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    How to Grow an Indoor Survival Garden Year Round

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    How to Grow an Indoor Survival Garden Year Round

    A lot of us have dabbled with indoor gardens in the past. Most of the time, we were watering houseplants, or planting a small group of herbs in the kitchen, or bringing in a small pepper or tomato plant for the winter.

    But there's one main reason why your garden may survive better indoors. The rising price of food, especially produce, is leading to the casual and indiscriminate theft of fruits and vegetables from backyard gardens.

    There was a time when bugs and passing rabbits caused the most havoc in our gardens, but more and more people are waking up to find their tomatoes mysteriously gone, their cucumbers vanished, and their perfect peppers disappeared.

    A fence is one solution, as well as growing food closer to your home, but we often choose our garden location based on sunlight and other location factors unrelated to security. As food prices lead to shortages, it may be time to take more robust steps.

    This is particularly true for anyone who plants in a shared, community garden where it’s hard to know who’s picking what from whose garden.

    This is also a good solution for apartment dwellers or people in a townhouse whose backyard is defined by a concrete patio.

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    Some Vegetables Grow Well Indoors

    It may come as a surprise, but there are some vegetables that will grow and thrive indoors. We’ll cover all of them in a chart with some insights on how to get the best yields. Many are dwarf varieties, but if you have the space and use some creative approaches, you can grow standard varieties as well.

    Many of us are used to the overabundance of harvest season in the fall, when we preserve more pickles than we’ll ever need, fill the freezer with legumes and vegetables, and seem to wait forever for those green tomatoes on the windowsill to turn red.

    Autumn frosts and early winter freezes put a stop to our gardens, but indoors you can keep summer happening year round.

    The Size of Your Indoor Garden is up To You

    You may think you don’t have the space or good locations for an indoor garden, but as the need arises due to rising food prices and the growing problem of garden theft,you may find you have more space than you know to grow vegetables and even fruits indoors.

    The Key Challenges and Solutions for Indoor Gardening

    Sunlight is an obvious indoor challenge. And windows with a southern exposure are the best solution, but even windows with a western or eastern exposure will get some amount of sunlight and the indirect window light of a northern exposure will be enough for some shade-loving vegetables like spinach and kale. They’ll do fine with some sun, but they won’t disappoint in the shade.

    • The solution for limited sunlight indoors are grow lights.
    Grow Lights With Specialty Bulbs

    These are lights with specially made bulbs that provide light at a wavelength that is ideal for plant growth. On average, a plant should receive 12 hours of light per day.

    Many people set their grow lights to shine through the night from 8 in the evening until 8 in the morning when electricity rates are sometimes cheaper. That’s up to you, but at least give them 12 hours of light. If they seem stunted or the leaves look yellow, up that time to 14 to 16 hours.

    Elaborate Grow Light Setup

    Most of the bulbs are low wattage, LED’s and some more elaborate setups have adjustments and timers so you can customize the amount of light any plant or group of plants receive.

    If you can’t afford grow lights, standard fluorescent lights will work, and they usually run at low wattages of 20 to 30 watts per bulb.

    Soil is the primary growing medium outdoors, and the same is true indoors. One critical thing to consider is how you can enrich your soil for indoor gardening. You’ll be growing your vegetables across a range of containers, and the nutrient level of the soil is critical in a small, enclosed container. Larger containers help, but even then you want to start with the best growing medium you can put together.

    • One solution is to mix up a rich growing medium. The perfect mixture is often identified as 1 part peat, 1 part vermiculite,1/2 part composted bark, and 1/2 part worm castings. If you can’t pull that together, at least combine some vermiculite or Perlite with some compost and topsoil.

    You can also buy a planting mix in a bag either online or at any garden or home center.

    Soluble Liquid Fertilizer

    If that’s impossible, you can experiment with vermiculture (indoor worm farming). It’s not as messy as you might think, and the worms produce a super-rich composted soil (worm castings) on a par with any liquid fertilizer. It’s more work, but if you don’t have access to fertilizers, don’t want to use them, or can’t afford them, the worms are worth the extra work.

