Balcony gardens can be great for people who have access to a balcony, and community gardens for those who live near one, but what about people who don’t have access to any outdoor space where they live? The simple solution is an indoor garden. In addition to the many benefits of gardening and growing your own food, an indoor garden will improve air quality, potentially lowering your household's risk of respiratory disorders, chronic headaches and eye irritation.
How much space do you have?
Even windowsills make great gardens, so don't be put off if your indoor space is small. Place a few pots near windows or dedicate an entire table or bench to your indoor garden. With limited space you might consider using shelves or creating a wall garden. Choose the right plants or use growing lights and you don't even need much light.
How much time do you have?
A low effort indoor garden is absolutely possible, but your time and motivation should influence which plants you choose. How many times can you water your plants each day? Do you travel a lot? Let your answers help you decide which plants to choose and how you plan to water them.
Wherever possible, choose areas with lots of windows and sunlight for your indoor garden. If your home doesn't get much light and heat, you might like to consider a growing light. Fluorescent lights, especially compact fluorescent lights, are generally the best option because they are energy efficient and inexpensive to purchase at your local hardware or garden supply store. High intensity discharge (HID) bulbs are the brightest and most energy efficient lights available, but they are more expensive to buy and can't always be placed close to plants. Do your research and consider the size and location of your indoor garden before buying a growing lamp. Remember there will be a cost – both energy and money – associated with using a growing lamp.
Soil or hydro?
If you're opting for a soil garden, look for a soil mix designed for indoor plants, as soil found outside is generally too heavy and may contain weed seeds and insect pests. Your indoor soil mix should contain enough organic material to hold moisture and nutrients while remaining loose and draining well. Potted soil gardens are a good option if you want to rearrange your plants from time to time and maybe move them outdoors at some point.
Hydroponics is the cultivation of plants using a liquid nutrient solution rather than soil. Hydroponics is a great option for indoor gardens, especially vegetable gardens, because plants tend to grow faster and containers can be smaller. Space-saving, automatic systems designed to conserve water and energy and maximise growth are available for both soil and hydroponic gardens.
With time, your indoor garden can be a big contributor to your daily meals, but it's best to start slowly and give yourself time to learn as you go. Get started with a basil plant, a cherry tomato plant and a 'cut and come again' lettuce. Begin with the side dishes then move onto the mains after some trial and error.
Temperature and ventilation
In general, indoor plants prefer warmth, so avoid placing them in cold rooms. Rather than waste energy and money using your heating system, consider using heat mats designed to regulate the temperature of the soil from below. Placing plants near air vents or fans should also be avoided as they might dry your plants out.
Indoor potted plants tend to dry out more quickly than those grown in the ground, so it's important to water them frequently. Feel the soil to check whether it's moist, then water with room-temperature water until it runs through the drain holes of the pot or container. Use greywater to feed your garden as much as possible, but familiarise yourself with safety precautions before using it. A saucer will help prevent water spillage but be careful not to let the water collect under the plant, as this can lead to rotting and disease. If you have trouble remembering to water your plants, you might like to set up a drip system that waters each plant individually, with a timer to turn it on and off.
Indoor plants tend to need more fertiliser than outdoor plants because they are generally exposed to less sunlight. Ideally, make your own fertiliser or 'compost tea' from your compost, worm farm or bokashi bin. Egg shells and coffee grounds are also good fertilisers, and commercial soil and hydroponic fertilisers are readily available.
A lack of humidity in your house can result in leaves turning brown or dropping off and plants looking withered or crumpled. Increase the humidity for your plants by spraying mist on them daily or as often as required, placing a tray of water near your plants (but not under them) and placing plants close together.
Fruits, flowers, herbs and vegetables can all be grown indoors. The type of plants you choose will depend upon the conditions inside your home and your lifestyle. Lettuce, beans, peas, carrots and tomatoes are popular indoor vegetables. Basil, chives, parsley and mint are popular indoor herbs. Speak to your local nursery about which plants will suit your home's conditions and your lifestyle. Remember that your indoor garden can be as small and simple (herbs in the kitchen) or large and sophisticated (full vegie patch) as you like.
Rather than spend time, money and muscle buying pots for your indoor garden, think about what you already have around the house. An old casserole dish or tea pot with holes drilled in the bottom can make a great pot, as can jars, buckets, tin cans and drink containers. Provided there's enough drainage, just about any container will work.
A busy lifestyle and successful indoor garden might leave you with more herbs than you need. Easily preserve your herbs for use all year round by placing them in ice cube trays with water or olive oil and freezing them, or preserve them in jars of salt. Or swap them with a friend or neighbour who also has a veggie garden.
For a variety of reasons, including lifestyle and ethical choices, some people choose to eat a plant rich diet. To find out more visit the Better Health Channel.
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