what that means. Cherry and grape tomatoes tend to be the best for indoor gardening.
  4. Peppers also require a large amount of light and are paired well to grow with tomatoes. Smaller varieties like the hot peppers or sweet peppers are best, but bell peppers are doable as well.
  5. Baby beets are best to avoid long wait times and reasonable size. These will take 6-8 weeks till mature, but a delicious compliment to your vegetable dishes. Great with fall and winter meals.
  6. Carrots are also a great addition. If you are using a baby carrot variety, you can plant rows with 3 cm space between.

Indoor Garden Soil

You should not consider using outdoor "dirt" as soil for your garden. The "dirt" is also quite dense and will ultimately lead to a lack of proper aeration and insufficient drainage. A good mix is 25% sand, 25% vermiculite, 25% peat moss, and 25% perlite. Be sure that mix is sterile to avoid any pathogens that might bring diseases to the plants.

A standard potting mix from the home and garden center is typically fine to use. However, I would recommend adding some worm casting and/or compost to the mix as well to give it a head start with the nutrients. The vegetables will eventually use all the original nutrients in the soil and additional nutrients will need to be added regularly. This can be done through adding some compost to the top, but often, will require some additional fertilizer.
What kind of container should be used?

Pot type is subject to your own preference and will need to be chosen based on the location(s) you plan to keep your garden. The material of the pot itself is not important, however sufficient drainage is critical! Anticipate that you will need to switch the plant to larger pots eventually so keep an eye out for roots in the drainage holes. Pots that are too large for the plant will not use the water adequately which may lead to root rot, so ensure that the pot you are growing it in is reasonable for the current size of the plant. Old yogurt containers with holes in the bottom act as a good segway for smaller plants which can then be transferred to a 5 or 6 inch pot when ready.

To repot, get your larger pot ready with some additional soil with space to add your plant. Pull the plant, soil and all from the smaller container by flipping the plant and container upside down and sliding it apart. Break the soil up with your hand, fit into the new pot, and add soil around and on top of the rooted area. Be sure not to add too much above the planted area, we want to allow the roots room to grow and they will grow down and out, not up.

Depending on the plant, you will want to consider what type of containers you are using. Carrots and beets will require depths relative to how large you want them to be before you harvest. I find 4-6" is sufficient for these and I like to use trough like containers. Larger plants such as tomatoes and peppers need larger pots to support the taller growing, heavier plants. Ensure to transplant when necessary to let those roots have some space to grow. The smaller leaf veggies like lettuce, cabbage and spinach do not need much depth as they are typically harvested young. A 3-4" pot or planter is all that is really needed to maintain them. No matter which container is used, ensure it is sterile and has proper drainage! (this can't be stressed enough)

Continued on next post...