Growing Food Indoors

by Cheri Le Brun

If you live in an apartment with no outdoor space and feel like you are missing out on the food growing fun, then some of these ideas might spark your imagination. There are some things that you can do to grow food indoors, you just have to be creative. Plants like humans, require some life giving supports. These are light, water, soil and air. If you can figure out how to provide these in the right quantities, you will have success. The other thing you need is space. If you only have a small window ledge, growing indeterminate tomato plants just isn't going to work for  you. 

So let's look at those vital ingredients and how they can be obtained in an indoor space.


Plants need a lot of light to grow. They don't just need the right quantity of light, they also need the right quality of light. Most vegetable plants require 6 - 8 hours of direct sunlight per day and herbs can get by with 4 - 6. Leafy greens such as loose-leaf lettuce, spinach, chard, arugula, kale, sorrel, and mustard greens prefer part shade, so these are great indoor choices. 

To provide enough light you will need a bright, sunny, south facing window. If you are not lucky enough to have one of these, then you will have to select part shade varieties and provide some kind of artificial light source. It is important to get the brightness levels, and color temperatures right in order to have success, so be sure to do the research before spending money on lights.  If space is limited for a full “grow light” setup, microgreens could be the option for you. There are kits available that have lights built into them so you can maximize space if you don't have natural light to work with. Microgreens are also extremely nutritional, but you can only harvest them once before growing them again. If you don't have a light source, then sprouts are your best option. You can make a simple sprouting kit from a mason jar and mesh lid. 


Once you have a space set up with sufficient light, you will need to make sure you have a watering system or routine set up. If you are using small pots in full sun, they are going to dry out quickly, so will need to be checked every day. Seedlings may need to be checked more than once per day. Most vegetables and herbs require consistent moisture – not too wet and not too dry. The top of the soil should be springy and moist. 

I love using a continuous sprayer to water my plants, especially seedlings. Otherwise a simple pop bottle watering attachment works great too. These are available at the HCP gift shop.  There are lots of DIY self-watering methods, including drilling a hole in a wine bottle cork or using string and a bucket of water. These work well-enough for indoor plants, but I find they don't give you enough control over the quantity of water for growing vegetables and seedlings. If you don't mind spending a little more money, there are great indoor watering systems with controls for time and quantity which would be an alternative to hand watering. 

We can't move on from water without mentioning hydroponics. In this case, the water is the growth medium, providing the plants with nutrients and air which are circulated with a pump system or by frequent water changes. Hydroponics produce fantastic leafy greens. I am keen to try this out myself this year, this article from The Spruce, has some DIY systems which look fairly simple to set up. Keep an eye out for an article on a hydroponic system for our blog in the near future.


Food plants need a lot of nutrients to grow, so providing a good soil mix is ideal. You can buy a ready made organic mix or create your own. Remember that seeds need a well draining, sterile growth medium. There are also soil free growth mediums which are ideal for hydroponics, such as clay pebbles or rockwool.

Containers have limited quantities of soil for the plant to access, so adding an organic fertilizer regularly is important. Your nursery should be able to recommend the right balance of fertilizer for the type of plant you are feeding. Nutrient requirements may change when the plant is putting energy into growing leaves vs fruit. If learning about fertilizers seems daunting to you, most vegetables do well with an all purpose fertilizer. My favourite is Gaia Green. Kelp Fertilizer by The Organic Gardeners Pantry is also a wonderful fertilizer that can be applied as a foliar spray. This is available in the HCP Gift Shop or directly from Christina at the Organic Gardener's Pantry.


Protect your plants from drying air coming from heating vents. A humidity level of 50% is ideal. Also, remember to protect plants from strong drafts and sudden, brief changes in  temperatures. Be aware of where doors and windows are to monitor changes in temperature where your plants are. Adding a fan on a low setting may be helpful in small areas that have limited airflow. Having consistent air flow is great for keeping fungal diseases at bay for plants and especially seedlings.

A Note on Space

Selecting the right kind of crops for your space and the amount of light you are able to provide is important. Squash for example are large plants that require a lot of nutrients and easily grow on compost heaps. These might not be a good option for indoor growing. Tomatoes take up a lot of space, but cherry tomatoes might work well. Garlic won't develop bulbs indoors, but can be grown for the scapes. So, get knowledgeable about the growing requirements for your choices and make sure you can meet them. The West Coast Seed website is a great free resource to find information for growing food. 

I also recommend keeping things simple to start. Before you take over your entire apartment, start small and make adjustments as you learn. Make sure you have a space set up for messy tasks such as potting. Making things easy and simple will make you more likely to enjoy the process and keep going.

Happy gardening apartment dwellers!


If you need more inspiration check out the lists below for a list of plants that do well indoors and some products that will be useful in getting your indoor growing area set up.

List of  veggies to grow indoors

List of products that are helpful for indoor food gardens