Getting started with indoor gardening: 5 simple steps

Who has time for gardening? Many people do, it seems, during a pandemic. Early into the lockdowns, I saw friends posting about their new balcony garden, indoor snake plants, and backyard vegetable plot. These were the more refreshing parts of my social media feed back then.

I set out to ride the tide because I'd been wanting to grow food for my family. Beginning was tricky, though, since we live in a condo with no outdoor space. YouTube proves that it's possible but it requires quite the set up. Also, because I was growing a baby in my womb at the start of the pandemic, I had to take baby steps in building our indoor garden. I encountered a few false starts in the process and some of my purchases went unused. But finally, a year after I began buying gardening stuff, I planted my first seeds.

Do you also want to start an indoor garden? If I had another go at it, here are the five steps I would follow:

1. Identify what you want to plant and understand what they need.

Plants have different needs in terms of lighting, temperature, humidity, size of container, etc. Some do well indoors, some don't. Some require more space for roots to grow. To make the selection process easy, I suggest you visit the channel of Ang Magsasakang Reporter and choose from the many plants he discusses in his videos. That way, you'd be sure that those plants grow indoors in our climate, and you'd have tutorials on how to grow them too. You can also search "how to grow [plant name] indoors" in your preferred search engine for other perspectives.

2. Find a good spot for your plants.

This is an important step in building your indoor garden, as you might have to rearrange some of your things to create a suitable space.

Plants need light and airflow. A window where sunlight comes in would be a great spot, but not every home has that—mine doesn't. If you want to add artificial lighting, you'll need a provision for mounting the lights, as well as a way to power them. Same with airflow: if the spot doesn't have any light wind, you'll have to have a way to add a small fan.

Also, the area should be safe from curious kids, pets, and clumsy people like me ๐Ÿ˜‚. I've knocked over my planters enough times to know that the cleanup is annoying.

My plants are now on a display shelf.

Are you putting your plants in an air-conditioned space? For some plants, it will matter whether you do or not. I learned that the hard way. My pechay seedlings grew way ahead of my lettuce plants, but then summer came and I had to turn on the air conditioning. My pechay plants died. Mind you, the AC was only on at certain times of the day, just enough to make the room livable. I was still relying on fans to keep myself cool. Despite that, the pechay wilted. My lettuce plants grew fine in both settings, though!

Along with choosing the right spot for your plants, you'll need to decide what kind of containers you'll use. I opted to make self-watering planters because I had plastic bottles that fit nicely on my shelf (here's how to make self-watering planters). You might want to go with pots or hanging containers. Look at the potential places for your indoor garden and see what kinds of containers will fit in them.

3. Buy grow lights and/or fans.

I list these as the first purchase because they're probably the most complex and expensive part of the setup. Don't let that scare you off, though! There are many options depending on your budget.

If you don't want to spend on lights, you can rely on a window or your existing house lights or lamps. As a beginner, I opted not to go this route because if my plants didn't grow, how would I be able to tell if the cause was a lack of light? I followed an urban farmer's recommendation and got full-spectrum grow lights.

The simplest lighting setup I could think of was a clip lamp holder and an E27 grow bulb. The clip lamp holder would allow me to easily mount the lamp, and I could use it for regular bulbs (i.e. not grow lights) as well.

Clip lamp holder

E27 size LED grow bulb

I'm buying a mini clip fan too because I find the airflow a bit weak.

If you'd rather not clip-mount your grow lights or fans, there are other options in Lazada and Shopee. Just search for "full-spectrum grow light" and "mini fan." In case you'd like a system that can live on a power bank during outages, I suggest getting grow lights and mini fans that run on 5v USB power.

4. Buy a grow kit.

You can get gardening materials from various sources, but what helped me speed up the process was to buy a kit that already had what I needed. There are various grow kits available online that include the medium (soil, potting mix, etc.), a container, and seeds. Some even include a trowel. I got a couple of grow kits from Dahon South Seedling Farm, and these included a small bag of seeds, a sando bag of soil, a cardboard egg tray, a popsicle stick, and growing instructions. Then, I added more materials from Gardening Tita.

There are a lot of other grow kits on Lazada and Shopee. Just search for "grow kit." You can also contact one of the many gardening stores online and ask them what you'd need for your garden. When I chatted with Gardening Tita on Lazada, they gave me great advice on growing organic greens indoors.

Tip: you can use loam soil, but soilless potting mix is better for growing plants indoors.

5. Plant and maintain.

Now that you have everything you need, go ahead and put the medium into your containers and plant the seeds. Do you want to start the seeds in a seedling container for transplanting later? You'll see how to do that in this video. I did that with my first round of seeds. I later transplanted some spinach seedlings and they didn't survive. I realized I didn't need to go through the trouble—now I just plant straight into a self-watering planter.

On watering: if your water has been treated with chlorine, you'll need to let the chlorine evaporate by leaving the water in the open for 24 hours. Chlorine can kill plants. Also, water the medium, not the plant, and only until the medium is damp.

Then, plants need nutrients to grow well. There is already some in good soil or potting mix but they will need to be replenished. There are many ways to add nutrients to your medium, but I've gone with the organic fertilizers from Ang Magsasakang Reporter because they looked easy enough to make. Here are the videos on that topic. You can also ask an online gardening store for their recommended fertilizer.

Getting started in something new is often difficult, but anything worth doing starts with that small first step. I hope this guide has helped simplify the beginning of your indoor garden. And remember, if your pechay dies, begin again!