As the weather gets colder, local farmers markets are gradually ending their summer-based operations and your access to affordable, locally-sourced produce is going to be limited, so we’re here to give you a step by step guide on how to build your own indoor garden to be prepared the next time you are craving some fresh produce.
Step 1: Have a plan and do some research
The first thing you want to do is have an end goal in mind. What do you want your garden to look like? Do you want it to be indoor (recommended for winter) or outdoor (better for summer). Winter no longer has to end the growing season of fresh fruits and veggies.
With an indoor garden, you can still have your fix of fresh vegetables and when summer is finally back, you can integrate these plants back out to your real garden. Some people love indoor growing and build their own window boxes to get better exposure to sunlight. Does this spark your interest?
Step 2: Decide what supplies you need
The next thing you need to do is find out what supplies are necessary to achieve your goal. How many plants do you want to grow? This will help you determine how many pots (or whatever you want to plant in) you will need.
Do you want a large box to add more variety or just a few small pots? Depending on what you’re growing, most gardens will need soil and a planter, such as a small terracotta pot, although some plants like scallions and green onions can be planted in a glass vase with just water. Due to limited sunlight, a grow lamp might also be needed during the winter months.
This chart can show how much light you need based on the area of your indoor garden to help you decide what wattage of light you need.
|Size of Light (Watts)||Area of Coverage Recommendation||How high above the light it must be mounted.|
|400 Watt||5’x5’ area8’x8’ area||1-4 feet|
|600 Watt||7’x7’ area10’x10’ area||1.5-5 feet|
|1000 Watt||8’x8’ area12’x12’ area||2-6 feet|
Step 3: Gather Supplies
If you are a Fort Collins local, there are a few one-stop shops in town that can get you started. The Grow Shop offers a variety of indoor gardening products, like nutrient-rich soil and pest control that are sure to expedite your project. They are located just off of College Avenue and are open every day.
Another great place to check out is the Plantorium. This local shop can provide you with anything you need gardening wise. They provide plants and soil at a great price and are located just outside of Old Town Fort Collins.
If you are not in Fort Collins and prefer to have your supplies delivered, don’t forget there are always other options. Even Amazon.com has a variety of small, indoor greenhouses at a very reasonable price. If you are not sure where to start, check out this or this and go from there.
Or make your own!
If shopping for new supplies isn’t in your budget, or if you want to make your garden a little more crafty, try one of these homemade planters or make one out of a Wine Bottle from the following guide.
Self-Watering Wine Bottle Planter
This one is a little tricky. You’ll need a large-ish wine bottle (be sure to bring some friends over to help you with emptying it :P), some string, and soil. Once the bottle is empty and cleaned out – and probably a day or two after that because you don’t want to be too tipsy when doing this – peel off the label of the bottle, soak it in soapy water, and then scrape off whatever remaining adhesive there is from the label.
Then you’ll need to score the glass by slicing a small ring around where you want to cut the bottle (you’ll want to cut it where the bottom of the bottle is at least taller than the neck of the bottle) with a knife or screwdriver. It’s important that you have a steady hand for this.
Once your bottle is scored, take a small candle or lighter, or some boiled water and heat the area around the score extensively (wear goggles and gloves for safety). When you feel like the scored area is hot enough and is heated all the way through, quickly run it under some cold water. If you remember from middle school, heat causes objects to expand and cold causes them to contract, and since glass is a really bad conductor of heat, a big change in temperature means it won’t be able to contract as well and it’ll break instead.
This should leave you with a nice even break along the scored line. Feel free to sand down the edges of the bottle with sandpaper to make it smoother and safer to handle.
Once you’ve got your two separate pieces, take your string and run it through the neck of the bottle, keeping it in place with a piece of aluminum foil glued or tied tightly around the cap. Then, fill the top half of the bottle with your preferred soil, fill the bottom bottle with water, and lay the top bottle upside down on top of the bottom bottle so that the soil is facing up and the string is floating in the water.