    Water is critical to the growth and survival of any plant, particularly vegetables like cucumbers, tomatoes, and other vegetables that bear fruits or gourds. Leafy vegetables can get by with less than a squash, but all of them will need regular watering. The only problem with regular watering indoors is keeping the water off the floors, rugs, and furniture.

    • The solution can be as simple as a water tray under the container.
    Easy Watering Solution

    There are also indoor gardening setups that have built-in water management and containment systems, and some will even water the plants automatically.

    What’s critical with indoor gardens is to avoid watering too much. Plants growing outdoors have the benefits of occasional rain, timed sprinklers, prevailing winds, and gravity causing water to percolate into the ground. The result is drier ground preventing root rot.

    Indoors, too much water can kill plants, especially if the pot or container doesn’t have any drainage holes. Water carefully and if need be, insert your finger into the soil about two inches. If the tip of your finger is moist, you don’t need to water.

    • A bigger solution related to water and indoor gardens is something called “hydroponics.”
    Hydroponic Setup

    Hydroponically-grown vegetables are essentially grown in a rich nutrient broth of water and liquid fertilizers. There’s little or no soil involved, and the plants are both watered and fed automatically while the roots are suspended in the water.

    Many hydroponic garden solutions are constructed of PVC pipes that you can build yourself or you can buy a setup ready to go.

    Large Hydroponic Setup

    Large hydroponic gardens allow you to grow a lot of vegetables in a small space, often in tiers or terraces that increase not only the number of plants but the overall yields.

    Temperature management seems to be a lot easier indoors, but some plants prefer warmer temperatures, some cooler, and some won’t tolerate extremes.

    This usually isn’t a problem in first floor living spaces, but both basements and upstairs locations may see more temperature fluctuations than that cherry tomato plant growing next to your recliner.

    • The solution is to pay attention to the plant varieties that are either more tolerant or less tolerant of temperature fluctuations and make sure you grow them in the best locations. We’ll identify some of those plants in the chart.

    Moisture and humidity are another factor that can vary across the seasons. Spring, summer, and fall present less of a challenge, but as the furnace or the wood-burning stove kicks in over winter, the humidity levels can decrease as the indoor air becomes drier and drier.

    This is especially true in upstairs locations. There are small garden hygrometers sold in packs of a dozen that can allow you to monitor moisture and humidity for multiple plantings.

    • The solution is to once again be mindful of those vegetables that grow best with adequate humidity. Spritzing is one solution, but any overspray can make a mess indoors. Basements tend to have higher humidity levels, so think about moving your moisture-loving plants to the basement, or at least keep them out of locations where the air may become very dry. We’ll identify plants with unique humidity needs in the chart.
    Indoor Greenhouse

    These are fabric enclosures that contain the humidity at a relatively consistent level and can moderate and manage temperature as well.

    Indoor Hydroponic Greenhouse

    They range in price from simple tents to more complex hydroponic versions with fans, gauges and thermometers.

    Space is often the biggest challenge for anyone attempting an indoor garden. Fortunately, there are some creative solutions that even outdoor gardens use to increase the available space in any garden.

    • One solution is vertical gardening. This can be done a number of ways, but one of the easiest is to insert a tall stake in a large container and grow a vining vegetable like pole beans, cucumbers, or squash. You’ll need to tie the vines firmly to the stake and maybe add notches, nails, or even hanging bags or pouches to support heavier fruits like cucumbers or gourds.
    Vertical Gardening

    There are also hydroponic vertical gardening solutions you can buy that either feature a series of terraces or tiers that let you grow your vegetables up.

    Potato towers are a popular addition to many outdoor gardens, and you can do it indoors.

    Indoor Potato Containers

    One approach uses potato containers that feature a flap to allow you to do a neater and cleaner harvest indoors.

    • Another solution is to simply make your indoor garden a priority. Instead of using the front porch or back porch as a catchall for tools, camping, fishing gear, and other stuff that we just seem to collect, maybe it’s time to find a place for that stuff and use the space for another indoor garden.
    Another Indoor Garden Solution

    Even if your new found space doesn’t have windows, you can use your grow lights to keep everything growing.

    And make the most of those corners. You know what I mean. The place where you grew that rubber tree plant for years.

    Corner Planters

    Think about a short trellis of tomatoes or a pepper plant on a plant stand. Corners aren’t furniture-friendly, but they’re made for plants.

