Growing vegetables and herbs indoors

This weekend, the garden was hit by a hard frost.  Most of its plants are done for the year, but that doesn’t mean an end to gardening.  If you have the space, there are a lot of vegetables and herbs that will flourish inside.

What you need:

  • A south-, southeast-, or southwest-facing window, in an area that has good air circulation and constant warm temperatures (no drafts).  Herb and vegetable plants need at least 6 hours of sunlight per day, so if you have a sunny windowsil that gets at least that much sun, you’re well on your way.  As the sunlight in winter is not as intense as the sunlight in the summer, you may need to supplement natural light with artificial light.  Shop lights will work in a pinch, if you don’t have grow lights.
  • Containers that are sufficiently large to contain the plant and its roots, with room to spare.  Plants grow more slowly indoors than out, so consider planting dwarf varieties (such as cherry tomatoes and mini carrots), so that you don’t need large containers, and you don’t have to wait as long to harvest.
  • A good quality potting soil, which ideally has been mixed with compost.  Although you can use garden soil, it tends to be too compact to allow proper drainage.  Without proper drainage, your plants’ roots may rot.
  • Seeds.  As mentioned above, choose varieties that mature quickly or produce small vegetables or fruits.  You can start seedlings from plants you’ve harvested, by planting the seeds straightaway instead of saving them for next year.  For example, when making tomato sauce, plant the seeds as you remove them from the tomatoes.

In some cases, you can extend the life of plants you started outdoors by bringing them inside for another few weeks or months.  In the past, I have dug up broccoli plants that were not quite mature, and enjoyed broccoli florets in December.  This year, due to a very wet summer, my eggplants were very late, so I dug up the best plants and brought them inside to see if they will produce.  I am also keeping alive the parsley, ginger, and oregano that were potted all summer.  One thing that you do need to be cautious of when bringing plants indoors is that they may bring pests, such as aphids, along.  You can wash them off using a spray bottle filled with water or insecticidal soup.

You may need to water your indoors plants more frequently than you would if they were outdoors, as indoor air–heated by a furnace–tends to be drying.  But, ensure you don’t overwater them either, as that can cause your plants to rot.

Here’s a list of plants that you can grow inside in the winter.  Greens and herbs are the easiest to grow; plants that produce fruit, such as peppers and tomatoes, may need supplemental lighting and staking.

  • Beans
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Eggplants
  • Greens, such as lettuce, spinach, and kale
  • Herbs, such as basil,
  • Hot and sweet peppers
  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes

 

 

 

 

Growing herbs indoors

Some herbs can be grown indoors all year round, and others, such as rosemary, can be brought in for the winter and then taken back outside during the warmer months.

Varieties that are fairly easy to grow inside

  • bay leaves
  • parsley
  • chives
  • mint
  • kaffir lime tree
  • Vietnamese coriander
  • oregano
  • rosemary
  • thyme
  • dill

Growing guidelines

  • Sow seeds in quality organic potting soil. Use large terra cotta pots with saucers.
  • Situate the plants in front of a southwestern facing window. Most varieties need at least 6 hours of direct light. Supplement with artificial light if the plants get gangly, with long stems and few leaves–they’re seeking light. Rotate the plants frequently so that they don’t lean in one particular direction.
  • Water the stem where it meets the dirt, rather than the leaves, then let the water drain. If the roots get too wet they will rot, so don’t over-water your plants. Let the soil dry out completely before you water the plant again. Maintain a consistent watering schedule.
  • Cut them now and then–but no more than a third of the plant–and enjoy your fresh herbs. 🙂
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