The key here is that the string will absorb the water and deposit it in the soil without you having to water it. Then just plant your flower or veggie of choice (green onions or herbs will work great) and let it do its thing. You may have to water your plant the first few days as it takes some time for the roots to cling to the string in the soil and really absorb the water.
Step 4: Choose your plant – it’s lucky you’re in Colorado 😉
Knowing what can grow indoors and what can’t is important when starting your window garden. Almost any plant can grow indoors, however, what determines the success of the plant is the amount of sunlight, water, and humidity the plant needs to survive. Due to the indoors not having the best sources of these elements we have narrowed it down and compiled a list of plants you will have the most success with.
Step 5: Review your plan and start building!
After you have all your supplies, look back at your original plan and review. Is this still the plan you want to use, do you want to make any alterations? After you decide, go ahead and start piecing things together.
Step 6: Know your plant
Some plants require significantly more attention than others. Make sure you know which plants these are and how to care for them properly. Some plants also require different amounts of sunlight.
Are your plants going to be okay in a window or do you need to create some artificial sunlight. It is best to group plants with similar characteristics together. If they require little attention, and just a standard amount of sunlight, a windowsill may be best.
If your plants require more attention, humidity, and light, you will probably want to group these plants together in a small indoor greenhouse or tent. A great place to learn more about each of your plants is the Farmer’s Almanac Growing Guides.
Maintenance on your plants:
Due to the nature of growing indoors, the soil cannot retain water as fast as a typical coil planter does outdoors so frequent water is going to be required. Create a time schedule of when to water every day and make sure to stay on this schedule to ensure the health of your plant. If you think you will be gone for an extended amount of time, check out How to Make Your Own Self-Watering Pots for an easy guide to self-water those plants while you are away.
Check this chart when watering plants to see if your plants need more or less water.
|Signs of Overwatering||Signs of Underwatering|
|Wilting from stem toward leaves||Wilts along outer tips of the leaves first|
|Lower leaves dropping||Dry to the touch soil|
|Discoloration/crunchiness of leaves||Brown edges along the leaves|
|Lack of constant growth||Leaves dropping prematurely|
|Wilting Foliage||Wilting Foliage|
Most plants grown indoor will immediately suck up a large majority of the nutrients in the soil immediately, therefore it is important that you find the best fertilizers or nutrient boosters. Here are the top 3 that we have come across.
1 – Superthrive – $9.99
2 – Osmocote Smart Release – $19.99
3 – Grow Best – $25.99
Step 7: Storing your extra herbs and produce
Of course, the point of having your own garden is to get the food from plant to plate as fast as possible. But if you have extra produce or if you’re interested in collecting extra, you can always store it. Small jars with a rubber sealed lid are an excellent way to store mint, basil, oregano, or other herbs.
Other produce, like onions or tomatoes, can be stored in larger plastic containers and should be refrigerated.
Step 8: How to integrate plants back outdoors.
After growing inside for the long winter months, your plants, unfortunately, cannot be immediately ready for the outside elements. Plants will need a “hardening off” period before they can withstand the harshness of weather. A step by step to integrating your plants back outdoors:
- About a week before moving them outdoors put the plants in a cooler shady spot for about 3-4 hours per day.
- Every day in that week period, increase the time outside by one hour per day. (NEVER leave them out overnight).
- About the 3rd day, move the plants into the morning sun and back to the shade by the afternoon
- Ensure the forecast maintains a temperature above 50 degrees when finalizing the transport to avoid frost marks and potential wilting.
Step 9: Cleaning and preparing for next year
Before you begin this step, give yourself a pat on the back. You have come a long way and you deserve all of the fresh goodness you added to your meals.
Once you’re done integrating your plants outside, keep in mind you will probably be reusing your supplies next winter. Clean pots and store them in a gardening shed or out of the way inside your house. Most indoor greenhouses and tents easily disassemble and can be stored with your pots in your shed or garage.