    Don’t forget window sills. There are flower boxes made for window sills, and there’s always plenty of light.

    Windowsill Planter

    They’re best for smaller plants like herbs, leafy greens and even small pepper plants and radishes.

    Some Things to Remember

    Remember succession planting. We often try to get multiple crops of a vegetable outdoors with varieties that mature quickly like radishes, beets, green onions, and beans. When you’re growing your garden indoors, you are on an endless quest for succession planting.

    When one crop is done, it’s time to replant. Remember to introduce new soil to the pot or container and toss the old soil into the compost heap or bake in the oven to sterilize the old soil.

    Remember to pollinate. One of the benefits of gardening indoors is no bugs. But many plants depend on bugs for pollination. A whole group of insects including bees, wasps, hornets and even butterflies are referred to as “pollinators.”

    Without them, it’s up to you. And while some plants are pollinated by pollen on the winds you don’t have the benefit of prevailing winds indoors either.

    The easiest way to self-pollinate is with a cotton swab. When the vegetables begin to blossom just insert the swab into the flower and gently twirl it around the pistils and the stamen. Move from blossom to blossom on the same species of plants until you think you’ve swabbed all of the blossoms.

    If in doubt, do it again the next day. The benefit of self-pollinating is you should get fruit from every blossom and if you stick to the same species and variety you won’t have any problems with cross pollination.

    Remember air circulation. Outdoors, plants have the benefit of prevailing winds. This circulates the air delivering carbon dioxide to plants on a regular basis. Indoors, there is nowhere near the air circulation you see outdoors.

    The plants will do a good job of exchanging carbon dioxide into oxygen, but air circulation will keep your indoor garden healthier. A small, oscillating fan that you run from time to time will help or just open some windows.

    Remember the ceiling. Hanging plants are an easy solution if space on the floor is limited. Try to hang them by a window and you’ll most likely need a pot or container without drainage holes so water carefully and regularly.

    Remember to plant heirloom varieties. Hybrid seeds will often produce a different variety than you were expecting. Heirloom seeds will always be true.

    Remember to harvest frequently. Most vegetables will quickly re-grow or produce more fruits if harvested regularly. When the plant stops producing it’s time to pull it and replant.

    Plants That Grow Well Indoors

    Below I've listed 31 plants that are the easiest to grow indoors. If it’s not listed below, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to plant it, but these particular fruits and vegetables show up the most as hardy indoor vegetables that can survive in a confined, indoor situation.

    Some of the details can vary depending on the variety, so read the seed packet or look the variety up on the Internet if in doubt.

    Fruiting Vegetables

    Bush Beans

    • Varieties: Green and yellow wax beans.
    • Soil Depth: Minimum of 8-inches.
    • Amount of Light: At least 12 hours of light.
    • Time to Harvest: 10 to 14 weeks and also continue to produce.
    • Notes: Rich soil and plenty of water.

    Cucumbers

    • Varieties: Indoor varieties grown vertically.
    • Soil Depth: 12+ inches.
    • Amount of Light: 12 hours of direct light.
    • Time to Harvest: 10 to 14 weeks.
    • Notes: Prefer lots of water, light and cooler temps.

    Peppers

    • Varieties: Bell peppers, jalapeno, Poblano, Serrano, Habenero.
    • Soil Depth: The smaller the pepper the smaller the pot. Depth of 4 to 8 inches.
    • Amount of Light: 12 to 16 hours of direct and indirect light.
    • Time to Harvest: 8 to 14 weeks depending on variety and maturity.
    • Notes: Prefer a rich soil mix of peat moss, sand and vermiculite.

    Pole Beans

    • Varieties: All green pole bean varieties grown vertically.
    • Soil Depth: A deep pot with up to 12-inches of soil is best.
    • Amount of Light: At least 12 hours of light.
    • Time to Harvest: 10 to 14 weeks but they continue to produce.
    • Notes: Prefer a rich soil mix and plenty of water.

    Squash

    • Varieties: Crookneck, Butternut, Acorn grown vertically.
    • Soil Depth: 12-inches.
    • Amount of Light: 12 to 16 hours of direct and indirect light.
    • Time to Harvest: 10 to 12 weeks.
    • Notes: Prefer lots of water and light.

