Growing vegetables indoors for beginners
With indoor living space usually at a premium, no one really wants to grow plants indoors without a good reason. Those reasons might be aesthetic: growing nice-looking plants or flowers, or they may be functional: growing plants that improve the air quality within the home. However, these days more and more often the main reason for wanting to grow plants indoors is to join the growing ranks of the 'grow your own food' movement.
Growing indoors however is not as easy as it may at first appear. A bit of planning is required and a number of questions need to be answered before embarking on the growing process. Two of the most important questions to answer before starting any indoor garden are: What growing technologies should we use and what vegetables will grow successfully?
There are several ways to go about growing plants indoors with several technological options available including various forms of hydroponics, aquaponics, and aeroponics. One of the best ways to grow vegetables indoors as a beginner is to use hydroponics, and more specifically, a version of hydroponics loosely known as 'Kratky hydroponics'. The Kratky hydroponics technique is becoming increasingly popular as it is simple and low in cost, but not all vegetable plants can be grown in this system successfully. Further down the page you will find some of our grow diary experiments of growing various vegetable plants indoors using the Kratky hydroponics system, but first let's take a look at what it takes to setup and start your own indoor vegetable garden as a beginner.
There are a number of points to take into consideration before starting to grow vegetables indoors. These include:
Once you have made the decisions of location, growing equipment, and the type of vegetables to grow, it is then time to gather the equipment together and start your seedlings.
Easiest vegetables to grow hydroponically
As a general rule of thumb, if a vegetable can be grown using traditional soil-based methods, then it can almost certainly be grown hydroponically. However, each type of vegetable plant has its own needs and requirements for it to produce a healthy and ample crop, and it is usually a matter of just adjusting the hydroponic conditions to suit the needs of the vegetable plant in question to get the maximum yield.
We have personally experimented with growing a number of different vegetable plants in our conservatory using the Kratky system of hydroponics. These include herbs, salad greens and some fruiting plants, all of which grew admirably. However, we have also experimented with plants which usually produce larger vegetables even though the Kratky system is not the ideal system to use, but providing valuable information on how well they grow using hydroponics. In general, flowering and fruiting vegetable plants need recirculating-hydroponic or similar systems, mainly because of their relatively large water / media volume requirements. Unfortunately, the non-recirculating Kratky system with its fixed nutrient media volumes prevents many of the fruiting vegetable plants from running their life cycle to completion as the nutrient media tends to run out before they can reach their full fruiting stage. However, as you will see from the grow diaries below, many of the vegetable plants grew very well in a hydroponics system, and they give a good indication of how well they will grow in a more appropriate hydroponic system where the media volume can be continuously topped up and/or adjusted until the vegetables are ready to be harvested.
Herbs & Salad Greens
So far the easiest 'vegetables' to grow hydroponically have been the herbs and salad greens - strictly speaking they are not the first plants that come to mind when talking about vegetables, but they do fall into the same food category. The main reasons for their ease of growth and ease with which you can get positive results with them are:
The Rocket plants grew very well in the 10L bucket Kratky hydroponics system and produced an abundant yield of leaves for several salads over the course of 3 months (note that the picture shows the plants AFTER having harvested leaves from them on several occasions).
The test grow was stopped when the plants began to bolt and produce flowers. Bolting may have been due to several reasons including plant age, longer days, or even natural changes to the nutrient media.
Although the rocket grew well, the 10L bucket system was not ideal for rocket, which is likely to be more efficiently grown in flatter, lower depth containers, where a greater surface area on top permits the growth of more plants per container.
Kale plants grew very successfully in the 10L Kratky hydroponics system. However, after about 2 months, the media was almost devoid of nutrients and the plants began to slow in growth and look decidedly less healthy. Had the nutrient volume or the concentration been higher, the plants probably could have continued growing for longer.
NB: leaves were continually harvested from the plants for tasting throughout the 2 months of growth so the picture to the right is actually an under-representation of total growth.
Spinach 'Perpetual' grew very successfully in the 10L Kratky hydroponics system. However, as with the Kale discussed above, the plants sucked up the nutrients from the media at a much higher rate than other plants tested in this hydroponics system (this may explain why Kale and Spinach are regarded as 'super-foods' and why they are packed with nutrients!?). As a result, the test grow ended only after about 2 months as the nutrient media became exhausted.
Once again, note that the picture to the right does not represent total growth of the plant as leaves were continually picked from the plant for tasting throughout its growth.
After herbs, we have found the next easiest hydroponic vegetables to grow are 'hot' peppers. This is probably due to the fact that pepper plants are relatively hardy, the fruit are relatively small when they are ready to be harvested, and the flowers and fruit are plentiful in a fully-grown plant.
Jalapeno Hot Pepper plants grew well in the 10L bucket Kratky hydroponics system using Aqua Vega nutrients, however, 10L is too small a volume for the Jalapeno plant to produce a good yield of hot peppers. In fact, in this test grow the plants were kept alive and producing hot peppers beyond the point where the nutrient media ran out, by adding small amounts of new media on a daily basis - not something you would want to do for any sizeable growing setup.
Even with these sub-optimal conditions, the Jalapeno plants produced a good yield of hot peppers from this Kratky hydroponics system.