How to Grow an Indoor Garden

How to Grow an Indoor Garden | Grow a Good Life
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We had our first snowfall last week. I thought for sure it would melt quickly, but the temperatures remained cold and the snow held on for a while. It was a reality check reminding me that the growing season is over, soon the ground will be frozen, and the garden will be covered with a heavy blanket of snow for winter.

I miss freshly harvested greens already. Usually, I have a good supply of fall greens such as lettuce, spinach, chard, kale, pak choi, and other leafy greens to fill the refrigerator before the hard freeze. However, this year, I lost the battle with the deer, and they ate all the greens growing in the garden.

The last few years, I have experimented with growing greens indoors in the winter using my DIY Grow Light System in the cool basement. This year, I am starting some seeds early so we can enjoy fresh harvests for salads, stir-frys, or soups even if a Nor’easter rages outside.

Build a Grow Light System for Starting Seeds Indoors | Grow a Good Life

What Can You Grow in an Indoor Garden?

Choose plants that will grow under artificial light, mature quickly, and stay compact enough to grow in containers without outgrowing their space. Most leafy greens, herbs, and a few root vegetables will grow very well inside under lights. Here are some of the things I have grown successfully inside during the winter months in a cool basement:

Lettuce Grown Under LightsLettuce: Leaf lettuce varieties mature quickly for salads and sandwich toppings. Harvest: Snip outer leaves allowing the center of the plants to continue to produce.  Varieties to Consider: Black Seeded Simpson, Tom Thumb, and Mesclun Mix.

 

spinachSpinach: The vitamin-rich and tasty dark-green leaves are excellent for salads and winter soups. Harvest: Ready to harvest in a little over a month as baby spinach. Snip outer leaves allowing the plants to continue to produce. Varieties to Consider: Lavewa, Bloomsdale, Space, and Tyee.


Pak-ChoiBok Choy or Pac Choi:
 Grows fast and needs lots of water so it will benefit from a larger container with more soil to hold moisture. Harvest: Ready to harvest within 4-weeks at baby stage. Snip outer leaves allowing the plants to continue to produce or harvest whole as baby size perfect for stir fry. Varieties to Consider: Bok Choy Tatsoi Rosette, and Bok Choy Toy Choy.

Baby Carrots | Grow a Good LifeCarrots: Short and round varieties grow very well in 6-inch pots. Harvest: Ready to harvest in 6-8 weeks. Pull gently from the soil as needed for baby carrots. They can be left in pots to develop further. Varieties to Consider: Parisian, Little Finger, and Thumbelina.

 

RadishRadish: Very fast-growing and their peppery flavor adds a kick to soups and salads. Harvest: Ready for harvest in about 4-weeks or when the radish is approximately 1-inch diameter. The greens are edible too. Varieties to Consider: Cherry Belle, French Breakfast, and Easter Egg Blend.

 

basilHerbs: Recently, I wrote about 5 Herbs That Thrive Inside All Winter on a sunny windowsill. Adding artificial lighting increases the selection of herbs you can grow inside. Harvest: Keep plants compact by trimming and harvesting frequently. Varieties to Consider: Cilantro, Genovese Basil, Italian Parsley, Oregano, Chives, Thyme, and Sage.

 

Grow an Indoor Garden: Microgreens via Grow a Good LifeMicrogreens: Young edible vegetables and herbs harvested within weeks of sprouting. The tender sprouts are very flavorful and nutrient dense. Harvest: Ready to harvest when the first true leaves unfurl in 7-14 days. Snip the right above the soil line. Varieties to Consider: Pea Shoots, Cress, Kale, and any Mesclun Mix or Microgreen Mix.

How to Grow Edibles in an Indoor Garden

You’ll Need:

  • Grow Lights: See how I built my Grow Light System here.
  • Growing Containers: Gather up pots or containers to grow your indoor garden. Pots or containers that are 4-inches deep work well for most greens while carrots need at least 6 inches. Consider using window boxes, or recycled bakery or produce containers. Use plastic trays beneath containers to prevent water from dripping.
  • Soil: Select an organic, all-purpose potting mix for your indoor garden. Fertilize plants with a weak solution of Fish Emulsion when leaves show signs of stress.
  • Seeds or Purchased Seedlings: Buy seeds or purchase plants. Herbs mature slowly, so grow from established purchased plants for a fast harvest.

