As the weather is getting colder, you might be missing your time outdoors in the garden. One overlooked but beneficial way of extending the growing season is to have an indoor survival garden. While you can’t grow all of the same foods indoors, you can grow a lot of food inexpensively to supplement your diet in a relatively small space.
For this article, we will stick to DIY growing systems, but we know that there are also some popular premade setups to get you started growing inside. These are especially good for beginners or people who want something ready that will work without a lot of extra thought or work. Hydroponic kits for growing indoors are also available. If you grow indoors with one of these methods, that’s fantastic!
We want to be sure that everyone has the tools and confidence they need to start growing, no matter what their situation. Let's talk about the basics you'll need to set up your own indoor survival garden.
Plants That Grow Well Indoors
The first thing you'll need? Seeds or seedlings of plants that do well indoors.
Microgreens are the simplest thing to grow indoors. They don’t require a lot of room, and you don’t have to nurture them to full adulthood. You can have a crop in a couple of weeks.
Green leafy vegetables like lettuce, spinach, kale, Swiss chard, and arugula do well inside. These plants are usually fairly small in footprint. Harvesting simply involves cutting what you need, and the plants grow new leaves. So easy.
Herbs are natural choices for indoor gardening for the same reasons. You can have a full herb garden for your kitchen in a short amount of time. Good choices include basil, cilantro, mint, and parsley. Don't forget to plant some catnip and cat grass for your cats to redirect any mischief they might be planning, too!
Citrus, tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers can also be grown indoors. You’ll need to have a bit more room and heat for these plants to thrive. If you have the right space, these warm-weather plants can be very rewarding to grow and provide you with some delicious flavor year-round.
Light for Growing Food Indoors
You probably will need supplemental light to grow food inside, especially during the winter months when the days are shorter. Most vegetables need 12-14 hours of full-spectrum light to grow and thrive. This is easy to supply, but do not be tempted to use incandescent lights - they’re too hot and don’t provide enough blue light.
Grow lights range from fairly simple and inexpensive to more complicated and costly systems. Don’t worry, you can get started easily with fluorescent lights and shop lights as long as they provide plenty of blue light. You can also find inexpensive grow lights that have been designed to provide Photosynthetic Active Radiation (PAR). As a general rule, 6500 Kelvin blue light encourages foliage (leaf) growth, and warmer 2500 K yellow light encourages flowering and fruiting. Full spectrum grow lights give you the best of both worlds and provide a multipurpose light that should cover everything you are growing. As you gain more experience, feel free to experiment and create a system that is more fine-tuned to your needs.
Containers for Indoor Food Gardening
The right containers for your indoor garden are important. Choose something that will give your plants plenty of room to grow, and make sure it has good drainage. If your plants can spread their roots, they can thrive and flourish. It’s also vital that they get plenty of moisture, without getting waterlogged. Self-watering planters that have a reservoir can help you water your plants without overwatering them.
Fertilizing Your Indoor Vegetables
Indoor plants need to be fertilized more often than plants outdoors in the garden. Watering leaches nutrients, and plants will quickly deplete the soil or growing medium if nutrients aren’t replenished. Choose a fertilizer that’s high in phosphorous for flowering and fruiting plants, and one that’s high in nitrogen for root and leaf veggies. Take care to never fertilize a dehydrated plant, and follow the instructions for fertilizing carefully to avoid stressing your plants.
The Right Temperature for Indoor Growing
Part of the reason for growing indoors is to protect your plants from temperature fluctuations, so choose a space that is not going to be excessively cold or hot. Many of the green leafy plants that thrive indoors will grow well in temperatures from 65-75° F, which is right in the range of human comfort, too. As noted above, citrus, tomatoes, and peppers may require more warmth, so consider the best growing conditions for your plants and make sure they get what they need.
Harvesting Your Indoor Crops
As you can see, growing food indoors doesn’t take a lot of equipment or specialized knowledge. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be surprised how much fresh food you can grow indoors in a relatively large space. Pay attention to what you’re eating so that you can keep up with your family’s food needs and enjoy fresh greens, herbs, and other foods all year round.