Tomatoes in an indoor pot. | Image courtesy of University of Utah Extension, St. George News
FEATURE — Many people are so short of fresh garden produce in the winter that they are willing to grow it indoors. It can be a little difficult, but having fresh tomatoes on a sandwich or fresh peas on a winter salad is worth it.
Growing plants in a greenhouse is one option for providing winter produce, but heating and lighting can be expensive. A more cost-effective method is to provide additional lighting and optimal temperatures and to grow plants in the house. Consider these tips.
- Location – West or south facing windows provide ample light for many crops. Another option is to use inexpensive fluorescent lights placed about 6 inches from the plants. Incandescent bulbs should not be used because the wavelengths of light they produce are not readily utilized by plants. Grow lights are an option, but they perform no better than fluorescent bulbs and are more expensive.
- Temperature – A good temperature for most plants is around 70 F. Some gardeners have attempted to grow plants in an unheated garage over the winter without success. This is not surprising since the garage acts as a natural refrigerator in winter.
- Soil – Potting soil is best suited for growing indoors and is available from many local retailers. After the plants have grown for about a month, they often need fertilizer to stay healthy. Gentle, liquid houseplant formulations or slow-release granular products such as Osmocote are good choices.
- Pests and Diseases – Monitor plants closely for insect pests and diseases. When a plant appears infested, isolate it from others to prevent it from spreading further. Heavily infested plants should be discarded.
- Choice of vegetables – Lettuce, peas and many herbs generally do well when grown indoors. Dwarf varieties of peas or other crops are often preferred because regular varieties can outgrow limited indoor spaces. Dwarf varieties can be found from online seed companies and sometimes from local retailers.
The USU Crop Physiology Lab has specifically studied growing crops in indoor spaces and identified several “super dwarf” species that perform well, including early green pea and Microtina tomato. These strains and others were actually grown aboard the International Space Station.
WRITTEN BY: Taun Beddes, Utah State University Horticulturist
E-mail: [email protected]
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