How to Build an Indoor Garden, the Creation of the Tub Garden

Here at Tub to Table, we are all about gardening in the Great Indoors. We converted a spare bathroom into an indoor bathtub garden and have been gardening exclusively indoors since 2016. This blog describes the peculiar pitfalls and unique perks of indoor vegetable gardening that we have discovered along the way. And because we hate to ever let a hard-earned vegetable go to waste, we share some of our favorite recipe ideas to use and celebrate these harvests. So you too, can get healthy vegetables – maybe that you grew in your own bathtub garden – to your family’s dinner table. Want to build your own indoor garden? A garden where it never frosts unexpectedly, and no pesky rabbits ever come to munch on your good stuff? Then you’re in the right place. Here is an introduction to the Tub Garden itself, and how to build an indoor garden of your own, in 6 easy steps. 

Welcome to the Tub Garden.

An overview of a large and beautiful indoor garden, inside of a bathroom

 This is our indoor gardening paradise. We’ve grown everything here from asters to zinnia, eggplants to zucchini. We are always trialing new vegetables and plants to see what thrives in this type of indoor environment, and what does not. It has been a very interesting way to garden and we’ve met with a lot of challenges along the way. The Tub Garden has evolved quite a bit since those early days. We’ve learned to improve our methods, and we’ve made some disastrous mistakes along the way.

We felt it would be helpful to share some tips. So, here is a basic introduction how to build an indoor garden like this one. Follow along to see the transformation from a pretty boring floor-level bathroom, into the vegetable producing plot that we built atop a jetted tub, and that we lovingly now call the Tub Garden.

Step #1. Carve out a workspace. Here, we covered the jetted tub to make room to grow.

The first thing we did when we started to build our indoor garden four long years ago, was to cover up the tub with a nice thick sheet of cheap plywood. This created an even workspace to cram in as many plants as possible, plus room to actually tend to them.

We added three 1” holes and covered them with bathroom sink strainer screens when we re-did the garden. This way, any water that overflows or spills has a place to drain, but dirt won’t go through to the tub below. After three years of gardening without these strainers, there was remarkably little dirt in the tub and it only took about an hour to clean. But I still prefer that less (or no) dirt gets down to the actual tub.

The tub is at a great height for gardening without killing your back. And the little step stool allows me to sit while I tend to the plants in the very back. These are things to think about while designing your space. If you can’t reach your plants, you can’t take care of them properly, and then you can’t pick their flowers and fruits.

Step #2. Create as much reflective surface as you can stand.

It’s a little hard to see in these pictures, but if you look at the top of the “shower” area, you can see we put 2 mil, horticultural mylar coating up on the walls. It is wonderfully reflective and makes the most of the light you provide. It also screams “grow room”, so I’ve only used it minimally.

Initially, the whole bathroom was covered in mylar because I thought indoor gardens had to have that. But after more research, end experience, I learned that white paint is wonderfully reflective as well. In fact, a lot of professional grow rooms use white matte plastic walls, or white flat painted walls, to reflect light back to their plants without creating harmful hot spots as mylar can do. And personally, I find it makes for a much more pleasant, less industrial, environment to work in. Plus it’s easier to clean. The paint I used on the walls and the bottom plank is Rust-Oleum’s Chalked paint in Linen White. It is highly recommended for its reflective properties.

When we started, we only grew flowers for the first few years. You can see this image is from before the plywood was painted white and the drains were installed. It was a bit of a hot mess back then but we were learning new techniques in leaps and bounds. Painting that plywood white actually increased our light reflectivity by quite a bit.

The original flower garden, with pipes and cords and ropes everywhere.

Step #3. Putting up the lights.

The next thing we did was to hang the lights. After exhaustive research about the various kind of lights used in professional grow rooms, we ended up just going with basic white LED shop lights instead. And they have worked out just fine. I started with just a few, but kept adding them every time they went on sale at hardware stores nearby.

I knew I wanted the lights to be on pulleys so I could move them up and out of the way for easier gardening, and also to be able to move them up as plants inevitably got taller. The key here was to get as many lights as we could afford, and then to get as many as possible to move on as few pulley systems as possible. The fewer groupings of lights, the easier it is to get them up and out of the way.

If you’d like to read more about lighting an indoor garden, check out our page dedicated to lighting. There, we review how to put lights up on a simple pulley system, how many lights you’ll need for your space, how to make sure you won’t overload your circuit, and what light types work best. It’s not hard at all, so don’t let this step intimidate you.

Step #4. Installing access to water.

If you’re going to build an indoor garden, you definitely need to think about water. The easier you make it to water your garden, the more chance you will succeed. We took two crucial steps to make watering our indoor garden more user friendly.

  • We made every planter in the Tub Garden into a self-watering bin. The self watering bins are highly effective at retaining water, allowing us to water less frequently. This step enables you to go out of town for a few days without needing to worry about your plants dying. The self-watering bins also take a lot of the guess work out of watering since they allow the plants to draw up the water they need, when they need it. They truly are a game changer, especially in the dry, indoor air. Click here for a complete, step-by-step guide to making your own self watering planters, DIY.
  • We actually added an indoor-grade irrigation system. Initially, we pulled water off of the toilet (the clean side), and hooked it up to a basic, outdoor micro-drip irrigation system. Later, when we redid the whole Tub Garden room, we re-routed the water with indoor grade plumbing from underneath the bathroom sink. If you’d like to read more about how to set up an irrigation system, pulled off of indoor plumbing, click here. This step is a little intimidating, but it is also totally optional. With this step, you can go out of town for a week, or two, without worrying about your plant friends all being dead when you get back.

Step # 5. Create a Seedling Station.

This step is a very important one, not to be overlooked. It is crucial to start every plant in your indoor garden from seed, to prevent the introduction of disease and bugs. Once a pest infestation takes hold indoors, there are no natural predators to keep them in check. So, the best thing you can do, to save yourself time and heartache, is to start all of your plants as seeds. And then, no matter how tempting, never bring any “outside” plants in to your garden. Ever.

I had to learn this the hard way. Several times. Before it really sunk in.

So, of course, a seedling station located right in your garden makes a lot of sense. We tucked ours into a little spot underneath the potting bench. It is the one spot where we splurged for a fancy, professional, grow light. Warming mats and a watering can complete the seedling station. If you’d like to read more about starting seeds indoors, in a way that doesn’t make a mess, check out our page called Starting Seeds Indoors.

Step #6. Finishing Details.

Finally, we added fans for ventilation, a radio, a chalkboard for notes, a thermometer that checks the humidity as well, moved in the tools and seeds, and added a dish-rack for easy cleanup. And, of course, no room is complete without a rug and a painting!! After all, this is a place where I want my friends and family to feel at home, encouraged to garden a bit, or even to pluck a late-night snack.

So that’s it! Just a basic introduction into how we made the Tub Garden that produces all the vegetables that make the yummy foods we’ve been cooking up on this blog. It’s an unexpected paradise in our house and is a relaxing place to spend some time. It’s the most locally-sourced food you can get, from your own Tub, straight to your own Table!

If you have an indoor garden, or you like what you see here on Tub to Table, share us on Facebook or leave a comment below! We’d love to hear what others are growing in completely indoor environments like this. We’re happy to give advice, but we’d love to get some as well!

Harvested from our little garden under lights.

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