How to master your indoor garden with growing systemsOct 31, 2023 02:43PM ● By Bryan Reed
Just because we’re putting the garden to bed doesn’t mean we have to stop gardening.
Thanks to technological advancements available to any home gardener, we can grow plants and produce indoors year round.
There are four main growing systems for gardening indoors: soil-based, hydroponics, aeroponics and aquaponics. While the size of these systems can vary, it’s advisable to stick with a system that fits your available space and level of expertise.
The easiest way to transition your garden indoors is to grow crops in soil-based pots.
Invest in quality potting soil from a local garden center. Cheap soil from the big box stores lacks the nutrients needed to keep plants full and happy. While it’s possible to use soil from your outdoor garden, you may introduce unwanted pests such as pill bugs and earwigs, so it’s best to stick with bagged soil.
Indoor plants and a variety of vegetables, including lettuce, kale, chard, carrot, mint, parsley and Asian greens, thrive in low-light conditions. Positioning the pots in front of a south-facing window sounds easy enough, however, most home windows have a UV coating that limits photosynthesis.
Gone are the days of expensive, energy-guzzling grow lights. Affordable full-spectrum LED options are now widely accessible. Many come equipped with dimmer controls, allowing you to adjust the light intensity to suit different plant varieties. Some even have built-in timers that recreate summer daylengths so you can grow tomatoes, peppers and flowers entirely indoors.
Container plants deplete nutrients in a matter of weeks, so be sure to replenish the soil with compost (particularly worm compost) on a regular basis. After two or three months of growing, consider applying liquid fertilizer, as it is more easily absorbed by the plant’s roots.
Hydroponic gardening is the technique of growing plants using a water-based nutrient solution rather than soil. Plants generally grow faster and take up less space because they can be grown closer together.
Opting for a hydroponic kit is generally the most budget-friendly choice. Each kit includes its own pump, which periodically supplies water and nutrients to plants before draining into a reservoir to be used again later, so plant roots remain consistently moist without becoming oversaturated.
Kits are available in various sizes. Some are designed for cultivating small vegetable plants, culinary herbs or cut flowers, while larger bucket systems are ideal for growing crops like cucumbers or strawberries. For even greater efficiency, vertical rain tower systems can significantly increase your output by allowing you to stack plants three or four rows high.
Aeroponics is another soilless growing method where a plant’s roots are suspended in the air, and nutrients are delivered as a mist or fine spray. Because the roots are exposed to oxygen and the delivery of nutrients is so targeted, this generally results in faster-growing plants and bigger yields.
Aquaponics is the most creative approach to indoor gardening, as it combines raising fish along with your plants. The exchange is simple: Fish waste in the water provides nutrients for the plants, while the plants purify the water for the fish.
Most aquaponic systems are larger in size because they involve separate tanks for the plants and for the fish. You can start a small aquaponics system with goldfish, then adapt it for a larger fish that can be eaten, such as tilapia or catfish.
EXPERT TIP: Like most of my gardening supplies, I exclusively buy grow lighting from local suppliers. Online retailers not only struggle to effectively explain the distinctions in light features, they’re also not good at helping you troubleshoot once you get your system going.
TRY THIS: For a fun indoor growing project, try a mushroom kit in a box. Nothing beats cutting off some fresh oyster or lion’s mane mushrooms and then watching them grow back again.
Send your gardening questions to Bryan in care of the BEACON, or email him at [email protected]