For most people, especially in urban areas, finding gardening space is a major challenge, so I’ve put together a complete guide to growing vegetables indoors for beginners.
By growing vegetables indoors it’s suddenly possible to grow all your favourite vegetables all year round. Growing tomatoes in winter? No problem. Capsicums in spring? Yes please!
You don’t have to be an experienced green thumb if you follow this guide to indoor vegetable gardening for beginners.
You can successfully cultivate an indoor vegetable garden even if you’re trying your hand at gardening for the first time. Read on for a comprehensive guide on growing vegetables indoors for beginners.
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Why Grow Vegetables Indoors?
Growing indoor vegetables can be a great leisure activity, as rated by many millennials. Most people living in urban areas have limited garden space. Gardening in an apartment for instance, keeps many people from taking up traditional forms of outdoor gardening.
Controlled Weather Conditions
One major benefit of indoor vegetable gardening for beginners is that you can control the weather conditions. You don’t deal with winds, cold phases, or overly hot days that distress or damage plants.
Growing vegetables indoors allows you to customize the environment. You can choose their proximity to a window, supplement the light source with grow lights or provide a draft on them.
Grow All Year Round!
Growing vegetables indoors provides an extended growing season as they can grow all year round! An extended growing season means more yield for you.
Another major benefit of indoor vegetable cultivation is that you get more protection from pests than you would in an uncontrolled outdoor setting.
Other benefits of growing vegetables indoors for novices include getting fresh organic produce, indoor air purification, mental health benefits and attractive decor.
There are fantastic all-in-one indoor growing systems like Aerogarden and Click and Grow that are available these days; they take all the hard work out of growing herbs and vegetables indoors. To learn more about what an Aerogarden is and how to set it up, take a look at my Aerogarden 101 article.
I’ve also compared the two brands in my comprehensive Aerogarden vs Click and Grow review!
Which Herbs and Vegetables to Grow Indoors?
There are plenty of vegetables and herbs that you can grow inside your home. They include cool-tolerant, warmth-loving, and herbs. Different groups of plants will have different needs and different requirements, also when it comes to seed starting. This is something you want to keep in mind.
- Cool-Tolerant Vegetables – these require moderate light and temperatures around 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Cool-tolerant indoor vegetable plants include broccoli, carrots, beets, kale, scallion, mustard greens, spinach, swiss chard, salad greens, radish, peas, arugula, microgreens, and mustard greens.
- Warmth-Loving Vegetables require high light for a longer duration and thrive in temperatures around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. They include tomatoes, peppers, dwarf citrus plants, and strawberries.
- Herbs – an indoor herb garden needs moderate to high light. The best herbs to grow indoors include peppermint, thyme, oregano, rosemary, spearmint, basil, and sage.
These indoor vegetables and herbs are good starter plants for apartments or beginner plants for apartments (or any indoor space for that matter!) I always say the key to growing vegetables indoors for beginners is to start somewhere. Whether it’s a few pots on your windowsill or a full indoor vegetable garden kit or indoor vegetable garden system – do what you’re comfortable with and get started.
What Will I Need to Get Started?
As a beginner, growing vegetables indoors is easy when you have the proper supplies and tools. The vegetables you choose will determine the gardening supplies you’ll need. Below are important supplies and tools that you’ll need to start:
1. Pots and Containers
Container size is an important factor because you don’t want to stunt your vegetables with a pot that’s too small. Other factors to consider are the container’s material and drainage.
Clay pots may hold water insufficiently; therefore, you may have to water your plant more frequently. Plastic and metallic containers hold moisture effectively. They will need proper drainage to eliminate excess water. Drainage holes are a great over-watering fail-safe for beginners growing vegetables indoors.
Recycled seedling pots are also a great idea, with there being many suitable options lying around the home.
If you’re looking for something a little more trendy, take a look at a Vertplanter.
2. Seeds or Seedlings/Transplants
For a beginner, it is advisable to start out with seedlings instead of seeds. Seedlings/transplants may be more costly, but they have a higher success and yield rate. Once you get the hang of indoor gardening down the line, you can opt to grow seeds.
