An indoor experiment: vegetable gardening gone mad
I wrote this article a while ago when I thought I'd give growing vegetables
indoor a try. It was bizarre, unnatural and it didn't really work. Some
people may not think the experiment was that odd. After all you might
always sow your tomatoes and other vegetables indoors in winter before
transferring them out in spring to your garden. But this experiment was
about growing vegetables totally indoors. No garden and no direct sunlight.
Couldn't be done? You're right... it can't, but read on if you want to
find out more about this dismal experiment.
Why was I crazy enough to do this for starters? It was all about adding
something different to the office environment. Usually all you see indoors
in offices are bland boring indoor plants. Why can't you have something
that's interesting and a talking point (after all Peter and Trevor in
the office at the time had a massive collection of snow domes and a mountain
of Coke cans respectively).
But it wouldn't work I hear you say. Vegetables need at least 6 hours
direct sunlight a day to get anywhere. True. But I thought surely there
must be some specific varieties of vegies that can grow under reasonably
low light conditions. I posed this question to the rec.gardens.edible
newsgroup on 12 March '98. I was surprised to actually get some responses
back. Understandably most of the responses recommended mushrooms. I know
I did say "low light environment" but I didn't expect people
to take that too literally. And anyway, I didn't particularly like the
taste of mushrooms at the time. Another suggestion was bean sprouts (a
bit boring). It wasn't until Pat Kiewicz's suggestion that I started to
think this might work:
"You can grow sprouts of all kinds (broccoli and other crucifers
being both trendy and nutrient-packed) without lighting. You can also
get kits for various kinds of mushrooms. (Be advised, fungus gnats can
easily and overwhelmingly infest indoor mushrooms kits...)
Of the vegetables I *start* indoors, the ones that do best with just
window-light are leeks. Though I don't think growing full-sized leeks
in on a window-sill would be very practical, you might be able to keep
a nice pot of chives happy there."
I also received another suggestion:
"I have a 4 ft-high potted lime tree in a sunny bay in my living
room (where light-filtering shades are hardly ever raised) that bears
fruit. It currently has 9 baby limes and is still blooming.
Vegetable possibilities include greens that require darkness for blanching,
such as, Belgian endive and ones that are eaten very young such as, curly
cress. You could also grow mesclun with inexpensive lighting (around here
(Washington, DC) one can buy fluorescent light fixtures, that are ready
to use, for about $10. I've used them to grow seedlings indoors to transplant
size for years.) You could also grow a variety of sprouts: bean, alfalfa,
and the newest fad here in the US: broccoli. Good luck."
I did a search on the web for information about growing vegetables indoors.
I wasn't finding much. Lots of information about starting tomatoes and
other vegies indoors in winter and also a bloke flogging off his book
on the net. I then stumbled on an article titled "Container Gardening
Indoors" produced as part of the Michigan State University's extension
course. It was a gift from heaven. I read through the information again
and again and thought "Yes I can do this".
I bought a lovely new fake terracotta plastic elongated pot and some
perlite and vermiculture from the nursery. The article recommended a one
third mix each of potting mix, perlite and vermiculture. When I started
pouring out the perlite and vermiculture I thought this couldn't be right.
They'd be hardly enough potting mix for the vegies. So I strayed from
the formula a little. Instead I mixed the proportions to one quarter each
of perlite and vermiculture and the remaining half potting mix. I also
churned a bit of homemade compost to help give the seeds a bit of a kick.
On Sunday, 15 March I sowed a drill of Royal Oakleaf and Rouge d'Hiver
Indoor vegetable gardening: could it be done?
By Thursday, 19 March tiny seedlings had sprouted up. Although they turned
out to be tomato seeds in the compost. These seedlings didn't perform
well under the light conditions. By Tuesday, 1st April I had a bunch of
collapsed tomato seedlings and still no sign of a lettuce seedling, so
I decided to cheat a little. I brought into the office some Rouge d'Hiver
seedlings that I'd been growing in full sun at home and transplanted them.
They too were a terrible failure. They started well but then started growing
strangely. Instead of producing broad lettuce leaves they were extremely
elongated. And given time, even with regular watering, they withered and
So the experiement was going in the direction I initially thought...
failure. But I kept trying. On Friday, 5th June I sowed two drills. I
mixed together baby carrot and radish seeds. By Tuesday, 9th July the
radishes had sprouted and were growing reasonably strong. I got plenty
of leaves but the radishes don't want to form a globular root.
Theoretically (according to my research) you can also grow mini cabbages,
broccoli and either capsicums (bell peppers) or cherry tomatoes. The other
day I found in an old edition of the American magazine "Organic Gardening"
an article about growing capsicums inside. It was oriented toward growers
who toward the end of autumn (fall) should transplant their capsicums
from their garden into pots and bring them inside over winter. The article
discusses that you can still get fruits by hand pollinating. It also discussed
transplanting them back outside in spring. I don't see why they can't
continue growing indoors.
As my experiment was such a total failure I ended up moving the pot to
a window sill and planting some cherry tomato seeds. Surprise surprise,
but once I'd added light into the equation they kept growing and growing.
And the tomatoes were very tasty! Of course then the office I was working
in moved and whilst I got a new window, it didn't get near enough sunlight.
But if you've also tried growing vegetables indoors and it actually worked
out please e-mail me,
I'd love to know what you did!
23 October, 2008
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