Yes, you can grow vegetables indoors. I have grown a variety of vegetables and herbs including lettuces, arugula, spinach, kale, carrots, radishes, beet greens, tomatoes and more. Best of all, I grow these indoor foods just using normal shop lights and no other special equipment.
Most of the recommended indoor food plants can be started from seed using these step-by-step instructions.
Indoor Food Growing For Beginners
I had no idea you could grow vegetables indoors in your home until one year when spring was late. My indoor pea seedlings kept growing anyways, forming vines around my grow light shelves, and eventually flowering and producing pea pods. Amazing!
Until then, I would have never thought it was possible.
Since then I have grown dozens of different vegetables, herbs, and some fruits in my house without any special equipment beyond shop lights.
And (bonus) it doesn’t require any more space than houseplants so it’s totally do-able in apartments or the corner of a living room.
But, while you can grow many things, we have to manage our expectations. Some veggies are simple, others are challenging or impossible.
Start with the Easy Ones
Cool-tolerant leafy salad greens like spinach, kale, or arugula grow quickly (4 to 6 weeks) and easily in compact spaces. They are reliable and easy to do.
Slow growing foods like tomatoes must flower and fruit and require more space and optimum conditions over a longer period of time to reach harvest. For these, warmer temperatures and CMH lights (ceramic metal halide) are a better choice although I have managed to ripen tomatoes at my east-facing window too.
Producing a giant cabbage or ear of corn would be an indoor garden feat so don’t believe the crazy claims you read online.
To get started, I’ll show you the basics, list which seeds to try, and show you my low-cost setup.
Indoor food growing is a really fun way to experiment with plants and enjoy some of the best salad greens ever, perhaps with a few cherry tomatoes on top.
What vegetables can be grown indoors?
I’ll show you what I have had success with:
Recommended temperature: 60°F/15°C
- Broccoli (stalks, greens only)
- Brussels sprouts (stalks, greens only)
- Carrots (tiny but sweet)
- Leafy greens (not head lettuces)
- Mache (corn salad)
- Microgreens (edible seedlings)
- Mustard greens
- Swiss chard
Recommended temperature: 70°F/20°C
Related: How to Grow Peas Indoors
Recommended temperature: 70°F/20°C
- Citrus trees | Dwarf varieties (start with a grafted tree)
I have not tried growing strawberries or peppers indoors but I have seen others succeed at it.
Cucumbers are another option for advanced / patient growers.
What supplies do I need to grow food indoors?
Here are things to consider with indoor growing:
- Light – low-medium to high depending on what you’re growing
- Growing medium – organic potting mix for veggies
- Containers with drainage holes
- Humidity and Water
- Air circulation – to prevent mold and fungus, assist pollination
- Temperature – 60°F/15°C or 70°F/20°C range depending on plants – consistent, not drafty
Traditional Shop Lights
CMH Grow Lights
Artificial grow lights are recommended for indoor food growing. Natural light can also help but may not be sufficient, especially in winter months.
The fast-growing, cool-tolerant vegetables listed in Group 1 (above) enjoy moderate light and warmth (60°F/15°C). This may be provided at a sunny south-facing windowsill or under shop lights (12-16 inches away). I use T5 and T8 warm and cool fluorescent bulbs in shop light fixtures.
Depending on the herb, Group 2 may do fine with shop lights or better with higher heat and light.
Fruiting plants like tomatoes (Group 3) do best with full light and warmer temperatures, placing the plant directly below grow lights (6 to 12-inches above their tops). The CMH lights (shown above) have good output without using a lot of electricity. But, as mentioned, I have managed to ripen both cherry and indeterminate tomato plants with just natural light. It’s not the most efficient way but can also work.
Gardening Under Lights: The Complete Guide for Indoor Growers
There are numerous types of plant lights and the market is always changing.
