You tend a vegetable plant through its entire lifecycle; starting by seed, you’ll sprout, prune a tidy plant, pollinate flowers, feel for perfect ripeness – and maybe even collect some seeds for the next time. This blog gives you a complete guide to all of the gardening activities you’ll need to grow tasty vegetables indoors.
Starting Your Indoor Vegetable Garden
Most vegetables can be started by seed or propagated from a cutting if you already have a live plant. When starting from seed, vegetables tend to benefit from being soaked in water for a few hours, then placed in moist soil that’s just above room temperature (70-80F). Cuttings involve snipping off part of a live plant, placing it in water until roots develop, then planting it on its own. Not all plants will develop roots easily (or at all) with this method, but for the ones that do, taking cuttings is an efficient way to grow lots and lots of a certain crop.
Pruning & Trellising: Caring For Your Vines and Bushes 101
These plants tend to grow as large vines or bushes, so need to be kept in check with proper pruning. When a plant (especially vines) get to the biggest length of your lighted area, clip the growing tip with a heading cut. This will redirect that growth energy to produce side shoots which will then produce their own leaves, and eventually vegetables. When parts of your plant become too dense, you’ll also want to take some thinning cuts to let more light and air in.
Another trick to managing rambunctious vines (like peas and cucumbers), is to use a trellis. One of the easiest ways to do this indoors is to run strings from your planter to the top of a window.
Pollinating: Benefits of Choosing Self-Pollinating Vegetables
In order for a flower to turn into a vegetable, it needs to be pollinated. Outdoors, insects and wind move pollen around. Without those, the indoor gardener sometimes needs to step in. The easiest plants to pollinate are called “Self-Pollinating.” Whenever possible, we choose varieties that are self-pollinating – and they exist for Beans, Peas, Peppers, Cucumbers, and Tomatoes. To help them out, wait until the flowers open then just give them a slight shake or “rub the nose” of the flower. You can also grow plants that need to be cross-pollinated (eggplants and many cucumbers) by using a q-tip to transfer pollen from one flower to another.
Picking for Peak Flavor and Extended Harvests
The final step is learning to harvest at *just* the right time. You’ll develop a feel for each individual plant, but they broadly fall into two categories: Early-harvest veggies that you pick right after they form and ripe vegetables that need some more time to develop.
Cucumber, Beans, and other Early-harvest Veggies
The rule for these is to “pick um often and pick um all.”
Why pick your vegetables often?
These veggies tend to be at peak sugar stage for a short time, so you need to pick often to catch the small window of best flavor. When vegetables start to form it’s helpful to experiment a bit to find out what they are like at peak flavor for you. Picking at just the right time. (p.195 for experiment)
And why pick all your vegetables?
If you miss a single vegetable (and they’re good at hiding!) and it grows to maturity then these plants end their life cycle early. By preventing the plant from finishing that last step of making seeds, you are able to keep it producing vegetables for much longer.
Ripening your tomatoes and peppers to peak flavor
Ripe vegetables will get sweeter and more flavorful when they ripen on the vine. During this ripening time you’ll also reduce the amount of water that the roots get. Once they develop deep color and they come off the plant with a gentle pull, it’s time. It’s a bit more art than science, but if the first picked tomatoes or peppers aren’t flavorful enough, then just wait a little longer to try the rest. You’ll develop your feel in no time.