Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Starting a Kitchen Garden Indoors

I'm hoping to start an indoor kitchen garden, but of course my options -- like my space -- are limited. I'm thinking of growing a range of herbs in a pebble garden, as well as a Meyer lemon tree, and maybe a fig tree, though I've heard those aren't fruit-bearing when grown indoors. Any other suggestions for hardy indoor plants that can be put to use in the kitchen?

The room only has one window, in a corner, facing West. Not the best situation, but I was thinking of supplementing the natural light with a fluorescent bulb. The living room has better light, but there's a cat out there that'll apparently eat herbs, so unless I can figure out a way to build a shelf halfway up the window frame, it looks like I'm going to be gardening in my bedroom.

Answer (for now):
Given your limited space and light I would suggest starting your indoor kitchen garden in stages. This way you can begin with a few options that are typically easy and reliable, see how those plants fare, and then move on and branch out from there. Quickly before I forget, large fruit bearing trees can be a real challenge to grow indoors and yes, getting them to fruit properly can be extremely difficult. They need greater variation between daytime and nighttime temperatures, some seasonal temperature fluctuation as well, good airflow and circulation, and much more sunlight. I am sorry to say, but a few windows in an apartment that stays a constant 70-something degrees throughout the year is not going to be the easiest or best environment.

So, let’s talk about things that work. I have a close friend and coworker who grows a ton of herbs in her apartment in Brooklyn, specifically in an East-facing window. Every year she enjoys growing from seed or propagating from cuttings basil, cilantro, parsley and dill. When I asked her opinion she also mentioned that she enjoyed growing sweet marjoram a few times, and can keep rosemary going pretty if it is already a decent size. Depending on your level of patience you can try starting seed or you will be able to find all of these in small pots for cheap at the Farmer’s Market in Union Square (open Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays). If you opt for starting the seeds yourself, sow them as the packets suggest, water the seeds and soil well, and then cover your pots with Saran Wrap, or some such equivalent. This will seal in moisture and humidity for the period of time it takes for the seeds to germinate – essentially creating a mini greenhouse in each pot. After a few days or a week you can poke some holes in the Saran Wrap to slowly begin acclimating the seedlings to your much drier apartment. When the seedlings reach the Saran Wrap you can remove it, keep the seedlings moist on a regular basis, and perhaps the occasional misting with a fine spray bottle. Avoid direct exposure to A/C or any other strong wind source that might dry out the fragile new foliage before it matures and hardens off.

Let me know if this is helpful and any other questions you may have. Fruits and veggies will be harder to do in your conditions, but if and when you feel like taking on that challenge we can definitely help with both library references and personal testimonials.

1 comment:

  1. All great suggestions for growing an indoor herb garden. Lighting should be addressed, though. A western window can have harsh sunlight, so watch for foliage burn and that the seedlings don't dry out too quickly. Also, if you are going to use supplemental light, see that it's full-spectrum lighting which comes in screw-in bulbs and tubes. I cover lighting in more detail in my book, Indoor Gardening the Organic Way.