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’.
Hello again, Gardeners! This is article three of a three-part series on the Indoor Kitchen Garden. If you are joining us for the first time, it may be worth looking first at Setting Up an Indoor Veggie Garden and Tips and Tricks for Maintaining the Indoor Veggie Garden.
The purpose of this article is to go further and provide readers with a rough blueprint on how to keep a steady supply of nutrient rich greens for a family of four. This is a more intense indoor gardening experience with bigger goals and requires more logistical planning!
I do believe there is great value to be had in engaging in this project. The pandemic has produced a lot of new gardeners and introduced many to the therapeutic values of this hobby (to say nothing of the edibles!). Indoor growing allows gardeners to spread some of that therapeutic value over the winter months, when many of us need it the most. Especially now.
To help keep us on track, the article will be divided into Who, What, Why and How sections.
Once developed, move herbs in pots to a sunny place in the kitchen or help them out with a grow LED light bulb.
- Tom Thumb Butterhead Lettuce
- Organic baby leaf lettuce mix
- Red and Green baby lettuce mesclun mix
- Sunflower Microgreens
- Pea Shoot Microgreens
- Broccoli Microgreens
- Arugula Microgreens
- Pak Choi Microgreens
- Beet Microgreens
Pea shoots on Counter
Move trays to the kitchen counter for the family to enjoy. This is us making our way through pea shoots! FYI, kids love them.
It is useful to understand our motivations before taking on a new project, particularly when it involves set up costs. As such, I recommend examining motivations before setting up an indoor garden of this scale.
Remember, it is very easy to enjoy many of the benefits of indoor gardening (and less expensive) without following everything I set out in this plan. So ask yourself what the goals are, and whether you want to go beyond activities in the first and second articles.
Is this primarily about saving money?
Everyone’s grocery basket is different (what you buy, where you shop, organic or not, buying in or out of season, how much you waste, etc.), so any calculations would be highly speculative. However, this is generally not a cost-saving undertaking, especially when you factor in some of the set up costs.
Is this about becoming entirely self-sufficient in the green grocery department?
Again, if this is the primary objective, this project is likely to disappoint. As mentioned in earlier articles and above, not every vegetable is suitable to the indoor veggie garden or the new indoor gardener. Also, such a goal is very subjective. I could live off these veggies and greens but I’m quite sure that my husband would protest! So it is very likely that you will be still buying vegetables from the supermarket.
However, this activity CAN significantly reduce dependence on green grocery shopping and offer a variety and of nutritious greens. Moreover, it can significantly open your mind to new and nutritious greens that taste great.
Microgreens are the best examples of what many of us have yet to discover. Not only are they quick growth, but they pack serious nutritional punch with some plants offering up to 25% protein content (such as arugula microgreens and sunflower microgreens).
This project has been quite therapeutic as I garden through the second wave of the pandemic. I know that fellow gardeners do not need more of an explanation than that. But in addition to that zen, there have been additional benefits, some more obvious than others.
The obvious being a steady supply of quality and nutritious vegetable varieties, with more organic options.
By growing at home, we are lessening the environmental impact of our consumption (basement to plate in an instant!) and I have fewer trips to the grocery store.
And while cost savings are not big enough alone to justify this project, we have arguably saved money by growing produce that is otherwise hard to buy and prohibitively expensive. Check out prices for microgreens at any supermarket – if you can even find them!
Finally, a less obvious advantage is the impact it has had on food waste in our home. As a grower, I have come to ferociously guard against food waste. Beware the soul who wastes the fruit of my labour! This new respect for food extends beyond what I grow and extends to all growers and participants in the supply chains who work to put food on our tables. Farmers feed families.
In the first two articles, I outline ways to get started, with minimal investment. However, in order to step it up and feed the family, more equipment is required to make the most of space and time. I will provide a list of recommended items below but be sure to do a proper inventory of what you may already have on hand (being creative!) to reduce costs.
Here is the list:
- 6 levels of growing lights, plus two additional bulbs. See Setting Up an Indoor Veggie Garden for ideas on configurations. This is the expensive part! ($336)
- 14 growing trays and 4 dome lids ($50)
- Two sets of 4” plastic pots. This is more than you need but they come in 25 packs. It is also possible to repurpose containers from last year’s outdoor gardening purchases and save here. ($28)
- Variety of seeds. Do some research or order from my list above. Sheridan Nurseries has most of these seeds in stock or will order them in for you. ($60)
- Seed starting soil. Order 3 bags. ($30)
*At the time this article was published, garden stores are offering online and phone orders with curbside pick up.
