Find Your Indoor Kitchen Garden

Take what you know about growing your garden (such as: start in the spring; tend in the summer; harvest in the fall) and set that aside—because Indoor Kitchen Gardening is here with easy tips for growing herbs, greens, and other garden delights inside all year long. Want to start some greens in the middle of summer? Done. Feel like harvesting microgreens in November? You bet. Wish you could enjoy fresh basil in February? You can.

Join author Elizabeth Millard for an overview of how to find your indoor growing space and what you should know about light, airflow, and protecting your plants from pests.

garden indoor kitchen gardening shelf container plant
You wouldn’t want to put a recliner or a desk in the small space between these doors, but a shallow shelf filled with garden plants fits the space very nicely.

Find Your Indoor Kitchen Gardening Space

Although this book is called Indoor Kitchen Gardening, there are many instances where a kitchen isn’t the ideal spot in the house for vegetable or herb growth. Also, the kitchen might be perfect during a certain time of year, especially during cooler months when plants can use the ambient heat of that room, but less suited for growing in other seasons.

garden microgreens indoor kitchen gardening
A healthy tray of microgreens or shoots can do a lot to improve the view of a window that looks out on a dreary area, such as a garage.

For example, I’ve found that my trays of microgreens do very well in the kitchen during the autumn, when temperatures begin edging toward frost, but suffer in that room during the summer because the south-facing windows heat up the space too much. In those warmer months, the micros thrive in the basement, where I can control the light and air more easily, and avoid the humidity that makes growing more challenging.

Tomatoes and peppers, however, love the heat. Putting them by a large kitchen window in the middle of summer allows them to thrive, but placing them in a basement or cool attic space requires an exhausting amount of control measures to make sure they’re happy. In other words, it’s likely that your home has the right spot for whatever you have in mind; you just have to find out where that space might be.

garden indoor kitchen gardening basement shelf
Basements typically offer a wealth of utility space for raising your indoor crops. All that’s needed is a decent grow light and perhaps some supplemental heat.

Light

For many indoor growers, some form of artificial light will come into play (more on that later), but for maximum efficiency and sustainability, utilize natural light as much as possible.

As a general rule, south-facing windows are preferred because they allow for abundant light, but depending on where you’re located in the country, this could be a benefit or a drawback. Light streams in, but heat does, too. Placing some plants in direct sunlight during the hottest part of a summer day, especially without proper airflow, can cook them instead of bolstering growth.

garden natural sunshine indoor kitchen gardening
You can’t do better than natural sunshine when it comes to providing a light source for starting and growing your edible indoor garden plants. But do be aware that too much sunlight will damage some more delicate plants.

When selecting a site for growing, look for one that allows for natural light, but can also be shaded in some way. This might be as easy as picking a window that has an awning outside that blocks the sun during the middle of the day, or placing plants on a shelf that gets indirect sunlight. Most likely, if you’ve noticed good results with existing houseplants, you’ve found some good spots already, but keep in mind that vegetables, herbs, and fruits need extra care like airflow and pest management.

Choosing a spot with natural light isn’t mandatory, but it does cut down on the amount of work you’d have to put in for creating an all-artificial-light system. In my own grow space, I use sunlight as much as I can, by lining up plants on a window-level shelf in my south-facing kitchen and dining room, and then supplement with artificial lights in the winter.

Airflow

Unlike many houseplants, indoor edibles need some type of airflow in order to grow properly. When I first started growing, I didn’t realize the importance of this factor, and quickly saw the results of my knowledge gap: molding seeds, struggling starts, no germination, and bugs that seemed to come out of nowhere.

garden airflow for plants indoor kitchen gardening
A small desk fan can create enough ventilation for a few potted plants.

Air circulation helps to mimic outdoor conditions, helping plants to grow in a robust way while minimizing the risk of bacterial issues and pest problems. In my space, I’m fortunate enough to have a cross breeze from windows on two sides of my kitchen, but I still utilize small fans for days when there isn’t much wind.

In areas like basements or attics, which can get stagnant pretty quickly, it’s especially important to create better airflow. Check out the air circulation section later in this chapter for more in-depth strategies once you’ve chosen your primary growing space.

Pets & Pests

Sometimes, these can be the same thing. Although indoor systems benefit from being protected by outdoor critters like squirrels, rabbits, and chipmunks, one cat can become a mini-Godzilla to a burgeoning kitchen garden’s Tokyo.

