By David Wall, Mount Pleasant Master Gardener
What? Are you crazy? Who ever heard of trying to grow a cucumber, pepper, tomato plant, etc., inside a home. Well, until coming to Mt Pleasant, TX nearly 20 years ago, I sure hadn’t. As it turns out, there are several advantages to indoor gardening. I’m not talking about a 300 plant indoor garden, but for a family, perhaps one each tomato, pepper, cucumber, melon, etc., plant would suffice. Let’s just say 4 plants total.
Outdoor gardens, for most, are the way to go. Plenty of sunshine, air, space, etc., are available. Of course, there are the usual tornados, hail storms, drought, unbearable heat, diseases, bugs, snails, locust plagues (OK, that one might be a stretch!), WEEDS(!) and so on problems. OK, the first outdoor advantage above was sunshine. I’ll admit that having a room that provides
six hours of direct sunlight is difficult to find. One expert gardener and construction person in our area had an indoor beehive in his home (Yes, his wife is still married to him!) and added an extra room to the home that had glass walls and roof! The hive is gone, but the indoor garden room is still there. There are, however, what we call fluorescent or LED grow lights that can be hung directly over your vegetable plants. A combination of two or three will, as far as a plant is concerned, be just like sunlight. More on this later.
Obviously, we need containers for our 3-4 vegetable plants. 5-gallon containers are usually considered the absolute minimum, but in the case of say a cherry tomato plant, something like an 8” deep 8’ X 14’ container would suffice, but the bigger, the better on up to a cattle feeder pot (circular 21” X 21”) is MUCH better.
Soil is critical, so what to put in the container? In most instances, a single soil type just doesn’t do that well. You could have a mixture of potting soil, gardening soil, mulch, and compost, but for me, that starts to get complicated. I would use inside what I use outside, which is pure compost with a pH of 5.5-6.5. This mixture voids the need for fertilizer for at least two years. Well, we start a small indoor garden, which voids the outdoor problem areas. So, what are some advantages? First, we have disease free soil. Yes, we paid $5-$15 for our soil, but it’s germ and disease free. Even if you have disease free soil outside, plant roots can always go deeper and find some diseases or pests. Along with disease-free soil, you get disease-free plants. OK, we agree that new vegetable plants are usually disease-free, but indoor plants will stay that way for the entire season.
After soil comes sunlight. With adequate “sunlight,” you never have to worry and multiple cloudy days. The most important aspect here is light quality. Incandescent light bulbs can mimic sunlight, but they normally generate too much heat for your plants. LED (best) and fluorescent lights can mimic sunlight without the heat. Blue lights provide seedling and plant growth light, while red lights aid flower development. Contact your hardware store’s lighting department for which bulbs are the best.
The third biggie for indoor vegetable plants is climate control. You have no 100° days to stop all tomato production and no 75+ days without rain. There is no hail, wind, etc., which cause so many problems. If your house humidity to really low, you can simply add a humidifier. A ceiling fan (best) or room fan can provide gently breezes for your plants to aid in pollination, cooling and aid in mold/fungus prevention. Also, plant movement strengthens the plant stem. Extra watering is important for indoor vegetable plants, because they tend to dry out faster indoors due to lower humidity.
Now that the big three (sunlight, soil, & climate control) are taken care of your vegetable plants can now grow and produce all year long, including right on through winter! Yes, you had to pay for a more elaborate setup, but remember, one plant each will continually provide enough tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, etc., for the family.
You don’t have to tear up the back yard top put in the larger garden. The fact that your yard soil is poor, or the children’s playground would be impacted is negated. Land is no longer a requirement. Access problems for those with limited mobility are eliminated. Last, but certainly not last, THERE ARE NO WEEDS!!!