This book is a good primer for understanding light and determining which lighting products you might like for your indoor garden.
by Leslie Halleck
It’s important to use sterile potting mix and not garden soil or leftover soil from other plants if you want to avoid transmitting or transferring pests or diseases.
If you are starting with plants from the garden nursery, grab a bag of organic potting mix because they will need to go into bigger pots when you get home.
It’s very helpful to group your plants by light needs and mature plant sizes. You can find this information on the seed packets and plant tags.
Your indoor veggies will need containers with room for root growth and drainage holes.
What size you’ll need will depend on what you’re growing.
I like to use long, plastic window boxes for leafy greens (approximately 8-10-inches deep) because the size suits just about everything.
But any pots of the required depth will be fine too.
Also, keep each crop in its own container so it’s easy to move things around as needed.
Humidity & Water
Low humidity, particularly during the winter months when we’re heating our homes, can be really tough on indoor plants.
I use a spray bottle of water to mist my plants each day. You can also get automated misters.
To keep the potting mix moist, use a household watering can with a long, narrow neck to easily apply the water right where you need it, directly into the soil or saucer.
If the quality of your tap water is a concern, you may need to boil and cool it first or use distilled water.
Good air circulation helps prevent problems like pests, mold and fungus growth. It can also help with pollination.
I keep an electric fan by my indoor seedlings and vegetables. It’s run on a digital timer for a few hours each day.
Related: Best Low-Cost Seed Starting Supplies
How do I start growing vegetables indoors?
Plants with edible stems and leaves are quick and easy to grow indoors.
Fruiting plants are slower and require more attention.
Decide what you want to grow based on the growing conditions you can provide.
Light (natural and grow lights) and room temperatures can determine what you’ll grow where.
If you have pets that may try to eat the plants or dig in the pots, that’s another thing to consider.
I recommend beginning with Group 1: cool-loving plants that require moderate light.
Any leafy salad greens including spinach, kale, and arugula are easy to grow and ready in weeks.
Start plants from seed using these instructions or get transplants from a garden nursery.
Organize crops by light needs and mature height. Leafy greens do well together; peas climb and should be potted separately with room for trellis.
Set up growing space including grow lights, containers, fan and digital timers.
How long you’ll need your lights on will depend on the natural light available and your plants.
Start with the recommended amounts and adapt as needed.
Check your plants daily to be the sure the lights and fan are working, soil is moist (not damp or dry), and there are no signs of stress or pests.
It’s common to need to move plants closer to or farther away from the lights depending on how they are doing.
Some food plants like tomatoes may need help with pollination. When pollen is visible in the flowers, I use my finger tip and dab each flower to distribute it from flower to flower. Sounds simple but it seems to work. Or, they pollinate anyways and it does no harm.
Liquid Fish Emulsion Fertilizer
Fertilize with a natural liquid fertilizer (fish or seaweed) and follow instructions on product.
- Group 1 | Leafy Greens : Monthly
- Group 2 | Herbs : Monthly
- Group 3 | Fruiting Plants : Every two weeks
If the edible part of a plant is the stem or leaves, you can harvest them any time. Some leafy greens are cut-and-come again so you can use the outer leaves and the inner ones will continue to grow.
Herbs are harvested as needed, removing small amounts for cooking, leaving the rest of the plant to continue growing.
For fruits, look up the days to maturity to know when to anticipate harvest time. Depending on the lighting, this may take longer than the seed packets say.
When should I start growing vegetables indoors?
Summer means you will have more natural light available which may reduce how long you run your grow lights each day.
Winter is my favorite time because it’s incredibly cheerful to have a tray of fresh, delicious salad greens growing when it’s snowing outside.
- Growing Salads Indoors | Melissa J. Will | ebook available for instant download
- Gardening Under Lights | Leslie Halleck
- Indoor Kitchen Gardening | Elizabeth Millard
And there you go! I hope you will try growing food indoors. It’s the fun of houseplants with the bonus of food!
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