Building a better food system by starting an indoor gardenOct 07, 2018 04:21AM ● By Paige Slaughter
Something magical is happening in the world of food today. More and more, people are caring about where their food comes from. They attend farmers’ markets in search of locally grown produce, and some even grow their own food, too.
But as the growing season comes to a close, we’re heading back to the grocery store, buying lettuce from California and winter squash from Mexico.
If one of our goals as gardeners is to become more empowered and self-sufficient by growing our own food, we’ve got to expand the boundaries of our gardens into conversations, schools and community spaces, and into the colder months of the year.
Your indoor garden will be unique to your situation. The amount of space and natural light you have to work with, how much time you spend away from home during winter, and what you like to eat are all contributing factors.
Consider your space. As you look around your house for a suitable growing space, your top priority is light. What space in your home gets the most natural light, and how can you get your indoor garden in that space? Tap into your creativity and resourcefulness. Vertical space is your friend.
Know what you’re growing. Just as it’s true in outdoor gardening, have a plan. Think about what you’d most love to eat fresh in winter, keeping in mind the goal of maximizing your harvest. Choose nutrient-dense varieties, and pair different vegetables together depending on their growing habits: tall plants with short ones, climbing plants with compact ones, plants that will grow out and over a pot with ones that won’t.
Succession planting—sowing seeds every few weeks—gives you more produce to harvest more frequently. Keep successions in mind as you select your seeds. Here are some vegetables that are great in container gardening:
- Leafy greens: lettuce, kale, arugula, spinach
- Bok choy, mustard greens, cress, endive, Swiss chard
- Green onions
- Garlic greens
- Leafy herbs: chives, cilantro, parsley
- Woody herbs: rosemary, oregano, thyme
- Pea shoots
- Beet greens
- Edible flowers: nasturtium, calendula
- Climbing beans
Find the right containers, and invest in good potting soil. For each plant you’re growing, choose a container deep enough to support its root system. Whatever container suits your space, make sure it has holes in the bottom for drainage and a saucer to catch water beneath it, and fill it with high-quality potting soil. Potting soil has materials in it like rocks, woodchips and perlite to help with drainage; you can purchase it or mix your own.
Starting seeds in pots
Seeding directly into pots makes it easier to garden in winter months. After filling your containers with potting mix, get your soil thoroughly wet. This will make watering much easier going forward. I like to water pots deeply, let them drain, then bring them indoors for seeding.
Sprinkle seeds evenly on top of the wet soil. Sow seeds thick; later, you can harvest sprouts and young leaves to thin out plants as they grow larger.
Cover with a thin layer of soil, and moisten with a mister bottle. Keep this top layer of soil moist, misting once or twice per day, until seeds sprout. Lay down a wet paper towel or cheesecloth if needed.
As sprouts become young leaves, you can enjoy a continual harvest by pulling the young plants out or cutting them at the base, leaving the roots in the soil as organic matter.
Caring for potted plants
With good drainage, you don’t have to worry much about overwatering your potted plants. Always keep soil moist while trying to germinate seeds. As your plants become more established, water enough so that the soil is fully wet and the water fills the saucer beneath the pot. If ever there’s water in the saucer from the day before, wait to water again, as plants will pull water up from the base of the pot when they need it.
Since potted plants can’t rely on larger ecosystems for nourishment, consider adding natural and organic fertilizers, compost or vermicompost (worm poop). Air circulation is another one of nature’s gifts you may need to actively provide for your plants, too. Turning on a fan or opening a window on a warmer day once in a while will keep your plants happy.
Indoor gardening is a challenge, but one that brings us even closer to cycles of nature and to food. Whether you’re doing it with larger food systems in mind or just for your own enjoyment, savor the progress you’re bound to make as you figure out what style of container gardening works for you.