Written by Dale Richardson - Updated: June 23, 2023
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For many of us, the gardening season completely shuts down in the fall. But what do we do when we want fresh, home-grown vegetables in the middle of winter? Here are the answers to some common questions about how to vegetables indoors during winter.
There are many vegetables that are well-suited for growing indoors, and it is important to choose a container that matches the plant you are growing. Mix plenty of compost into your potting soil and make sure to provide adequate artificial light. You can grow a surprising amount of food in just a few pots, but make sure to water them as soon as the top of the soil begins to dry out. Try to regulate the temperature in your house, or put your pots in a room that doesn't get too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter. And don't forget to pollinate your flowering vegetables by giving the plant a little shake or by using a paintbrush.
If you are anything like me, you are itching to get into the garden while there is still snow piled up on the ground. The solution? Bring the garden indoors. But growing vegetables indoors over winter does not come without its difficulties. Let's look at how to have your indoor garden thrive while winter wind's howl outside.
READ NEXT: 8 Tips for winterizing your greenhouse.
Depending on your ambition, you can grow just about any vegetable indoors. Some popular and easy to grow vegetables include carrots, radishes, tomatoes, leafy greens, onions, beans, potatoes, and summer squash. However, even corn and other more uncommon vegetables can actually benefit from being grown indoors. Of course, what you grow will be limited by the amount of space you have.
Choose the pot size depending on what you want to grow. Most leafy greens do well in small 15cm (6inch) deep pots, whereas carrots would need a soil depth of 30cm (12inches) to accommodate their taproot. Larger flower vegetable plants such as peas or tomatoes would need a big pot to support the plant and provide enough compost and plant food (more on this later). The shape and size of the pots are up to you.
Read Next: How big to make your vegetable garden.
When growing indoors, it is most common so choose a good quality potting soil for your pots. Potting soil has a good texture and water retention for container growing, as opposed to bags of topsoil which quickly compacts in pots. You can also use soil right from your garden if you have any, but be sure to add lots of compost.
Image by Carmen Edenhofer
Your plants will really do well if you add lots of compost. Replacing about 1/3 of the soil with compost will give your plants sufficient nutrients as they grow, but for heavy-feeders, such as tomatoes or corn, you would do well to have 1/2 the pot made of compost. Adding compost will not only feeds the plants but improves water retention and helps keep the soil nice and loose. In another article, we talk about the differences between soil and compost and the benefits of planting in each.
Animal manure will also benefit your potted vegetables, though many people have an aversion to intentionally bringing poop into their house no matter how well composted it is.
Providing enough light is perhaps the biggest challenge to growing any plant indoors over winter. Most plants do best with 6 to 8 hours of sunlight, but this is difficult to achieve in winter. Even if your indoor vegetables do receive 8 hours of light, it is often difficult to provide sufficient light through a window in the summer, and the winter sun is already weak. That being said, provide as much natural sunlight as possible but be prepared to supplement with artificial lights.
If you only have a few plants that already receive sunlight, you can possibly get by with a lamp for supplemental lighting. Choose an LED daylight bulb for energy conservation and good colour spectrum and leave the light on for 14 to 16 hours a day (a simple timer will be very handy for this). If this is not enough, you might want to invest in a grow light to really give a blast of "sunlight" to your veggies. In another article, we go into more depth about how to provide adequate light for your indoor plants .
Once you have eaten a freshly picked vegetable from your own garden, you know it is always worthwhile to grow your own food. That being said, growing indoors does come with its challenges and you might wonder if the rewards you reap will be worth the effort. Even if a few pots, however, you can grow a surprising amount of food. A few pots of lettuce can provide you with fresh salads all winter, provided you sow a few seeds every few weeks. Add a small pot with herbs, and a grow bag of carrots and potatoes and you have the makings of several fine meals with little effort.
In the endeavour to be self-sufficient, any meal you grow is one less that you have to buy from the supermarket. If all you grow is a single pea plant, you can have snacks all winter long that you grew yourself. If you really want to get into indoor gardening, with a small investment of finances and dedication, you would be able to grow a lot of your food right in your living room.
Indoor potted plants need more frequent watering than plants grown in the garden. The small amount of soil in a pot warms up quickly causing the water to evaporate quickly. As a general guideline, indoor vegetables need watering when the top few centimetres of the soil starts to dry out. Add water until it starts to drain out the bottom of the pot. If a lot of water fills the drip tray under the pot, you might want to dump the tray so the soil does not become saturated. Here is an interesting article about watering houseplants , but many principles also apply to vegetables.
READ NEXT: Trying to save water? Discover the best 11 tips to grow vegetables during a drought.
Image by Carmen Edenhofer
We live in an old farmhouse that is poorly insulated. On a particularly cold and windy day, you can see the curtains blowing slightly from the drafts sneaking in through the windows. Most indoor gardening information says to place your houseplants on a sunny windowsill. Our windowsills are far too cold to have anything grow there in the dead of winter.
If your house is like ours, try to find the warmest spot to start your vegetable garden. Alternatively, you might want to invest in some sort of heat lamp or another heat source to keep the temperature nice and warm. Another thing to consider is growing vegetables that like cool weather. For example, spinach is ideally suited for indoor winter gardening as it actually prefers cool weather and will bolt if it is too warm.
On the flip side, your house might be well insulated and you like to keep it nice and warm. In this case, growing in the coolest part of your home, such as the basement, might be best.
In short, you are! When your plants are in the great outdoors, the flowers are pollinated by insects, such as bees, birds, bats, butterflies to name a few. Without begin pollinated, flowering vegetable plants like tomatoes, beans, or peppers, will flower but no vegetables will develop. When your plants are indoors, they will not be visited by pollinators so you will have to do the job.
Many vegetables are self-pollinating but they still need a bit of help. You can give the plant a little shake or set up a small fan when it is in bloom to help transfer the pollen. Another popular method is to use a paintbrush or cotton swab. Here is an article that goes into a bit more detail about being your own bee.
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