Green plants produce their own food by absorbing sunlight into chlorophyll-filled cells. In a process called photosynthesis these little factories make starch, fats and proteins. The nutritional value of vegetables lessens the longer it takes to get them to the table, making home-grown vegetables a healthy choice no matter what the season.
Challenges of Indoor Gardening
Photosynthesis reaches maximum levels early in the morning then gradually decreases toward afternoon as light intensity increases. Winter days are short and light intensity weaker. In the Northern Hemisphere a south-east facing window is almost ideal, capturing the first rays of sunrise along with the brighter south light. As plants require about ten hours of bright sunlight to produce fruit, the use of supplemental lighting will generally be required for an indoor winter garden.
As in an outdoor garden, the indoor garden includes vegetables that prefer cooler temperatures and those that prefer more heat. Try to approximate heat requirements. As a general rule of thumb, root crops and leafy greens want a cool temperature both days and nights while vegetables that set fruit need warm days and nights.
Indoor plants require plenty of water as they do not have the benefit of rainfall, evening mists or morning dews with the added restriction of being contained in pots.
A good liquid organic fertilizer like Weneger’s should be used in very diluted form every couple of weeks to make up for the plant’s inability to reach out into the soil for more nutrients.
Outdoor plants should not be brought inside as there is a risk of introducing aphids and other pests that will thrive along with the plants.
Use a lightweight potting mix and pack it loosely into pots so as not to impair root development and drainage.
Containers and Plant Pots for the Indoor Vegetable Garden
Almost anything that will hold soil and can be given drain holes may be used for growing vegetables. Keep in mind that plastic and metal containers get fairly hot and will require more frequent watering.
Ceramic containers are popular but you can also use well-rinsed milk jugs, wash tubs, basins, pails or coffee cans to name but a few.
Suspending grow bags and hanging baskets in front of windows allows for vertical growth of vining plants like tomatoes or cucumbers.
Vegetables to Grow Indoors
Plants that may be grown inside include beans, beets, carrots, chives, cucumbers, green onions, lettuce, peas, peppers, tomatoes and zucchini. Herbs are also a fine choice.
Many vegetables are self-pollinating. For those that require pollination, such as cucumbers and zucchini, it is easily accomplished with a soft watercolor paint brush. The female flower on cucumbers, zucchini, watermelon etc. can be identified by the tiny fruit growing just below the flower. The male flower has no such fruit. Carefully swirl the paint brush in the fully opened male flower. Yellow pollen will be visible on the end of the brush. Transfer the pollen to the interior of the female flower. To be sure pollination is effective, repeat the process two more times.
Benefits of Indoor Vegetable Gardening
Indoor gardening allows the gardener more control over the growing environment. Pouring rain, high winds, burning sun, heavy frosts and freezing temperatures, none of these impact the plants. Because plants are grown in containers, soil conditions can be tailored for specific plant requirements. There will be little or no weed and pest pressure in the indoor garden. Plants can be placed at convenient heights for the gardener on tables, window sills, plant stands, ladders, ledges and shelves.
The kitchen container garden requires some care but yields a bounty of delicious fresh food for the whole family.