Like the idea of some fresh herbs, perhaps some carrot and even a few cherry tomatoes to toss into a freshly served salad with your very own homegrown microgreens?
It’s all possible and there’s no sunlight needed. That’s no joke, by the way. Sunlight can be replicated and that’s all you need to do to grow herbs and vegetables indoors, without relying on any sunlight.
In fact, for a while now, because grow lights have advanced over the years, many kitchen windowsill gardeners are switching their growing techniques because with the right light requirements met, fresh herbs and veggies can be grown year-round, inside. Without using grow lights, you’d be reliant on sunlight, which would slow down the rate you can harvest your produce.
Edible plants grown on a windowsill would mean you’d be limited to growing different types of plants based on the season, meaning you could have basil at the start of the year and perhaps some cherry tomatoes by spring. Not all types year round.
The type of plants grown indoors vary, so when it comes to the edible variety, seasonal produce is the problem. Being able to replicate that to grow what you like, when you like, so you can prepare fresh dishes the whole family likes is the reason why you’ll want to be growing under grow lights and not on your kitchen windowsill.
Windowsill gardening is so last century. It’s the type of growing your Granny would have done. No need these days, because we have access to full spectrum lighting and grow tents, both of which combine to give us the perfect combination for a small, compact and efficient grow space for fresh produce, only requiring a small corner of your room.
Of course, you’ll need plant pots too and some seeds to get growing. What you don’t want to do (although you can with some root vegetables and herbs) is grow from an existing plant and that’s for two reasons:
- When you bring plants in from outdoors, there’s a chance insects have gotten to them. If that happens, it can ruin your entire crops.
- It’s harder for plants to adapt from outdoor conditions to indoors. It’s best to start plant life the way they’ll go on. Indoors, in a grow tent, under artificial lighting.
How to Start Your Own Herb and Vegetable Tower Garden Indoors with No Sunlight Required
Here’s what you’ll need:
Individual Plant Pots
For each type of seed/plant you’ll be growing, use a separate planting pot. You don’t want to grow a bunch of the same type in the same pot. That’s going to suffocate the roots and slow down their growth rate. For every vegetable and herb you plan to grow, grow them in separate plant pots.
A good tip is to start with a larger pot than you think you’ll need because the more oxygen can surround the plants roots, the better (and faster) it’ll grow.
T5 fluorescent grow lights do well for small indoor vegetable and herb gardens. These are ideal for small to medium sized grow tents used in your home.
If you plan on harvesting a lot more produce than your family can consume, perhaps by selling some at your local markets, a larger space and HID (High Intensity Discharge) grow lamps would be better suited.
A Grow Tent
For this, you have options. As each of your plants needs space between them, it’s no surprise that people tend to go for the larger grow tents. That’s not always the best solution.
An additional benefit to most grow tents is the inside is lined with a reflective material to bounce the light around evenly and control temperature better.
Why would you want a smaller grow tent?
With two small tents, you can grow both short-day plants and long-day plants. When you’re growing in a grow tent, all the plants get the same amount of light at the same intensity. Herbs only need four hours of sunlight per day, but vegetables will need six hours sunlight each day.
For full spectrum grow lights, the number of light hours needed is higher. Generally, 12 to 16 hours per day under full spectrum lighting. In all cases, they’ll need at least 8 hours of darkness, otherwise the rate and effectiveness of the photosynthesis stage will be affected. Vegetables will need light for longer than herbs.
With two smaller sized grow tents, you can use one for all the herbs you want to grow and the other for your vegetables.
Once you have those, all you need are quality seeds to get the growing started.
Here’s the Scoop on How to Grow Your Own Veggies and Herbs Under Artificial Light
1 – Ensure Proper Light Placement
For both your herbs and vegetables, the grow lamp should be placed about an inch over the plant to start with. Keep an eye on them though because even at that it could be too close.
What to look for is browning along the leaves once they begin growing. Brown leaves would indicate it’s too close so producing too much heat causing it to burn the plant. In that case, simply raise the light by about half inch increments until the browning stops. Generally, an inch is sufficient space though so start with that.
2 – Give Them Plenty of Space to Grow
The spacing between your plants is equally as important as the light beaming down on them. For a handy reference, there’s a chart at WyevalGardenCentres.co.uk showing the ideal spacing of various crops.
The largest spacing is for potatoes needing up to 28″ between each. Leeks and carrots can be grown with just 12″ spacing. Lettuce and other leafy greens will fare better with about 6″ between pots.
Once you have your grow tent set up and the spacing requirements sorted, then it’s just a case of getting your seeds into the pots ready to place in your grow tent. For that, you’ll need a quality soil suited to water thirsty plants, which both herbs and root vegetables are.
The best potting soil for home grown vegetables and herbs are those with vermiculite as that added element will increase water and nutrient retention, help to aerate the soil, getting you more resilient plants. A substitute to vermiculite is to use a soil with perlite, which also increases plant hydration but is less aerating for the soil than a potting mix with vermiculite.
3 – Water Your Herbs and Vegetables
A rule to follow with homegrown herbs and vegetables indoors is to let the soil dry before watering. How fast or slow they go through the water will be determined by the temperature they’re grown at. Generally, 60-70 oF is an ideal temperature. You can use a moisture meter to check the plant’s water content before adding water, or go with your sense of touch. If it feels dry, water it. What to watch for is the leaves of the plants turning a yellow color as that’s indicative of over-watering. Do that for too long and the roots will rot.
4 – Use the Best Fertilizer for Better Growth
As with most house plants, they grow better with the help of fertilizers. Since these are edible plants, it makes sense you’ll want to go the organic route. It’s the only way to know you’re getting the healthiest ingredients you can get.
The fertilizer of choice for veggies and herbs grown indoors is fish emulsion. You can make it yourself or just buy some readymade and dilute it as per the instructions on the label. They’ll differ by brand.
The reason for using fish emulsion as a fertilizer for fresh edible plants is because it’s got a higher amount of nitrogen. It’s by far the most important nutrient of everything a plant needs to grow. The problem, even for outdoor plants, is they can’t extract nitrogen from the air. It needs to be in nitrate form for the plant to absorb it and that’s what fertilizers do.
To Sum Things Up
Vegetables and herbs can be grown indoors in two ways: on the windowsill using direct sunlight, or under grow lights. Fluorescent grow lights with a cooler t5 bulb are sufficient for small to medium sized grow tents.
Using a grow tent is the simplest way to grow your herbs and vegetables as it keeps everything under the same bulbs, and equalizes the light intensity, temperature and humidity levels for all plants to get the same amount of each.
With the grow area and lighting taken care of, it’s the potting soil to choose that’s next up. A solution for better water and nutrient retention as well as soil aeration to keep the roots healthy is a potting soil mix with vermiculite. If you can’t get that, perlite is the next best thing to have in the soil just to help with water retention. It won’t assist in the soil aeration though.
Pot your plants separate, sit them in the grow tent with a reasonable amount of spacing then all you have to do is water and fertilize them. Watering is best left until the soil’s completely dry and fertilizer is best added twice weekly using fish emulsion as that has the highest nitrogen levels, which will serve to boost the growth rate of your produce, providing faster and stronger growth of healthier plants.