    Tomatoes

    • Varieties: Cherry, toy boy, tiny tim, Florida petite, red robin.
    • Soil Depth: 6 inches at a minimum.
    • Amount of Light: 12 to 16 hours of direct and indirect light.
    • Time to Harvest: 8 to 12 weeks.
    • Notes: Sufficient light important and heavy feeders.

    Leafy Vegetables

    Kale

    • Varieties: All varieties.
    • Soil Depth: 4 to 6 inches.
    • Amount of Light: 8 to 12 hours of direct or indirect light.
    • Time to Harvest: 6 to 24 weeks from sprouts to maturity.
    • Notes: Prefer rich soil and lots of water. Shade and cold temp tolerant.

    Lettuce

    • Varieties: Green leaf, buttercup, and other compact varieties.
    • Soil Depth: 4-inches.
    • Amount of Light: 12 hours light.
    • Time to Harvest: 4 to 12 weeks. Harvest regularly.
    • Notes: Does not tolerate temp fluctuations well.

    Spinach

    • Varieties: All varieties.
    • Soil Depth: 6-inches.
    • Amount of Light: 8 to 12 hours. Can grow in indirect light.
    • Time to Harvest: 4 to 16 weeks from sprouts to full maturity.
    • Notes: Prefer regular watering. Shade and cold temp tolerant.

    Swiss Chard

    • Varieties: Golden chard, magenta sunset, Ruby rose.
    • Soil Depth: 6-inches.
    • Amount of Light: 12 hours of light.
    • Time to Harvest: 6 to 10 weeks. Harvest regularly.
    • Notes: Shade and cold temp tolerant.

    Root Vegetables

    Beets

    • Varieties: All varieties.
    • Soil Depth: 8-inches.
    • Amount of Light: 12 hours of light.
    • Time to Harvest: 60 days.
    • Notes: Need regular water.

    Carrots

    • Varieties: All varieties.
    • Soil Depth: 8-inches.
    • Amount of Light: 12 hours of light.
    • Time to Harvest: 80 days.
    • Notes: Need regular water.

    Garlic

    • Varieties: All varieties.
    • Soil Depth: 4-inches.
    • Amount of Light: 6 to 8 hours.
    • Time to Harvest: 45 days.
    • Notes: Shade tolerant.

    Green Onions

    • Varieties: All varieties.
    • Soil Depth: 4-inches.
    • Amount of Light: 6 to 8 hours.
    • Time to Harvest: 45 days.
    • Notes: Shade tolerant.

    Parsnips

    • Varieties: All varieties.
    • Soil Depth: 8-inches.
    • Amount of Light: 12 hours of light.
    • Time to Harvest: 60 days.
    • Notes: Need regular water.

    Potatoes

    • Varieties: Red and gold potatoes.
    • Soil Depth: 8-inches.
    • Amount of Light: 12 hours of light.
    • Time to Harvest: 90 days.
    • Notes: Need regular water.

    Radishes

    • Varieties: All varieties.
    • Soil Depth: 6-inches.
    • Amount of Light: 12 hours of light.
    • Time to Harvest: 30 days.
    • Notes: Need regular water.

    Red onions

    • Varieties: All varieties.
    • Soil Depth: 4-inches.
    • Amount of Light: 6 to 8 hours.
    • Time to Harvest: 60 days.
    • Notes: Shade tolerant.

    Turnips

    • Varieties: All varieties.
    • Soil Depth: 8-inches.
    • Amount of Light: 12 hours of light.
    • Time to Harvest: 45 days.
    • Notes: Need regular water.

    Fruits

    Blueberries

    • Varieties: Top Hat, Northsky, Sunshine Blue.
    • Soil Depth: 12+ inches in a large pot.
    • Amount of Light: 12 hours.
    • Time to Harvest: 1-year.
    • Notes: Perennial.

    Mandarin Oranges

    • Varieties: Dwarf varieties.
    • Soil Depth: 18 to 24 inches.
    • Amount of Light: 12 to 14 hours.
    • Time to Harvest: 4 to 6 months.
    • Notes: Needs rich soil.

