Yes, you can grow vegetables indoors including lettuces, arugula, spinach, kale, carrots, radishes, beet greens, tomatoes and more. Best of all, it can all be done with basic shop lights.
Most of the recommended indoor food plants can be started from seed using these step-by-step instructions.
Indoor Food Growing For Beginners
Can you grow vegetables indoors year-round?
Yes! Lots of them.
I discovered the world of indoor food growing completely by surprise. I’ve always started seeds indoors for transplanting outdoors in late spring but one year the weather was not behaving.
So, instead of transplanting some pea plants outdoors, I just let them continue growing indoors.
Much to my surprise, my indoor pea seedlings kept growing, 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 basic fluorescent 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. And, except for leafy greens, sprouts, and microgreens, most food crops grow much slower indoors. This has a list of fast-growing crops to grow indoors.
Start with the Easy Ones
Anything we grow for edible leaves or stems are the easiest because they can be harvested at any time.
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, cucumbers, and peppers must flower and fruit and require more space and optimum conditions over a longer period of time to reach harvest.
Producing a giant cabbage or ear of corn would be an indoor garden feat so don’t believe the crazy claims you read online. Just stick with the proven easy-growers and you’ll be enjoying salads grown in your home in no time.
To get started, I’ll show you the basics, list which seeds to try, and show you my low-cost setup including the lights I like (cheap).
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?
Many different veggies, herbs, and fruits can be grown indoors anytime including winter. But you do have to choose the right plants and provide the right conditions.
I’ll show you what I have had success with.
- Moderate Light – 12 Hours a Day
- Recommended temperature: 60°F/15°C
I’ve generalized the recommended temperatures since we can’t provide a different environment for each crop. If your room stays around the average room temperature of 70°F/20°C, it should be fine. If it’s a bit lower, even better.
- Moderate to High Light 12-16 Hours a Day
- Recommended temperature: 70°F/20°C
Herbs really do prefer life outdoors and most like a lot of sun. But, with good lights and patience you can grow several varieties indoors. It may be hit and miss, but if you like the challenge, go for it.
I find basil does best with its roots in water for a while instead of trying to grow it in a pot.
This has more tips on growing herbs indoors.
- Full Sun or Lights 14-20 Hours a Day
- 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. The bigger the fruit, the longer it will take—and usually much longer than it would outdoors.
Plus, any crop that fruits will need some sort of assistance with pollination when growing indoors. This can involve moving pollen from flower to flower with a fine paint brush, or shaking flowers to ensure pollen reaches the stigma.
I rate these ones as mostly for fun rather than food of any substantial volume.
Look up what you’re growing for specific pollination advice.
This is helpful for knowing which fruits and vegetables need pollinators to fruit.
Indoor Food Growing Supplies
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 and saucers or drip trays
- Humidity – 40 to 50% range is fine for most indoor crops
- Water – use distilled water if yours is hard or heavy in salts
- Air circulation – use an electric fan to help prevent mold and fungus, assist pollination
- Temperature – 60°F/15°C or 70°F/20°C range depending on plants – consistent, not drafty
- Fertilizer – your soil will need feeding as the plants grow
For a detailed look at the supplies I use and recommend, see Best Low-Cost Indoor Seed Starting Supplies.
How much light do you need to grow vegetables indoors?
Traditional Shop Lights
For seed starting and quick-growing, cool-tolerant crops
CMH Grow Lights
For warmth lovers like tomatoes and cucumbers
Artificial grow lights are recommended for indoor food growing. Natural light can also help but may not be sufficient, especially in winter months. You can certainly combine the two if that works with your setup.
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—but not too warm, placing the plant directly below grow lights (6 to 12-inches above their tops once they are established). The CMH lights 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.
Light selection comes down to cost, electrical consumption, and quality (color and intensity). For short-term crops, fluorescent shop bulbs (T5, full spectrum or warm and cool) run on a timer should suffice.
If you just want to try a small collection of plants and don’t mind the cost, these kits like the Sunblaster Grow Light Garden work nicely:
If you want to use something other than basic fluorescent lights:
by Leslie Halleck
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.
It’s important to use 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.
Because there is no nutrition in potting mix, we will use a fertilizer after the seedlings are well-established.
It’s very helpful to group your plants by light needs and mature plant sizes because you’ll need to keep the lights just above their tops. 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.
I like these flower pots with saucers.
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.
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 extra supplies and care.
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. Tomatoes have what are called “perfect” flowers with stamen and stigmas, but they usually need help getting the pollen where it needs to go.
Fertilize with an organic, liquid fertilizer (fish or seaweed are two options) 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 now available
- Gardening Under Lights | Leslie Halleck | If you want to try more than sunlight or fluorescents.
- 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 ♛