Growing Food Indoors? Sure!

As we celebrate National Indoor Plant Week, my question turns to can we grow food indoors?  The answer is emphatically, yes!

Perhaps the simplest option for indoor food production would be to grow some container plants that would work well.  Crops like lettuce, arugula, and some of the other leafy greens have lower light requirements and may function well in many indoor scenarios.  It could be possible to grow more light-intensive crops in containers if you have sufficient light – lots of windows or light sources.  Many people also try their hand at growing herbs in containers indoors, especially over winter with varied success.  They usually can tolerate the drier indoor air, but need light.  Having a light source, such as a fluorescent plant light or LEDs will really increase success.

If houseplants are more your speed, trying potted citrus could be an option – get it right and you could be rewarded with a modest harvest of fresh limes or lemons.

Stepping up in the involvement level would be the small hydroponic and aeroponic systems you see on the market.  These can often be a good hobby production that will lead to a small harvest of leafy greens or herbs.  They can often help take some of the guess work out of production, especially with the systems that come with a light source.  You can find the systems that are like a mini-production systems or the more fun models that grow a crop on top of something like a fish tank.

The key is to remember that indoor plants aren’t just houseplants (as much as we may enjoy African violets, orchids, and other houseplants).  Don’t be afraid to experiment with growing some of your food indoors, especially in the winter when outdoor vegetable gardening is limited.

Some resources:

Indoor Herb Gardening (Univ of Vermont)

Hydroponics for Home Gardeners (Alabama Extension)

Growing Citrus Indoors (Univ of Missouri)


John Porter
Urban Agriculture Program Coordinator at Nebraska Extension
John Porter is the urban agriculture extension educator for the Omaha metro area and statewide program leader for the Horticulture, Landscape, and Environmental Systems team at Nebraska Extension. He specializes in urban agriculture and horticulture, especially in the areas of vegetable and fruit production for home gardens, urban farms, and edible landscaping.
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