Planning Your Indoor Garden Space

You may also be interested in Seed Starting Indoors and our article on Soil & Amendments for the Indoor Garden.

Here at Tub to Table, we are all about gardening in the Great Indoors. I have been gardening this way exclusively for about 4 years now, and this blog is dedicated to the ups and downs of indoor gardening, plus recipes that celebrate those indoor-grown vegetable bounties. 

Planning your indoor garden can be the hardest part, just like with any new project. I suggest you spend some time thinking about what your goals are, what your resources are, and how much time, energy and money you want to put in to it. It takes some time to get the whole thing started, but once its up and running, it hums along on its own quite nicely.

Goals vs Resources

What are my goals?

  • Do I want to provide organic, delicious food for my family?
  • Do I want to reduce packaging?
  • Do I want tomatoes in January that actually taste like tomatoes?
  • Am I worried about produce being shipped from far away?
  • Do I want my children to learn where their food comes from?
  • Do I want to grow flowers or vegetables? Herbs?

What are my resources?

  • Do I have a good place to do this?
  • How much room do I have?
  • Do I have access to water, electricity, a window?
  • Is this area carpeted?
  • Do I have a plan if the pots overflow?
  • Do I go out go town a lot?

In answering these two questions, you can get a clearer picture of what you want to grow and where. The two questions go hand in hand, as sometimes the resources you have will dictate what you end up being able to grow. If you only have a little space under a counter top you may just want to stick to herbs and maybe one lettuce plant. If you have a whole unfinished basement, you could go to town and have a pumpkin patch and corn stalks!

What makes an “ideal” indoor garden or growing space.

Must have:

  • Electricity. To power lights, fan, radio, heat mats, sprinkler system, vacuum.
  • Some sort of water source nearby. A sink is most desirable for clean up and to fill water pots, but anything would do including even a toilet, to divert water from the clean (pre-toilet) plumbing for irrigation.

Nice to have:

  • Tile or non carpeted floor. Easier to clean but not essential.
  • Window for fan (nice, but not essential).
  • Room to grow up or out. 
  • Room to store soil, tools etc.

The more room, the more fun.  But any little nook or cranny will do. 

1. Pick a space

When planning your indoor garden, you need to consider your space. This could be a whole bathroom as we have done, a guest room, a cupboard, a shelf, a corner, a basement nook, or “even on the ceiling” as my 7 year old points out. Anywhere you can put a few pots, you can grow some vegetables or flowers for cutting. It’s nice to have water near by, but not essential. It’s nicer still to have tile floors or anything non-carpeted for those inevitable spills of water and soil and watery soil. Electricity is a must, but can be corded in from nearby. So truly, any square footage at all can really be turned in to a productive garden as all the amateur marijuana growers have found out to their delight. But, if you’re growing something that is NOT contraband, why hide it? Why not celebrate it and make it a room to be enjoyed? Maybe even hang a picture?

The first thing we did was cover up the tub with a nice thick sheet of cheap plywood. This created a nice even workspace. I painted it white with flat latex paint for maximum reflectiveness. I drilled some 1” holes and covered them with bathroom sink strainer screens so that any water spilled will have a place to drain through, but dirt shouldn’t go through to the tub below. After three years af gardening without these strainers there was remarkably little dirt in the tub and it only took about an hour to clean the whole tub to guest bathroom standards! 

2.  Pick the plants 

When planning your indoor garden, you need to decide what your growing goals are. Do you want flowers, herbs, microgreens or veggies? Do you want the garden itself to be gorgeous with vines and flowers, or be the workspace for an even more beautiful creations outside of that space?

Here are some of the questions to ask yourself when deciding “What do I want to grow”?

Flowers? What are my favorites? What will grown from seed? Am I growing for a bouquet? What do I need to complete a bouquet? What is the timeline I am ok with? What about edible flowers?

Vegetables? What do we use/eat most? What can I grow in my allotted room? What I love to eat fresh in February? Are there any recipes I like that I could time with my garden for a supply of ingredients?

Herbs? What do we use on a regular basis? What can be grown compactly? What is slow bolting?

Microgreens? Would I have use for this fun, fast-turnover, easy to grow crop?

Once you’ve decided what you want to grow… its time to get started!

With indoor gardening, you will have to compromise at some point. This it not gardening outside in the sun and wind, with bees and natural fertilizers. Vegetables may not get as big, flowers may not go as quickly, and some plants may simply may not be an option. I sadly gave up on peonies in the indoor garden because I will not bring any live plants in to my secure little space, and you just can’t grow a peony from seed. I have tried and tried.

