Growing fresh, tasty edibles indoors during winter gives you garden-fresh produce and an enjoyable hobby. Keep these growing guidelines in mind to harvest your own fruits and vegetables in the house this winter, and be sure to ask your local nursery for additional tips.
Proper lighting is critical to plant growth. While a sunny window may work for edibles that don’t fruit or flower, such as lettuce, most indoor-grown produce requires supplemental lighting. Full-spectrum (T5) light bulbs simulate sunlight. They can be installed in lamps or recessed light fixtures and used in place of regular fluorescent bulbs.
For maximum growth and fruiting, place the plants close to the lights — preferably within 6 to 12 inches of the top of the plants. Adjust the lighting upward as the plants grow.
Choose a cool area of your home that has good air circulation, such as an unheated sunroom or near windows. A basement also works, as long as the artificial lighting is excellent. Avoid warm areas, such as near heating ducts, for growing edibles in the house during winter.
To have the best harvest possible, seek out small-leaved varieties of plants that feature edible foliage, such as lettuce, spinach and basil. In vegetables and fruits, grow dwarf and mini versions, like baby carrots, cherry tomatoes and kumquats. Also choose self-pollinating varieties, which usually means hybrid plants.
Seed your own plants
Depending on the time of year you set up your indoor garden, you may not be able to find plants in the nursery. If this happens, you’ll have to seed your own plants. Use a moist seed-starting mix and bury seeds according to their size. Very small seeds, like carrots, should be barely covered with soil, while large seeds like beans can be submerged as deeply as they are wide.
While the seeds germinate, keep the soil moist but not soggy. When the seedlings emerge, wait until they have two sets of true leaves before transplanting them into a larger container. Root vegetables like carrots and radishes should not be uprooted and transplanted. Allow them to grow in the container where they were seeded.
Watch the watering
Water plants when the top half-inch to inch of soil has dried. Underwatering your plants will result in limited production or none at all. Also, avoid overwatering plants, as overly moist conditions lead to root rot and plant death. Never let your plants sit in drainage trays filled with water.
Ensure prolific crops of edibles in the house in winter by feeding indoor fruit and vegetable plants every three to four weeks with a water-soluble, organic food designed for fruits or vegetables. Avoid fertilizers that contain urea, as this strong form of nitrogen can build up in the soil creating toxic conditions for your plants.
Repot when necessary
If your vegetable plants outgrow their pots, it’s important to move them to the next pot size as soon as possible, as plants with inadequate growing room may stop producing and die. Indications that a plant requires repotting occur when the plant appears to be top-heavy and too large for the pot, when water drains through quickly and if you see roots coming out of the drainage holes.
Stay ahead of pests
Indoor gardens may experience scale or mealybugs. Because your intention is to eat your produce, use non-toxic treatment methods for these pests, beginning with rinsing them off with water. If the pests persist, try spraying with insecticidal soap or isopropyl alcohol.
Just because temperatures dip outside doesn’t mean you have to stop gardening, especially now that you know how to grow edibles in the house during winter.