Indoor vegetable gardening

(Question)

I just moved to the heart of the downtown Toronto core and felt like my apartment could use some greenery. I haven’t grown many things before – I managed to keep a peace lily alive for a few years, so am very beginner.

I’m very interested in growing some vegetables indoors. I’ve heard peas are easy to grow, and cucumbers and zucchinis. My family used to grow our tomatoes for some time. I am not sure what this would involve i.e. what would be a good beginner plant?
how much I should budget?
what would I need?
where would I get this preferably in the downtown core?

(Answer)

 

Welcome to Toronto. To start an indoor vegetable garden is an ambitious but very rewarding undertaking.

The key is to create in your apartemnt a special micro-climate zone in which your vegetables can thrive. Unlike houseplants, vegetables are fast growers and need plenty of sun, water, and nutrients. In addtion, they will want hospitable temperatures, good air circulation and be free from drying drafts in the winter. Therefore choose the location in your apartment wisely.

In order to provide adequate light for your vegetables year-round, unless you have a sun room or a large south-facing window, your best bet may be to set up a grow light. There are many different indoor grow light systems on the market, from tiny to room-sized, simple to complex, and some are quite reasonably priced. If you wish to save money, you can improvise your own using fluorescent shop lights. Support or hang the light source 2-4 inches above the seedlings, 6-12 inches above the growing vegetables, or as close as possible without burning them, and adjust the height accordingly as your vegetables grow. Different plants have different light requirements; generally, seedlings need 12-16 hours of light per day, while maturing plants need 10-12 hours. They also need a period of darkness daily in order to grow properly. This is where a timer will come in handy.

Any container with adequate drainage can be used to hold your vegetables. Fill them with sterilzed, soiless potting mix with good drainage and adequate organic content to hold nutrients; do not use regular garden soil as it is too heavy. Pre-bagged potting mix is fine. Water regularly and consistently. For seedlings, you may want to use a mister or anything that provides a gentler flow of water. In between watering, test the soil with your fingers to make sure it is not too dry or too wet–both can kill the plants. Remember to fertilize regularly with a water-soluable balanced fertilizer (check packaging for instructions).

As for which vegetables to grow, many first-time vegetable gardeners start with salad greens, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers and chili peppers. Also consider herbs like basil, parsley, chive or mint. While you can buy starter vegetables almost anywhere these days, in corner stores and local supermarkets, it is still most economical to start from seed. You get a greater variety and the seed packaging provides valuable information on the cultural requirements and characteristics of the vegetable in question.

An alternative to growing your vegetables in soil is hypodronics. This is a specialized system that requires further research before you make the decision to invest in it.

There are many reputable garden centres in downtown Toronto whose staff should be able to further advise you on how to set up an indoor vegetable growing system that is right for you, and provide you with the necessary materials to get started. Have fun and good luck!