If I have not lost you after that, we can move on to the most important part of this process: managing a staggered planting schedule.
The Key: Staggered Plantings
Below I will lay out a plan on how to approach a staggered planting schedule, to make sure that there is always something growing and something ready for harvesting. The chart lays out what and when to plant, and dates for expected harvests.
Note, there will be a time lag before it all starts coming together, and dates are approximate.
Admittedly, I did not start out with this organizational process. This plan comes from my own trial and error experience. I made a ton of mistakes, continue to make them regularly, but try my best to learn from them.
My sample six-week plan looks something like this. [click link].
Additional tips on staggered plantings
- Plant microgreens directly in 10” x 20” trays.
- Plant lettuces in 4” pots, and then place 10 pots in 10” x 20” tray.
- Start basil and chives early, in 4” pots.
- Once herbs mature, move them to the side and almost treat them like house plants, with the benefit of a grow bulb (see image below), ideally near the kitchen.
- Start your cycle with the seeds that take the longest to grow to maturity. In my example, I start with the lettuces that take the longest to mature.
- Remember to mark your planting dates and crop as you go. See Tips and Tricks.
- At times, it may get tricky finding room for all the trays. Get creative. Move some trays to a sunny spot in the kitchen as you are about to harvest.
- You may wonder why I do not grow a second harvest in the same pots. In a nutshell, the soil is not as nutrient rich for a second time around, and it will mess with the staggered planting schedule. I do, however, make some exceptions. They are:
- Pea shoot microgreens. They regrow even as we eat them during harvest week. I find you can get two rounds here, but they will be not as tasty as the first round.
- Lettuce. It is possible to regrow and I sometimes do. Caveat – the lettuce doesn’t grow back with as much vigour or flavor. Also, it can mess with the staggered planting schedule and I have to house extra pots, unless it is timed well. One opportunity for a well timed regrowth is found in week 6 of the sample schedule. Rather than replanting Fast & Furious (which is harvested that week), allow for regrowth in the same pot after consuming. I would not recommend trying to regrow more than twice.
- Remember that lettuce seeds cost pennies – so there really is little incentive when compared to the chaos it will bring to your growing space and the extra trays and lights you will need to keep on schedule. However, there is definitely a cost incentive with the Pea shoot microgreens.
- Not all microgreens are equally hearty. In my experience:
- Hearty: pea shoots, pumpkin seed, arugula, broccoli, pak choy
- Less hearty: beets microgreens (beautiful though) and amaranth microgreens.
- Make changes that suit your (or your family’s) likes and dislikes. While I have outlined a plan here, I don’t follow it 100%. For example, I dedicate an entire shelf on my veggie cart to baby kale because it is what my youngest daughter will graze on whenever she passes by it.
- I plant the baby kale in a little more soil, more compactly than the packet calls for, and only recycle the soil and plant twice over the whole winter. The plants keep producing.
- In the same vein, if you feel that something isn’t working, switch it up. I used to grow baby spinach but felt that it was an inefficient use of resources. It grew too slowly relative to the amount of space it took up.
- Lastly, you will notice that microgreen seeds are more expensive than your average package of lettuce seeds. But it is not apples to apples. Microgreen seeds produce faster and heartier crops, and deliver higher quality nutritional content. You would have to grow and eat a lot of lettuce to match up with that!
This is a regular lunch these days. A mix of sunflower, pea shoots, arugula and beet microgreens (all snipped minutes earlier), with a boiled egg and half an avocado!
The Results: Great ways to spruce up meals
In case you are wondering why I do all this, here is my motivation:
- Baby kale, pea shoot microgreens and sunflower microgreens added to a wrap.
- Super bowls with Tom Thumb, City Blend Lettuce and Arugula microgreens. Add nuts, chopped hard boiled egg and balsamic vinaigrette.
- Fast & Furious Lettuce Blend with beet microgreens
- Broccoli microgreens mixed with Tom Thumb for a simple green side salad.
We add microgreens to all sandwiches and wraps - a nice protein hit for the vegetarian diet.
Without a doubt, this project is not for everyone and there are a lot of ways to enjoy the indoor veggie garden without going so hardcore! Still, I hope that this plan inspires some gardeners to take their interest to the next level.