3. Growing Medium
Growing medium refers to the material in which your indoor vegetables will grow. You have the options of soil and non-soil growth mediums. Non-soil growth mediums comprise peat moss, expanded clay, perlite vermiculite, gravel, and coco coir.
One benefit of non-soil growth mediums is that they contain more nutrients to help your vegetables thrive. On the other hand, they require more maintenance than soil mediums. Soil as a growing medium is easier to maintain.
Go for organic potting soil or mix for your indoor newbie vegetable garden. Garden topsoil may introduce pests and diseases to your indoor project. It also drains poorly in indoor spaces.
My guide on the best compost to grow vegetables is a great place to start when looking for options.
Indoor plants that you grow in containers may need more fertilizer than plants grown outdoors. Fertilizer will help provide necessary nutrients including potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen. These are needed to cultivate healthy plants. There are a wide variety of options, including organic compost, liquids, slow-release pellets.
5. Grow Lights
Plants need enough light to photosynthesise (make their food). Sufficient lighting is a major challenge for beginners cultivating indoor vegetable gardens. Your light needs will depend on the vegetables you choose to grow. For instance, spinach needs about 3 hours of light while growing tomatoes require at least 8 hours.
Check the transplant bags or seed packets for information regarding light requirements for specific vegetables. Fortunately, there is a wide range of grow light options available online if you have little natural light. Grow lights come in all shapes, sizes, price ranges, types, and spectrums.
6. Indoor Gardening Tools
Having the right gardening tools will help your indoor project flourish and also make for an enjoyable experience. You won’t need as many gardening tools as you would when gardening outside, but I’ve listed below are some of the tools that you will need:
- Trowel – you use a trowel to fill the bottom of the container you’ll cultivate your seeds in.
- Butter knife – great for gently lifting small seedlings out of seed trays.
- Transplanter – has a large surface allowing you to easily scoot potting mix and transplant plants of all sizes.
- Garden Shears – you can use shears to cut containers, make health cuts on your plants, and cut garden twine.
- Watering Can – get one with a single spout to help you control watering.
How to Grow Vegetables Indoors: Step by Step Planting Guide
1. Choose the Best Location
A good indoor garden site location is very important if you want high vegetable yields. The type and size of the vegetables you want to grow will be a major determining factor when selecting the location of your garden.
Select a spot in your home that is near the windows that face east and west to maximise sunlight hours. Light requirements differ for different vegetables but generally the more sunlight the better.
Placement near windows provides the necessary natural light and additional heat (this will be more important when growing seeds as plants need warmth to germinate). If you are short of space, a good tip is using a wall rack to hang your plants. Placing wall racks near windows allows you to provide more sunlight to additional plants.
Can I Grow Indoor Vegetable Plants Without Sunlight?
If north facing windows are the only option in your home, never fear, there are plenty of vegetables that only require 3-4hrs of full sunlight:
- Leafy plants – chard, silverbeet, kale, Asian greens, lettuce
- Herbs – parsley, mint, chives, coriander/cilantro
- Shoots or microgreens – chickpeas, buckwheat, pea, radish
It’s very hard to grow vegetables productively with very little to no light. Plants quickly become spindly and weak and are more susceptible to disease and pests. If light is almost non-existent, microgreens would be your best bet, along with mint (on the basis that it simply seems to grow anywhere!)
For everything else, if you’re growing indoor vegetables, it’s worth investing in a substantial grow light setup.
Houseplants are also great to grow in north facing windows. Check out a list of the best north facing window houseplants to grow here.
2. Prepare the Soil Pots
Wearing rubber gloves, pour your potting mix into your chosen container or pot. Add water gradually and combine the mixture. Aim for a moist mixture; it should not be soaking wet.
To test, squeeze a clump of the mixture in your hand. The mixture should hold together in a clump without dripping water. Add more water if it crumbles.
If you are using a slow release fertiliser, mix this through your soil now too.
3. Repot the Seedlings
Have all the necessary materials and tools at hand to make this process faster and more efficient. This includes the prepped soil pots/containers, butter knife, and trowel or transplanter.
