Setting Up an Indoor Veggie Garden!

The following is part one of a three part series on how to set up and enjoy fresh greens grown indoors year round. 

Dar Corrigan is a Master Gardener and a member of Halton Region Master Gardeners since 2018.  Prior to that, Dar lived a very urban and transitional life, moving between three countries over the past two decades.  She now raises her family and gardens at home in Oakville. Her current gardening interests include indoor kitchen gardens.  She continues to take courses in horticulture and learn on the ‘job’. 

Setting Up an Indoor Veggie Garden!

With the long cold winter ahead of us, setting up an indoor veggie garden can be a great way to liven up the daily grind! Below, I will outline a budget-friendly guide on how to get started with a few easy steps.

Getting to it – What you need To keep it simple, all that is truly needed is a selection of seeds, some seed starting soil, containers and lights.  Of course, one can go all in and find plenty of expensive and sophisticated indoor garden set ups (see these if this is your game) – but this short article will go over the basics so that almost anyone can get started and find what they need to make it happen.  Note that some household items may be re-purposed for this project, while others may be available for purchase online or convenient curbside pick up. At the moment, most Ontario garden stores are offering curbside pick up.
Seeds A little bit of planning here can go a long way and keep it a motivating activity.  Be realistic about what you are interested in eating and what you can grow in pots indoors.  A modest variety of seeds is ideal, remembering that selection is limited to plants that can grown in shallow pots (read growing instructions on seed packets or online).  Beginners are best to focus on lettuces, kale, herbs and microgreens.  But trust me, with this list alone, you have a plethora of growing options! I would strongly suggest growing a few lettuce blends like City Garden and  Fast and Furious or a simple butter head like Tom Thumb (all by Westcoast Seeds ) and complimenting them with nutrient-rich and fast growing microgreens, such as sunflower, pea shoots and arugula.  Some varieties of microgreens offer exceptional nutritional value and grow remarkably fast! Microgreens are great for the gardener who struggles with delayed gratification! William Dam Seeds is a local Ontario supplier with many growing options.


This is important.  Use a seed starting soil mix sold at your local garden nursery (and not garden soil).  Indoor plants need soil that is amended to allow for air circulation and provide nutrients that are not otherwise available indoors and in pots.  This is not the place to deviate from the rules.  Be good to your plants and they will be good to you!

Containers Choose containers strategically so as to maximize space in the indoor garden.  Rectangular trays are ideal for microgreens, but there is a lot of room for creativity here. Re-use what is on hand from your outdoor garden, re-purpose yogurt containers or Tupperware containers.  Just remember that all containers will need drainage holes (drill holes or use a hammer and a nail to add them).  Containers with drainage holes need to be placed on trays to avoid water damage to your surfaces.  I place many of my containers on boot trays such as this inexpensive ($4) option from Ikea
Light Source Alas it is winter! And dark.  Thus, the indoor garden will need artificial light, making it the most expensive part of the project.  Plenty of ready-made set ups are available but they can be pricey, especially if you would like to grow multiple trays to provide for a constant source of greens.  Examples can be found on Lee Valley’s website, with small scale and larger scale options .   To be more budget friendly, I would suggest some creativity and connecting lights to something you may already have on hand.  Lights can be purchased locally at most garden stores (see these from Sheridan).  I have attached lights to a repurposed audio-visual cart rescued from the storage room of a local school.  Another option is to attach lights to a desk lamp, existing shelving, or simply make a shelf, which is what I did to add additional tiers to my home veggie cart.  Please note that I have lower-than-average construction skills so if I can do it, you can too!  You are limited only by your own imagination so get creative!

See below for some of my DIY indoor garden creations.

The Indoor Single Grow Light Bulb

This is the easiest and least expensive growing option.  Simply replace a regular bulb in a desk lamp with the grow light bulb and shine in on trays of microgreen seeds.  Sunblaster and MiracleLED light bulbs can produce two full trays of microgreens in approximately two weeks.  I have had great success with the MiracleLED bulb. Make sure the lamp is compatible with bulb wattage. 

Single Tier Home Made Shelf

Double Tier Ikea LACK shelf with added Grown Lights

A/V Cart Repurposed as Veggie Cart (with added shelving)

Practical Points Once everything is assembled, I would recommend the following additional considerations:
  • Read all growing instructions on the seed packets – take advantage of tutorials on quality seed company websites. 
    • Mist (with water bottle) during germination process and new seedlings – do not let the soil dry out.  Use a dome to help trap humidity during germination process (not necessary but makes it less work)
  • Be sure to read all operating and safety instructions with grow lights. Be careful with electrical cords and tripping hazards with extension cords.
  • Ideally, set up the indoor garden near a water source – but not too close to the electrical wires!
  • Plan and stagger planting dates to keep a steady supply of greens and avoid the extremes of feast and famine.  For example, staggering will protect against a scenario where everything is fully mature at the same time and then nothing but bare pots for the next 5 weeks!  Seed packets will (should) have information on how long it takes for veggies to grow.  Think about how many people will be enjoying the harvest and how many plant trays the set up can accommodate. Personally, I plant a new tray (or two) every week to replace what we eat – but I also have a big veggie cart! More on that in the follow up article.
  • Labels trays with the name of the seeds and date planted.  This will help take a lot of guess work out of the project and makes for better decision making on future plantings (eg. maybe that particular lettuce was not worth waiting 55 days for, opt for more quick microgreens instead).
  • Consider installing a timer on the lights, which should be on for approximately 12-14 hours a day. Convenience is key and protects against possibly overstressing plants if someone forgets to turn them off one night.
  • Do keep an eye on humidity levels and air circulation.  A fan and possibly dehumidifier may be needed, depending on how big the set up it.  
  • If you have kids at home, consider enlisting their participation.  Not only will they learn from the experience, they may get a nutritional boost as well!

Concluding Thought

I hope this short article encourages some gardeners to take up this winter growing option!  In the weeks to come, I will follow up with another article with more tips on indoor gardening!

Happy growing.  

Dar Corrigan

Master Gardener, Halton Master Gardeners


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