Procedure:

  1. How to Grow an Indoor Garden | Grow a Good LifeBuild or assemble your grow light system and locate in a cool area such as a basement or spare room. Try to keep it away from wood stoves and other heat sources because warm temperatures will cause the plants to bolt, or go to seed prematurely instead of producing a continuous harvest.
  2. If growing from seed, follow sowing instructions on the back of the seed package and keep soil evenly moist until the seeds germinate. Also see 10 steps to starting seedlings indoors. Purchased herb seedlings may need repotting if roots are showing through the drain holes.
  3. Keep the lights about 2-inches above the plants. Adjust the lights as the plants grow. Plants grown under artificial light need at least 12-16 hours of light each day. I set my Power Strip Timer for 16 hours on, then 8 hours off.
  4. Water twice a week or when the soil surface feels dry.
  5. Harvest and enjoy fresh, nutritious edibles throughout the cold, winter months.

Whether you are craving freshly grown harvests during the winter or live in an area without gardening space, I hope this gives you some encouragement to start growing edibles in your own indoor garden.

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38 thoughts on “How to Grow an Indoor Garden

  1. daphnegould

    I keep thinking I ought to grow microgreens for the winter. I don’t know if it will happen but it seems like something that would be easy enough for the winter.

    Reply
    1. Doug Gamble

      I read one of your comments that you lost all your greens to deer and even at the best of times you take your greens in before 1st frost. Have you tried freezing, most greens even beet greens can be frozen and as you steam them anyway taste great like fresh from the garden, I freeze beet greens as they come ready and also swiss chard and spinach, love the end product, cut and freeze as you like it small and tender or large and full. My wife jars her beets and I freeze the greens, and the skins go to the compost, no waste,

      Reply
      1. ©Rachel Arsenault Post author

        Hi Doug, Thanks for the comment. I love it that you and your wife work together and preserve your harvest. Yes, the last few years the deer have ended my fall garden early. Next year, I am planning on using fencing arched over the beds to protect them. Luckily, I do have some greens in the freezer. I blanch and freeze a lot of chard and kale over the growing season. It is nice to have frozen greens on hand for a quick side dish or to add to soups. I also freeze a lot of extra greens for our chickens to enjoy during the winter months. Not much goes to waste here either.

        Reply
  2. Mark Willis

    A very interesting post. I have not done anything as “professional” as this, but if I had space I probably would. I have a smaller-scale arrangement called a “Growlight House”, in which I successfully raise microgreens. They are a poor substitute for outdoor crops, but welcome nonetheless.

    Reply
    1. Rachel Post author

      Mark, You could easily grow some salad greens in your Growlight House. If you harvest by snipping the outer leaves, the plants will continue to produce for a long time.

      Reply
  3. Margaret

    Growing veg in winter, especially greens, is something that I have thought of doing but never actually got around to. I am still in the midst of learning so much when it comes to the spring/summer/fall garden, that I look forward to resting (and absorbing all I have learned) during the winter months.

    Reply
    1. Rachel Post author

      Margaret, I usually wait until after the holidays to begin thinking about gardening again. A few years ago, I tested some seeds to see if they would sprout before placing my yearly seed order. I planted the ones that sprouted and enjoyed some fresh greens in the middle of winter. Since then, I try to keep a few trays going under the lights.

      Reply
  4. deyarrison

    Thank you for all this great information! I see the ad above for Main Line Gardens and am wondering if you are in the Philly area. I am local to the area and have a large outdoor garden. I was so sad to lose all my arugula & lettuce in last week’s big freeze! I started lettuce indoors in early october and they are looking good. I will definitely take some tips from your post regarding lighting and layout (mine are very makeshift; in pots and an old fishtank with a small grow light).

    I found your site from Motivation Monday link-up and I am so glad I did! I will be back. Many blessings to you and yours.

    Reply
    1. Rachel Post author

      De, It sounds like you have a head start on your indoor garden. You lettuce should do fine under your makeshift light/aquarium. The ad at the top of the post changes all the time and is usually based on your browsing history. I’m not too far from PA. I live and garden in Maine. Our garden is finished now too. Thanks for stopping by!

