It can be a bit of a bummer when your summer garden starts to fade and you’re getting the last of your summer harvests in. So what can you do to continue getting those delicious summer vegetables all year long? Bring your summer vegetable garden inside and enjoy fresh home-grown vegetables indoors this fall.
Nothing tastes as good as a home-grown tomato. Even the best heirloom tomatoes at your local grocery store can’t compete with the flavors and texture of a home grown tomato. Tomatoes that are in the grocery store are at least a few days out from being harvested so they aren’t as fresh as the ones that you grow yourself. Plus, something about putting the hard work and love into growing food at home makes it taste better.
Moving Your Summer Garden Indoors
While you can’t move your entire summer vegetable garden indoors, you can grow summer vegetables indoors with minimal effort and a little bit of planning. Most summer vegetables will grow when temperatures are above 70 degrees, which is room temperature indoors. If your home is bit cooler than that, you can always add grow lights or heat pads to help provide the ideal growing environment.
The best way to keep harvesting summer vegetables is to start a second, smaller ‘garden’ indoors about a month before temperatures start to drop in your area. This will give your new plants time to start producing crops before your plants outdoors stop producing.
Planting indoors while you still have crops growing outdoors seems like too much of an overlap but it will prevent you from having a window with no crops to harvest.
Since you can’t physically move your entire garden indoors, you’ll need to scale down your garden. Choose a few of your favorite crops to grow indoors. Don’t worry if your favorite summer crops are large plants; there’s a small, container-friendly version of nearly all summer vegetable plants. If you’re a tomato fan, you can still grow tomatoes indoors. Indoor tomatoes will pair perfectly with lettuce that you can easily grow outdoors in the cooler months.
The container that you grow in is one of the most important decisions to make when you are planning to grow summer vegetables indoors. Summer vegetables tend to develop deep root systems that require plenty of soil space to spread out in. In most cases, the larger the container you can find, the better off your plants will be. Larger containers will also help to keep top heavy plants from toppling over and creating a huge mess in your house. Don’t restrict yourself to flowerpots if you don’t have any; a five gallon bucket can grow plants just as well as a fancy flowerpot in a pinch.
As pretty as terra cotta pots are, they aren’t the best option to use as containers. The material of the terra cotta pot is breathable. This allows moisture to leave the soil quickly and can cause your soil to become too dry too fast. Instead, look for containers that are either glazed terra cotta or plastic. These materials will help to retain soil moisture.
Just like you don’t want the soil to get too dry, you don’t want the soil to get too wet. Soggy soil can cause root rot and will kill your plant. Any container that you grow in need to have several drain holes that are ¼- ½” in diameter. Drain holes will allow excess water to seep from the soil. Without drain holes, excess water will pool in the bottom of the container. You may check the top layer of soil and it may appear dry, despite the soil in the bottom of the container being saturated.
This can quickly lead to overwatering without you even knowing it. Letting your soil drain through holes in the bottom of the container is the best way to prevent root rot. Since your containers are indoors, you’ll want to put trays under them to catch the excess water that drains out. You can find trays to go under flowerpots at your local garden center.
Another aspect of your container that you want to consider is the color. Dark colored containers can help to absorb and trap heat, thus warming the soil around the plant. If your home is on the cooler side, a dark container in a sunny location may be what your plants need to be tricked into thinking it’s summer.
Choosing a Location
The location that you put your plants in to grow vegetables indoors is almost as important as the container that you put them in. A southern-facing sunroom is ideal, but that’s not an option for all of us. Summer plants need anywhere from 6-8 hours of sunlight. Direct sunlight is best. You’ll get the most sunlight from south-facing windows.
If you don’t have south-facing windows where you can place plants, then a window with good morning sunlight is the next best option. But don’t let a lack of sunlight stop you from growing summer crops indoors. If you don’t have a suitable, sunny location, you can grow plants just as well under a grow light.
Another less commonly considered issue when choosing a location for your plants is traffic. Many summer vegetables will require larger containers and may be top-heavy. You’d like to think that you and your family will walk around these containers, but don’t rely on it.
Try to put your containers in places where they are tucked out of the way or are at lease out of the path of heavy foot traffic. No one wants to clean up a container that’s been knocked over, especially inside. Not only is it a headache to clean the mess up, but you may cause your plant to go into shock if it’s knocked over and the soil and roots are disturbed too much. Knocking a plant over too many times can kill it, so keep it out of the way to prevent accidents.
Although you want your plants out of the way, don’t put them so much out of the way that you forget about them. If plants are small enough, consider placing them in areas where you’ll see them frequently. The more often that you see them, the more you’ll remember to feed them and water them properly. You’ll also be more likely to use the vegetables and vegetation from them if you can see them. Herbs and small summer crops, like pepper plants, can be grown on your kitchen counter where you’ll have quick and easy access to them.
What to Plant
The key to growing summer vegetables indoors is to choose the best variety. For example, some tomato plants can develop stalks, or vines, that are over 30 feet long! Obviously, this is not very suitable to growing indoors. Many popular varieties of cucumbers, tomatoes and summer squashes can be bought in dwarf varieties.
These are specially bred varieties that have been developed for growing in containers. You may also seem them called ‘patio-friendly’ or ‘patio-varieties’. Despite being a smaller plant, you can still expect big yields from them.
Smaller summer crops can be planted into containers easily and brought indoors. Pepper plants, eggplants, herbs, chard, onions and garlic can be planted in smaller containers indoors without searching for a special variety.
Some plants aren’t suitable for growing indoors and should be avoided. Don’t try to grow melons, corn or okra indoors. These crops don’t come in patio friendly cultivars and will take up too much space. Save these crops for your outdoor summer garden.
Now that you know you can bring summer crops indoors, what will you be planting indoors this winter?
Today’s post about bringing your summer garden indoors comes from Shelby DeVore, founder of Farminence.com [https://farminence.com/]. Shelby is a former agriculture teacher and a multi-generational home gardener. She currently lives on a small farm with her husband and three children where they raise way too many animals and grow a large vegetable garden each year.