Winter weather and a lack of outdoor space don't have to dash your gardening dreams. It turns out, you can harvest kale right in your living room, or carrots in your kitchen. Indoor gardening is a fun, cost-effective, and eco-friendly way to grow your own food. According to Jasmine Jefferson, the founder of Black Girls With Gardens (blackgirlswithgardens.com)—a collective that provides education, support, inspiration, and representation to Black women and women of color through gardening—there are other benefits, too. “It’s really nourishing physically, spiritually, and mentally,” she says. Here, Jefferson tells us how to get started.
Pick your plants.
“Herbs are some of the best plants to learn from because they’re very rewarding, and when something’s wrong, they’ll let you know,” she says. She recommends mint and thyme—both hardy, easy-to-grow perennials. When it comes to vegetables, Jefferson says, “grow what doesn’t work [outdoors] for that season indoors,” like peppers and eggplant in winter. Leafy greens, like spinach and kale, grow quickly from seeds and don’t require special tending. When populating your indoor garden, be realistic and do thorough research. “It can be overwhelming,” Jefferson says, “so master one thing first before learning how to grow more.”
Prep your garden.
You’ll need the following basics. 1) Quality potting mix: Good airflow allows for better water drainage, which is important for healthy plant growth, and a good mix has plenty of air pockets. 2) Pots: Give each plant its own plastic or terracotta container for easier management, and make sure it has ample drainage holes. For shallow-rooted veggies like lettuce, use a container that’s about 4-inches deep. For vegetables with deeper root systems, like carrots, use a container that’s at least 8-inches deep. 3) Light: Most herbs and vegetables require at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. If there isn’t a place in your space where that’s possible, you can substitute with 12 to 16 hours from a grow light placed directly over your plants. Putting a bulb in a lamp you already own will run you less than $20, or you can get a more expensive fixture—grow lights specifically for gardening provide a fuller light spectrum and work for multiple plants. 4) Fertilizer: Use according to package instructions.
Reap what you sow.
Sow the seeds in your potting mix and provide consistent moisture once or twice per week with room-temperature water. (If your potting mix is dry to the touch, you should probably water your plant.) Avoid placing your pots near heaters and drafty windows. Let your plants grow at least a few inches (about 3 to 6 weeks after seeding) before harvesting via the cut-and-come-again method: cut off the older outer leaves for one meal while allowing the center of the plant to continue growing.
Document your journey.
Jefferson suggests photographing your herbs and veggies as they grow and journaling your plants’ progress, logging any new tips and findings. “Everybody has different experiences,” she says. “Even master gardeners are always learning something new.”
By Safire R. Sostre
Illustrated by Melissa Mathieu