How to grow a garden indoors or in a small space according to an expert

If you think everyone you know is suddenly obsessed with gardening, you’re not wrong. From WWII inspired modern-day Victory gardens, to raised garden beds and endless Instagram feeds filled with luscious tomatoes and all the greens in the world, gardening is everywhere lately. And it’s not just old-school gardeners getting into the act. People are spending time cultivating houseplants, fruit, vegetables, and wildflowers and finding a new level of comfort in their gardens. And it makes sense. 

After an initial panic about food sourcing, people started planting easy to maintain veggies and fruit. But this collective obsession with horticulture isn’t limited to food sourcing either. As more of us remain stuck at home and unable to hit the open roads for vacation, we’re finding comfort in growing green things in our yards. 

“I have seen an increased interest in ‘arms-reach’ herbs as those same people interested in growing food are cooking food,” said Hank Adams, CEO & Founder of Rise Gardens, an indoor hydroponic garden company. According to Adams “business has grown by 750% since the start of the lockdowns.” Additionally, Adams explained that “Sites like Tasty (gif-based recipe guides) encourage people to use fresh herbs in their meals. As education about food miles, climate change, and health & wellness increases, so do people’s attention to food sources.”

But what happens if you live in an apartment or small space and still want to grow green or yummy things? You can still garden, albeit on a more limited basis. A few years back I grew soybeans in my kitchen. I won’t pretend that there was a full crop, more like 4 edamame pods, but my satisfaction was limitless.

If you do plan on growing in a small space, consider limiting your choices to extremely easy to grow plants. Adams said the two main ingredients needed (after dirt and nutrients) are a light source and water. If you’re planting seeds, don’t get hung up on what your container looks like either, just choose something that holds dirt and has a drainage hole on the bottom, even an old bucket will work to grow tomatoes. Adams said “Tomatoes and peppers are our top sellers.  Followed by various greens and herbs.” Herbs are easy to grow and are happy living on windowsills (just beware of evil spider mites which are practically invisible to the eye but notorious killers of indoor herbs). If possible, choose a grow kit for your first go-round. Seed brand Burpee even has a curated Windowsill Herb Collection that takes the guesswork out of the process. 

And don’t panic that growing at home will be a full-time commitment. “I would say that for a successful garden, 50% of the hard work is just remembering to water your plants,” according to Adams. In fact, he goes so far as to say “I always say that the first step to starting a successful garden is killing a few plants. As far as commitment goes, you just need to stay on top of watering, and like any other care-based activity, make sure you pay attention and listen to what your plants are saying: If they change colors, it’s a nutrient issue; if they start to flop, it’s a water issue.”   

 

When will you see results? Adams said that it varies.  “On one end of the spectrum, microgreens are a 7-day crop and arugula is 14 days.  On the other, tomatoes take 90 days to ripen but they can produce for 3-4 months after that.”

Read the seeds (and pay attention to watering): Adams said “My best advice is to read the back of their seed package and understand every term on there. If you do that, you will get the best understanding of what the plant needs to succeed.” And make sure that with all that indoor air conditioning your plants don’t get parched. “Another good trick about watering is the finger test,” Adams explained. “A lot of people look at the top layer of soil to determine if they should water or not. This is somewhat misleading as the roots (the part of the plant that takes in water) don’t start for another 3-4 inches, depending on the size of the pot/plant. So, by sticking your finger into the soil and feeling for wetness, you can determine if you need to water or not.” 

Here’s what you’re doing wrong: Adams mentioned that “Light intensity can be a killer, as good grow lights can be expensive, so most people don’t get enough light as a function of expense.” Something else to keep in mind is the fact that “nutrient profiles vary from plant to plant, so when you are fertilizing, most people struggle with that very necessary chemistry / soil science knowledge. This can make a huge difference when growing fruiting plants, as things like pH play a huge factor in taste!” 

More effort, more carrots: And your newfound passion doesn’t have to be a solo effort. Adams said “The very best thing you can do when trying to be a successful gardener is getting your family involved. This can range from helping cut off dead leaves here and there to helping in the kitchen cooking, but when you invest emotionally in your plants, no matter the growth medium, you will see an increase in yield.”

What’s the deal with composting?  Did you know that “Gardening is one of the primary ways to benefit from composting, it adds a healthy consortium of rich nutrients that the produce needs to reach its max growth potential,” according to Mitch Sweeting, Media Manager for Bamboozle Homewares, who have composting containers that are stylish enough to keep on the kitchen counter.

But where do you start? For those of us who know nothing about composting, Sweeting said in in order to compost successfully, you need three components:

    • Brown material – this is made up of items like broken twigs, dead, leaves, tree branch clippings, etc.
    • Green material – this includes things like grass clippings, or fruit & vegetable scraps.
    • Water – a healthy compost pile needs a well-balanced level of moisture in order to further the composting process.

And maybe worms. Or is that an urban legend? “Worms can absolutely be a part of the composting process!” Sweeting said. “Worms eat through the food scraps, which help in turning into compost as it gets processed by their bodies. Over and above the use of worms cultivating a good bacterium in your compost can help create the best possible soil nutrition. We like to use an additive called Kenkashi which acts like a probiotic for your soil. By adding the best possible bacteria, we can reduce smell and keep valuable nitrogen in your compost.” 

In case you’re interested in learning more about composting, Bamboozle offers a beginner’s guide on their website.