    Strawberries

    • Varieties: Wild and domestic varieties.
    • Soil Depth: 6-inches in a large tray.
    • Amount of Light: 12 hours.
    • Time to Harvest: 4 to 6 weeks from blossoms.
    • Notes: Hardy and perennial.

    Fungi

    Mushrooms

    • Varieties: Cremini, enoki, maitake, Portobello, oyster, shiitake, and white button.
    • Soil Depth: At least 6-inches.
    • Amount of Light: None.
    • Time to Harvest: 6 to 12 months but varies by variety.
    • Notes: Prefer darkness and regular moisture.

    Herbs

    Basil

    • Varieties: All varieties.
    • Soil Depth: At least 6-inches.
    • Amount of Light: 12 hours.
    • Time to Harvest: 4 weeks and ongoing.
    • Notes: Avoid temp extremes.

    Chives

    • Varieties: All varieties.
    • Soil Depth: At least 4-inches.
    • Amount of Light: 8 hours.
    • Time to Harvest: 8 to 10 weeks, frequent harvests.
    • Notes: Harvest regularly before going to seed.

    Cilantro

    • Varieties: All varieties.
    • Soil Depth: At least 6-inches.
    • Amount of Light: 12 hours.
    • Time to Harvest: 4 to 6 weeks, frequent harvests.
    • Notes: Produces coriander seeds when mature.

    Dill

    • Varieties: All varieties.
    • Soil Depth: At least 6-inches.
    • Amount of Light: 12 hours.
    • Time to Harvest: 6 to 8 weeks.
    • Notes: Harvest regularly before going to seed.

    Parsley

    • Varieties: All varieties.
    • Soil Depth: At least 6-inches.
    • Amount of Light: 12 hours.
    • Time to Harvest: 2 to 3 months and ongoing.
    • Notes: Hardy.

    Rosemary

    • Varieties: All varieties.
    • Soil Depth: At least 8-inches.
    • Amount of Light: 12 hours.
    • Time to Harvest: 4 to 6 months and ongoing.
    • Notes: Perennial.

    Sage

    • Varieties: All varieties.
    • Soil Depth: At least 6-inches.
    • Amount of Light: 12 hours.
    • Time to Harvest: 6 to 8 weeks.
    • Notes: Hardy.

    Thyme

    • Varieties: All varieties.
    • Soil Depth: At least 4-inches.
    • Amount of Light: 12 hours.
    • Time to Harvest: 70 days and ongoing.
    • Notes: Perennial.

    We didn’t cover some of the cruciferous vegetables that are shade loving like cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, but if you have the room and a soil depth of at least 12 inches, you can tuck them into a corner with some indirect light and get some decent results. Just keep them well watered.

    When There is No Electricity

    Whether you’re living off-the-grid or enduring a long-term power outage, you need to think about how you will power any grow lights. It’s fair to assume that most plants can survive a week without artificial light, but any longer and they will gradually but quickly begin to fail.

    Solar is the obvious solution with batteries connected to an AC inverter or tied directly to LED’s designed to run off of 12-volt power or directly tied to a solar panel.

    Solar Powered Grow Lights

    There are specially designed grow lights that run off of solar that avoid some of the design and setup of a separate solar power supply.

    The simplest solution is to keep your indoor garden setups in close proximity to a window. You may need to rotate pots and plants to the southern windows if a plant seems to need more light, or move them outside from time to time and bring them in at night. Then again, if you have a raised deck or area that is secure, you could always leave them outside when the weather is fair.

    Before You Reinvent the Wheel…

    This doesn’t have to be complicated. On a basic level, you can design your indoor garden using 5-gallon buckets. Here’s a simple schematic with the basic idea, and if you don’t have sufficient window light, add the grow light.

    Bucket Garden Cross Section

    If you’re on a budget, you can find many different sizes of containers at the dollar store or 5-gallon buckets at home centers. Your indoor light sources can be fluorescent rather than costlier LED’s or specialized grow lights. Just remember to keep an eye on your plants, manage your watering, and feed them from time to time.

    Maybe the most important thing to do is harvest regularly. That will keep the plants growing and will provide what this whole endeavor is all about. Over time, you’ll become accustomed to a house full of plants, and they’ll not only create a relaxing environment, you’ll have the satisfaction of literally seeing the fruits of your labor.

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