But compromising is a normal part of any gardening experience. We are all limited by our environment, our climate, our type of soil. So this is nothing new. But indoor gardening also opens up a whole world of possibility where it didn’t exist before.

Being successful with plants is actually a ruthless business. Whether it’s my vegetables in the indoor garden, my house plants out in the living room, or my outside quick-blooming peonies, I only keep the plants that love the spaces they are placed in and the water and light that they are stuck with. If they don’t thrive, they get tossed. Successful gardening is simply the process of recognizing which plants thrive in the environment you create for them and not being afraid to chuck out the failures. I am constantly sewing new seeds for the garden and throwing out the mature plants that either have stopped producing, aren’t thriving in the space, or are simply ill-fitted for the endeavor, whether too big, too slow, too ugly or whatever.  With a constant supply of new seedlings, it’s easy to only keep the cream of the crop for that precious garden space. The big show!!! With this experiment of exclusively gardening indoors, it has been a constant process of finding out what plants like this type of life and what will actually thrive. It’s ok to have failures. That’s gardening. I will pass along as much of my education from these failures to you as I can, and I promise I will keep having failures to entertain you with!!

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

When I started, I only grew flowers for personal bouquets. I found that I kept apologetically telling friends that my garden was purely flowers. Only the pretty stuff. Nothing nutritive. I loved my flowers but I kept wanting to do something more substantial for my family. Something that absolutely thrived in my artificial sunlight was Floret’s prolific cinnamon basil seeds. They greeted me every afternoon with armloads of fragrant flowers and grew almost to the point of being a pest. I simply couldn’t keep up with the blooms after a while. I figured, if this flowering basil was so prolific, what about regular boring Genovese basil. So, naturally I started transitioning to herbs from flowers. Then, the jump was easy to vegetables as many of the same principles and techniques applied. 

Vegetables are fun and amazing to watch grow. But, really, it is only worth it to grow certain vegetables in a tight space such as an indoor garden.  It makes no sense to start a pumpkin patch or a cornfield in a small space, unless that is your absolute and eccentric goal. I have found there are certain veggies that are my work horses. These are the veggies and herbs that my family buys and eats all the time. It’s an added bonus then, if those same veggies don’t take much room to grow, grow quickly, sprout from seed easily, and aren’t hard to maintain. These are the veggies that fill my garden. And then on the side I always have one or two more exotic, fun ‘project vegetables” that, if they don’t make it, we’ll chuck them out with the compost with very little ceremony or regret, ready as ever with new seedlings to fill the coveted spot.

I recommend you, too, keep an open mind about what exactly you want to grow. Because you may find the path you end up taking isn’t exactly what you planned, but ends up still being delightful.

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  1. Laura Reames

    Hello! Thank you for these posts! I have just planted four entire jiffy trays of vegetables and they are watered thoroughly. I am just wondering how often I should thoroughly water them? I intent to transplant some of them to outside pots eventually and some I’ll leave indoors to try my hand at that. They are all sitting on a shelf in front of a floor to ceiling window. Also, do you think that will be enough light for them here in the Pacific NW?

    • Excellent!! Good for you, Laura!! I’m so glad these posts have been helpful!

      I try to check my seedlings every day by just dabbing my finger gently on the top to see if the soil feels moist. If it feels dry to the touch, I water them right away. If they are still moist, I wait til the next day. Usually they only need a thorough watering every other day in our dry climate here in Colorado. If your climate is more humid, which I’m guessing it is, you might only need to do the thorough watering every third day. When you do it, water from the bottom, let the trays sit in water for 30 min to an hour, and then pour off the remaining fluid in the tray.

      As far as your light, my guess is that it may not be quite enough. Since it’s only April, and you’re a bit higher latitude than us, my guess is that your seedlings will be kind of stretched out and “leggy”. I’ve tried trays in my own south facing windows and they have been stressed. They aren’t as strong when you transplant them and because of this stress in early life they may not be as productive, or just take longer to fruit. I am always surprised how much light seedlings really do need to grow properly. If there’s any way you can add even a little bit more light, your plants will thank you. I have lights on timers all over the house lighting my little plants. If you could put a supplemental light, even just a desk light or something, over your seedlings it will be helpful. If it’s in a place that doesn’t bother anyone, I would leave that light on a timer for 16 hours a day. If it’s a place where it will wake up your dog in the morning, or bother your tv watching at night or whatever, just leave it on as many hours as you can. And it will help!!

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