We live in a crazy world, and anything that you can do to produce even a small amount of the food you eat can be a great benefit to your food security. Growing greens inside your home is one way to do just that.
How can I grow lettuce and other greens inside my home year-round? It is incredibly simple to grow lettuce and other nutritious greens on a shelf or countertop in your home. You need inexpensive full-spectrum lights, quality potting soil, seeds, and water.
In this post, I will show you how we have started to grow greens for our family on a simple set of shelves we purchased at the hardware store, along with some inexpensive shop lights.
Increase Self-Reliance by Growing Greens Inside of Your Home
We have an incredibly simple solution to ensure that you have access to organic greens year-round for pennies a day. You can grow fresh greens inside of your own home.
Quite frankly, I was surprised at how easy it is to produce an abundance of greens in a small footprint, and for a fraction of the cost of buying them. Growing a vegetable garden has always been a hobby of mine. It has provided our family with an abundance of healthy produce quite inexpensively. I have not been able to build a greenhouse, and so much of our food production is limited due to a short growing season.
Growing my greens indoors means that I do not have to worry about grasshoppers, leaf miners, or chickens destroying my crop. Once the summer heat arrives, most of my spinach, lettuce, and greens bolt and go to seed in my outdoor garden. That leaves me with only kale and chard for a few months. I have to rely on dried or frozen greens during the winter months.
Our world is filled with challenges. We are seeing shortages and price increases that impact our access to healthy greens. I think that we have discovered the ideal solution to keep our family in greens throughout the year with significantly less work.
Best Varieties of Lettuce and Greens to Grow Indoors
Some varieties of lettuce and greens will grow better than others under lights inside your home. Here are a few varieties of greens and herbs that can be successfully grown indoors.
Best Lettuce Varieties for Growing Inside
Loose-leaf lettuce varieties are ideal for growing indoors because they work well with cut-and-come-again harvesting. These are just a few examples of lettuce varieties that are great candidates for growing inside of your home.
- Garden Babies
- Baby Oakleaf
- Salad Bowl
- Lollo Rosa
- Black-Seeded Simpson
- Tom Thumb
- Red Deer Tongue
Best Varieties of Greens for Growing Indoors
Select greens that are designed to be harvested while young. Baby leaf or bunching varieties are perfect. A braising mix is a great option. I like to grow greens because I can eat them raw in a salad, blended in a smoothie, or cooked in a stir fry or soup.
These varieties of greens will work well when grown under lights indoors.
- Swiss chard (I love rainbow chard)
- Beets (to harvest the tops)
- Tatsoi Asian greens
- Rosie Asian greens
- Mustard greens
Best Varieties of Herbs for Growing Indoors
Fresh herbs are the secret ingredients that every seasoned cook uses to create the perfect dish. Many delicious herbs can easily be grown year-round under lights. Select compact varieties for the greatest success. Grow the herbs that you use most frequently in your cooking.
These are a few examples of herbs that would work well in an indoor herb garden.
- Oregano (perennial)
- Mints (perennial)
- Thyme (perennial)
- Sage (perennial)
Simple Steps to Effectively Growing Greens Inside Your Home
Greens are the easiest plants to grow indoors. They are relatively pest and disease free when you do it correctly. This is how I grow my lettuce indoors.
#1 – Provide the Right Lights
You do not have to purchase expensive grow lights. Seedlings can be grown effectively with inexpensive shop lights if you purchase the right bulbs. Use a natural light with a Kelvin rating of 5,000 to 6,500, and an output of at least 2,500 lumens.
To learn more about our inexpensive lighting system, visit our post, Inexpensive Grow Lights to Jump Start Your Garden. If the plants are leggy or yellowed, they need more light. Keeping the grow lights close to the plants helps them to be happier and have a nice thick stem.
#2 – Select the Right Container
Selecting the right container is critical to a successful harvest. Small seedlings can be grown in small cups, but full-sized plants need a lot more room.
Give Plants Room to Grow Wide and Deep
Microgreens can be planted remarkably close together because they are harvested while they are young seedlings. I prefer to harvest my plants when they are more mature. Harvesting leaves from larger plants is significantly less expensive because it uses far fewer seeds to produce the food.
Be sure to provide adequate room between plants. Plants need room to sink their roots deep into the soil. Ideally, each plant will ultimately need between 4 to 6 inches of growing space in soil that is 4 to 8 inches deep.
In the photo below, you will notice that there is a significant difference in the size of the plants growing in the cups and those in the white dishpans. These seedlings were started at the same time and transplanted into the new containers the same day. They receive the same amount of water and light.
The difference is that one is crammed into a cup much too small for the roots. The top of the plant grows in proportion to the amount of soil the roots can expand to. The large dishpans let the roots expand and intertwine with each other. These plants are much happier and provide significantly more leafy greens for our table.
It is important to thin plants as needed. I suggest that you harvest the extra plants and use them in a soup or salad.
Provide Good Drainage – Greens Do Not Like Soggy Feet
Make sure that you provide plants with good soil that will help maintain a constant moist soil.
Provide adequate drainage to ensure that the plants do not get waterlogged. I created an inexpensive system using plastic dishpans. I drilled drainage holes in the top dishpan. The bottom dishpan catches any excess water. I placed thin pieces of scrap wood between the dishpans to allow room for the water to drain. Anything will work, the key is to make sure water can drain away from the roots.