In our house, which is ruled unconditionally by two dogs, all we need to do is shut the basement door or move pots onto a counter instead of the floor. For other indoor growers with more wily pets like cats, the strategies may have to be more elaborate. I’ve seen a number of anti-kitty systems cobbled together by other indoor growers, and they can be impressive. Wire screens, large rocks, plastic mesh, repurposed bookshelves: suddenly, a once-simple indoor growth space looks like a kid’s fort in the woods.

garden cat pets eating plants indoor kitchen gardening
If it’s green and growing, the chances are pretty good that cats and other pets will want a nibble or two.

When choosing a space in the house, it’s helpful to find a room that can be sectioned off easily, without scrap lumber becoming involved. This might be a kitchen where a swinging door is shut during the day, or a guest room that’s already off-limits to pets. In terms of true pests, this is far trickier. The aroma of fresh seeds can be compelling for critters like mice, and even houses that never had mouse problems before might be breached because of the new buffet you’re creating.

garden plant chicken wire indoor kitchen gardening
A custom-made cage of poultry netting (otherwise known as chicken wire) can be fashioned around plants and containers to provide a layer of protection from curious pets. This may help, but on the downside, most pets are persistent enough to defeat this strategy and the cage definitely detracts from the loveliness of your indoor garden. Controlling access to the room or perhaps a few sessions at obedience school are better long-term solutions.

In the homes where I’ve lived, I’ve found that this is a problem mainly in unfinished basement spaces, and often during the colder months. Because of this issue, I don’t grow in that type of area between September and April as a general rule. If that’s the only space available, I mouse-proof all areas of the gardening area with as much creativity and kindness as I can muster. Fortunately, I haven’t seen a problem in any upstairs spaces like a kitchen or dining room, perhaps because the dogs are overly enthusiastic about seeing small creatures as new best friends.

There will be more, much more, about handling pests and insects in other parts of the book, but for now, it’s best to try and choose a space that seems protected already. That can go a long way toward preventing anything other than you from eating your garden produce.

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As featured in the New York Times and named to “Best Garden Books of 2014” by the Chicago Tribune

It takes just a few dollars and a few days for you to start enjoying fresh, healthy produce grown indoors in your own home. Imagine serving a home-cooked meal highlighted with beet, arugula, and broccoli microgreens grown right in your kitchen, accompanied by sautéed winecap mushrooms grown in a box of sawdust in your basement. If you have never tasted microgreens, all you really need to do is envision all the flavor of an entire vegetable plant concentrated into a single tantalizing seedling. If you respond to the notion of nourishing your guests with amazing, fresh, organic produce that you’ve grown in your own house, condo, apartment, basement, or sunny downtown office, then you’ll love exploring the expansive new world of growing and eating that can be discovered with the help of Indoor Kitchen Gardening. Inside, author and Bossy Acres CSA co-owner Elizabeth Millard teaches you how to grow microgreens, sprouts, herbs, mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers, and more– all inside your own home, where you won’t have to worry about seasonal changes or weather conditions. Filled with mouthwatering photography and more than 200 pages of Do-It-Yourself in-home gardening information and projects, Indoor Kitchen Gardening is your gateway to this exciting new growing method–not just for garnishes or relishes, but wholesome, nutritious, organic edibles that will satisfy your appetite as much as your palate.

Elizabeth Millard is the author of Indoor Kitchen Gardening, which focuses on practical tips for growing herbs, vegetables, and fruits in indoor settings. She and her partner, Karla Pankow, also own Bossy Acres, a 100-member community supported agriculture farm in Minnesota that provides seasonal produce to members and area restaurants in an effort to build a strong and sustainable local food system. Millard often leads workshops on vegetable and herb gardening as well as herb preparation, fermentation, and cooking with seasonal ingredients. As editor of local sustainable food site Simple Good and Tasty, she encourages readers to connect with the state’s abundance of organic growers, ranchers, food artisans, nonprofit agencies, and each other, forging a stronger food landscape. In addition to farming, teaching, and editing, she has contributed articles to Hobby Farm HomeExperience Life, and Urban Farm magazines, along with many other publications. She and Karla live in south Minneapolis with their two impossibly spoiled dogs, Idgy and Ruthie Mae.