      Reply
  5. malittl

    Great post! I’m always itching to grow during the winter months. We are putting in an offer on a house that has a beautiful sunroom and I already have all kinds of plans for using it as a greenhouse. I’m sharing this post across my social media accounts. Have a great day!

    Blessings,
    Missy

    Reply
    1. Rachel Post author

      Missy, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for you that your offer goes through. The sunroom sounds like a wonderful are to grow plants in the winter.

      Reply
  6. Ashley @ PioneerMomma.com

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for including all that information! I haven’t ever had an indoor garden before, and honestly, wouldn’t know where to start. Saves a lot of trouble lol. We’ve only worked with the outdoor ones so far 🙂 Pinned, shared, and subscribed!

    Reply
  7. Jean

    I’m hoping to create a cool food space in the basement under my new addition, so this is good advice for me. I’ve tagged it so that I can find it easily when I’m ready for it.

    Reply
  8. Ann Marie Mones

    Thanks for posting this. I will be attempting growing greens indoors this year, and you have given me the nudge of inspiration to get it done, that I needed.

    Reply
  9. janetpesaturo

    Great resource – thanks for the post. Do you find that indoor grown herbs and greens are as flavorful as outdoor grown? To me they are blander when grown indoors. Maybe I’m not using the best soil indoors, or maybe exposure to the weather makes them develop more flavor for some reason?

    Reply
    1. ~Rachel Arsenault Post author

      Janet, I don’t detect much of a difference in flavor in herbs. I do harvest most greens at baby stage so the flavor seems more delicate than full grown plants. Overall, the home grown herbs and greens taste much better than the supermarket purchased ones.

      Reply
  10. Tanya Anurag

    I recently moved some of my plants indoor- mint, green onion, lemon and Basil. They have been holding up well till now. Hope they survive through the season.
    Thank you for linking up at WUW!

    Hugs from party co-host,
    Tanya

    Reply
  11. Marla

    HI Rachel,
    What a great post and loading with so much important information about gardening. Thanks so much for sharing on Real Food Fridays blog hop. Pinned & twitted.

    Reply
  12. Marla

    Hi Rachel,
    Just a note a let you know that your post has been chosen as one of my features on this weeks Real Food Fridays blog hop that goes live on Thursday @7pm EST. Thanks so much for sharing and being part of Real Food Fridays!

    Reply
  13. Nicky

    This is a great tutorial Rachel. Thanks for sharing it at the Let’s Get Real link party. You are one of my featured bloggers this week. The party will go live Thursday at 5pm EST

    Reply
    1. ~Rachel Arsenault Post author

      Sorry, I don’t keep track of that. It doesn’t have a huge impact in my average electric bill. Newer T8 lights are supposed to be more energy efficient than T12. I will swap over eventually.

      Reply
  14. Elizia

    I’m trying to figure out whether it is better to grow my plants in a grow tent with an HID light or outside on my balcony. I want to make sure that growing inside of a grow tent with a Sun lamp and soil is potting mixture does not change the flavor of my vegetables. My balconies are very shady and I’m trying to get the best quality and taste from my crops.

    Reply
  15. Wes Wilson

    Very timely!

    We move from CA to Oregon a year ago and our first harvest here was less than we expected I’m afraid.

    Now were getting ready to start our seeds indoors in hopes of a better harvest this year. The herbs we started a couple weeks are already looking great. Ahhh fresh cilantro!

    Thank you Rachel!

    Reply
  16. Leslie

    Thank you for a nice article! Is there a reason other plants, such as a tomato or zucchini wouldn’t work indoors under lights (assuming space is available of course)?

    Reply
  17. Kevin

    Nice list and great guidance for growing those indoor. Excellent information on indoor gardening. Thanks a lot for sharing your knowledge.

    Impressive write-up, indeed!

    Reply
  18. Kristin

    Hi! thanks for all the tips. I was wanting to start seeds indoors and hopefully try the winter indoor gardening you mentioned. I was wondering if it would be beneficial to have my basement growing station near a window for some natural light as well? Would that make a difference, positive or negative? Thanks!

    Reply

Thank you so much for your comments. I love hearing from you!