#3 – Start Seedlings in a Seedling Propagation Mix
Tender roots of seedlings can be burned in potting soil containing fertilizers. I usually start my seedlings in a propagation mix designed specifically to promote healthy seedling growth.
Tom Bartels demonstrates exactly how to create your own seedling propagation mix here. I premoisten the propagation soil mix before planting. That seems to provide the best results.
#4 – Cover and Keep Moist
I like to loosely cover my newly planted containers with some plastic wrap and place them in a warm location until they have sprouted. Then I remove the film. You may also just choose to mist the soil daily until the seedlings emerge. Remember to keep moist, but do not drown the little guys.
Once the greens have emerged, I check the soil moisture level every morning and usually add additional water. Allowing lettuce to dry out can make it bitter.
#5 – Maintain the Correct Growing Temperature
The ideal temperature for growing lettuce is 65-70°. It requires an average temperature of 50° to grow. Too cold will slow growth and too hot will encourage the plant to bolt.
#6 – Provide Good Light Exposure
Lettuce will grow best under grow lights for at least 12 hours each day. I turn my grow lights off when I go to bed at night and turn them back on in the morning. I am hoping to get them on an automatic timer soon.
The next best option is in a sunny window. The grow lights lets you extend the day light regardless of the conditions outside for optimal growth.
#7—Air Movement Builds Strong Plants
Lettuce and greens will be incredibly tender if they do not have air movement to help strengthen the leaves. You can help move the air with a gentle fan or by placing it near a vent. Do not mistake drafts for healthy air movement.
#8 – Transplant into Larger Containers with Potting Soil
Once the little seedlings have had a chance to establish themselves, I divide them and strategically place them in larger containers where they will produce well for a couple of months. I like to plant them 4 to 6 inches apart and in soil 4 to 8 inches deep.
I like to use a soil that comes with an organic slow-release fertilizer that is good for about 3 months. Once the greens are finished, I place the soil in our compost bin to build the soil in our outside garden. It is possible to reuse it, but I prefer to use fresh when available.
#9 – Fertilize as Needed
You may need to fertilize depending on the type of soil you have selected. Choose a fertilizer that is organic and formulated for edible plants. You may want to consider one of these.
- Miracle Grow Organics All-Purpose Plant Fertilizer for Vegetables, Flowers and Herbs
- Dr. Earth Organic 5 Tomato, Vegetable & Herb Fertilizer Poly Bag
- GS Plant Foods Organic Liquid Kelp Plant Fertilizer
#10 – Harvest by the Cut-and-Come-Again Method
You can harvest indoor grown lettuce as soon as 4 weeks. I start selectively harvesting with the leaves are about 4 inches tall. The cut-and-come-again method lets me harvest the young leaves while allowing the plant to continue growing.
Harvest by cutting the outer leaves at the base of the plant first, about 1 inch from the soil. The plant will continue to grow new lettuce in the center for a while longer.
When you begin to harvest from one set of plants it is time to plant a new container to ensure that you have a constant supply of fresh greens for your dinner table. Harvest in the morning for best flavor and texture.
#11 – Preserving the Harvested Greens
I gently rinse my newly harvested greens, cut them up, and place them in a salad spinner to remove the excess moisture. I place a paper towel in the bottom of a container to regulate the moisture and put the newly chopped and dried lettuce on top of it.
I close the container and place it in the refrigerator. The lettuce crisps up amazingly well, and I have fresh greens that are salad or smoothie ready in my refrigerator for the next week.
Once these greens are used up, the greens under the grow lights are ready to cut again. This method takes less time to produce fresh, ready-to-eat lettuce than it takes for me to make a trip to the grocery store.
#12 – Plant a New Crop Every Few Weeks
Most greens and lettuce plants have a limited productive life. By using the cut-and-come-again harvest method, you significantly increase that productive life, but the plants will not last forever. There are a few exceptions to the rule such as a perennial spinach called Malabar that can be grown as an indoor houseplant.
You can ensure a constant supply of greens by having plants growing at all stages. Just keep a set of containers with newly planted seeds, one with young adolescent plants, and one that is frequently harvested.
Once the flavor of the greens turns bitter or the plant starts to bolt it is time to thank it for its wonderful service and retire it. We like to feed them to the chickens or compost them.
Grow Enough Greens to Feed Your Family in a Small Space
I am amazed how well growing greens is working out for our family. This one small shelf produces a lot of salad greens. There is one thing that I did not factor into the equation.
Having fresh greens only a few feet away from our kitchen means that we harvest and eat more greens. One day I went out to water my greens and was shocked. It looked like something had come through and decimated my crop. After a bit of investigation, I discovered that Benjamin, our 14-year-old son, was enjoying the new salad bounty in his smoothies.
He had not quite understood that cut-and-come-again meant harvesting the leaves when they are at least 4 inches tall. No worries. All the plants have grown back, and we are rationing them until a second set of shelves and shop lights are delivered.
Growing greens indoors, with instant access, means that my family eats more incredibly nutritious greens in salads, stir-fries, soups, and smoothies. All for the incredibly small price of a little electricity, a bag of garden soil, and some seed packets.
Growing greens indoors means less frequent trips to the market and higher quality produce than I can purchase anywhere. If I can do this, so can you!
Thanks for being part of the solution!Jonathan and Kylene Jones