Before you start, ensure that you water the seedlings. Wet soil clings to the roots and prevents drying and damage. This gives your seedlings the best possible start in their new home.
Use a trowel or butter knife to pry the seedlings from the containers. Tease the seedlings apart if there is more than one in a container. Avoid tugging or pulling on the seedlings.
Place the seedlings in your prepared container and press down the soil lightly. Lightly water.
4. Set Up the Artificial Lighting
While natural light is vital for healthy indoor plants, it may not be sufficient, particularly during winter. Your veggies will need some artificial light. The lighting setup will depend on the vegetables you choose.
Tips on Growing an Indoor Vegetable Garden with Grow Lights
Cool-tolerant vegetables such as broccoli, kale, carrots, leafy greens, beets, and arugula can do with moderate light and warmth (60 degrees Fahrenheit/15 degrees Celsius). Traditional fluorescent shops lights can do the job. Set the light about 12 to 16 inches away.
Fruiting plants like tomatoes, peppers, and strawberries require lots of light and warmer temperatures (70 degrees Fahrenheit/20 degrees Celsius). For this group of vegetables, set up grow lights about 6 to 12 inches above plants.
Aerogarden has a vast range of grow light setups that are well worth the investment and look great!
How do I Care For, Maintain and Harvest My Plants?
As a novice, to grow indoor vegetables is heavily dependent on proper care and maintenance. One can even say it’s the most important aspect of the whole project. Below are some steps you can take to maintain your indoor project.
Containers and pots tend to dry out faster. As such, your indoor vegetables will need more frequent watering than outdoor plants. Ensure that you keep your potting soil mix consistently moist. Use a watering can to pour water directly near the base of the plants.
Signs of underwatering include slow leaf growth, premature dropping of leaves/flowers, yellow, brown, curly leaf edges, and translucent leaves.
Signs of overwatering include mould or fungus on the soil surface, mushy brown roots at the container bottom, leaves with brown rotten patches, and standing water at the pot bottom.
2. Proper Drainage
Note that indoor gardens have their own host of irrigation challenges. Proper drainage is one of them.
Your container or pot should have holes to drain excess water. You don’t want your plants sitting in soaked soil. Periodically check the drainage holes for blockages.
3. Humidity and Temperature Control
Most plants do well in high humidity. During some seasons, you may experience low humidity. This also happens when you turn up the heat in your home during winter. When the humidity is low, mist each individual plant using a spray bottle.
Your indoor temperatures should be between 65 and 75-degrees Fahrenheit (with some wiggle room) for best growing conditions.
Excess cold can result in yellow leaves that fall off, while excess heat leads to stunted plants.
4. Applying Fertilizer
Your plants will deplete the nutrients in the growing medium. The nutrients also leach out of the soil every time you water the plants. It’s a good practice to fertilize your plants once a month.
5. Air Circulation
Proper air circulation is vital if you want to prevent pest, fungus, and mold growth. Air circulation allows excess moisture to evaporate quickly. It also facilitates pollination.
Keeping the plants near open windows is one way to improve circulation. You can also place an electric fan near your indoor vegetable garden.
Harvesting Your Vegetables
Make it a habit to harvest your produce at least once a week. Leaving produce on the plant for too long leads to lower yields in the long run.
If your plants of choice have edible stems and leaves, you can harvest anytime once they mature. Cut and use the outer leaves of the plants as you let the inner ones continue growing.
Conclusion: Growing Vegetables Indoors for Beginners
As a beginner, cultivating an indoor vegetable garden is a great way to enjoy fresh organic produce (plus, it’s an amazing hobby). It’s possible for just about anyone to successfully grow vegetables indoors with the information and tips provided above.
There are many ways that you can get creative with your garden and keep your green thumb busy.
Happy indoor gardening everyone!
About the Author
Elle Reed is a passionate gardener and advocate for teaching beginner gardeners how to grow their own food. Elle’s mission is to inspire and empower people to get back to basics, grow their own produce, and embrace a sustainable lifestyle. “Whether it’s a few herb pots in an apartment, a potager or a full garden plot, we can all ‘start somewhere’ to grow our own food, and in doing so, provide healthier food for ourselves and those we love”.