How to grow fruit and veg indoors, for those of us who don’t have gardens

Written by Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

If you think your allotment dreams are over because you don’t have any outdoor space, think again. Here, Stylist’s Kayleigh Dray speaks to gardening experts Andrew and Christopher O’Donoghue, the co-directors of Gardens Revived, for their tips and advice on how to grow fruit and vegetables indoors.

Judging by the flurry of hashtags on Twitter, one thing is clear: Crazy Plant Ladies are the new Crazy Cat Ladies.

It’s easy to see why, of course. Countless studies have found that the mental health benefits of gardening are extensive: not only can regular gardening reduce mental health problems like depression and anxiety, but it can also reduce stress and combat high blood pressure, as well as improving overall physical fitness. No wonder so many millennials have rated it as one of their top five leisure activities, eh?

However, while a third of us are now adept at growing our own food, many of us aren’t blessed with gardens or balconies to turn into our own little fruit and vegetable plots – no matter how much we may want to showcase our green fingers. 

Nowadays, though, anything is possible – even growing fruit and vegetables indoors.

I sat down with Andrew and Christopher O’Donoghue, the co-directors of Gardens Revived, to get their tips and advice on creating an indoor garden. And, with a combined 18 years of experience under their belts, they had plenty to give me…

Which vegetables are best for growing indoors?

I recommend tomatoes (technically a fruit) , lettuce, arugula, kale, scallions, and ginger – which looks cool too! Chillies are great for spicing food and also the vibrant red really helps to add some colour to a room.

Can I grow fruit indoors, too?

Yes! Lemons and limes are good to grow indoors, and the leaves give off a citrus smell which can be very calming. These are best to buy as shrubs but they can be done from seed, too: it will just take some time! Apricots, peaches and figs are also good options, with figs being relatively easy to grow, too.

What are microgreens? And can I grow microgreens indoors?

A good way to imagine microgreens is to think of them as baby plants, although this admittedly sounds kind of horrific when you think about eating them later. Basil, watercress, dill, kale, mint and cabbage are all examples of microgreens. And, yes, you can grow these quickly and easily indoors but they will definitely need to be put in a spot with lots of bright light.

How much space do I need for an indoor garden?

This really depends on what you want to grow. Tomatoes, while not too space-demanding horizontally, require height and a cane for support. And you could have an olive tree but it would require a very deep pot and a lot of space, as the recommendation is that you don’t prune them until they are at least around 50 years old.

What temperature should my indoor garden be?

Somewhere around 15 to 22 degrees celsius is about right for most indoor garden plants, although younger plants may need to be kept a little warmer. It’s best to be careful and monitor your plant babies regularly: if they get too hot, they will dry out. if they get too cold, though, their growth will be stunted and the water in the soil will sit for longer in the pot, potentially causing issues later on.

What is the best time of year to set up my indoor garden?

With enough light and warmth, you can grow fruit and vegetables all year round indoors. However, plants must be watered diligently in the winter because air can get very dry thanks to radiators and indoor heating. Check the soil and, if it feels dry to the touch, add some water.

What equipment do I need for my indoor garden?

A basic starter set would be:

  • A trowel
  • A watering can with a fine rose spray (softens the velocity that the water comes out of the spout of the can)
  • Good soil (see below for further advice)
  • A selection of pots of varying sizes. Ideally, these should have holes in the bottom for drainage.
  • Some seeds

Some other things you could consider:

  • A pair of gardening gloves, if you’re so inclined (you might prefer to get your hands dirty, though, like Chris!)
  • A tray for the pots so when you water them the water drains into the tray.
  • Plant feed (as these plants are in pots they will require additional nutrients).
  • A plastic sheet to protect the floor when using soil.

What kind of soil do my indoor fruit and vegetables need?

Again, it usually depends on what you’re growing: most garden centres provide a variety of soils for different plants.However, Chris recommends John Innes Seed Compost if you are growing from seeds, and John Innes Compost Number 2 for when the plants have sprouted.

How do I pot my indoor fruit and vegetables?

Make sure the pot isn’t too big or small for the plant as this can affect the health and growth of the plant. Fill the pot up to roughly one third and then place the plant in the centre. Gently introduce soil around the outside of the plant up until there is slight gap at the top so when you water your plant it doesn’t spill out of the pot. Finally, make sure that the soil is gently pressed around the plant so that it helps to hold it in place. Chris also recommends to gently tap the pot on the table to help compact and settle the soil.

If potting up from seedlings, avoid handling the stem and try to lift or manoeuvre the plant from the leaf.

Where should I put my indoor fruit and veg?

It really does depend on what you’re growing, but it will almost certainly need to be near/next to a window or anywhere in direct sunlight.

How much sunshine do fruit and vegetables need to grow indoors?

5 hours a day would be ideal. However, some plants, like tomatoes and chillies, love as much as they can get!

Ditto water?

Enough so that the soil is slightly damp. Some plants will drink the water faster than others so you may need to take note on how much it will need. Be careful when watering, we would recommend if your not sure it’s better to underwater than overwater: you can always add more but you can’t take away.

Will I need supplemental lighting?

It depends on what you are growing and how much sunlight you have available. If you can guarantee a good five hours of sunlight then you should be okay but it can’t hurt to have it and their are some relatively cheap ones out there.

When should I harvest my indoor garden?

It depends on what you’re growing! Most veg/fruit will have formed into a recognisable shape and colour.

Is it easier to grow my own indoor herb garden?

Yes! Herbs are much easier to grow than fruit and veg and also easier for beginners.

Why is it a good idea to grow your own fruit and veg?

It gives a great sense of achievement once you finally harvest your well earned fruit and veg! It’s fun to grow different plants depending on the time of year. It can also be cheaper than purchasing from the shops.

What is your advice for someone who says they don’t have green fingers (or, y’know, has so far killed every single plant they’ve brought into their home)?

Don’t give up! Start with something simple such as herbs and with practice you’ll know how to read plants. So long as you plant them correctly and water them carefully, you’ll do great.

And one more tip, for avid amateur gardeners:

How to plant your plant

Well, according to How To Grow’s Hollie Newton, it’s pretty simple.

“Water your seedling with the fine spray of a watering can while it’s still in his multi-celled tray or plastic pot. then ‘pop’ it out by pushing your thumbs up underneath,” she tells Stylist. “If that doesn’t work, a quick sharp tap with a trowel while holding the pot upside down should do the trick. Loosen your seedling’s roots by teasing them out of their soil ball, then dig a hole in the soil, slightly larger than the pot he came in, and tuck your plant in, roots down. Fill the hole back in, firming the soil to ensure he doesn’t wobble. Then it’s one last water for luck.”    

You can find an extensive guide to growing specific fruit and vegetables here.

Please note that this article was originally published in 2019.

Images: Mikołaj Idziak on Unsplash/Getty

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