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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

How to Grow Organic Food Indoors

by Janelle Sorensen

Most of us have houseplants, but have you ever considered growing edibles indoors? Better yet, how about growing delicious, organic produce? Forget the gardener’s woes of winter’s inhospitality. Forget the city-dweller’s complaints about the confines of yard-less living. There are no excuses anymore for not having a bountiful garden. And, growing produce indoors not only provides you with healthy, affordable organics year-round – the plants will also help keep your indoor air clean, which is especially important during stuffy, winter months.

Here’s how to get started:

1. Pick a place. You can grow a wide variety of herbs, vegetables, and even fruits in containers on windowsills, shelves or tables. R.J. Ruppenthal, author of Fresh Food from Small Spaces: The Square-Inch Gardener’s Guide to Year-Round Growing, Fermenting, and Sprouting, even has tips for using closets and empty bathtubs. Your only limitation is your imagination.

2. Start simple. Ensure immediate success by beginning with surefire winners like herbs, sprouts and lettuce. Take it up a tiny notch by growing a pizza garden (basil, oregano, cherry tomatoes) or a salsa garden (cilantro, onion, tomatoes, peppers). There are specific varieties of vegetables and fruits that fare best in containers. You can find a list of them and the specific size of container they need at Garden Guides. Find seeds on-line or look for a local organic nursery or seed company that you can visit in person. Check out the list of suppliers at GreenPeople.org.

3. Collect containers. Almost any type of container can be used to grow your plants: terra cotta pots, ceramic pots, wooden window boxes, metal tubs, glass bowls, ice cream buckets – pretty much whatever you have on hand. Choose the appropriate size based on each seed’s recommendations. Some plants will have to start out in peat pots and transplanted, some can go straight into the container. Drainage holes aren’t necessary if you don’t over water, but that’s hard to tell unless you’re an experienced gardener. So opt for something with holes (or make a few yourself using a drill or hammer and nails) and place a pan underneath to catch excess water.

4. Select soil. Many commercial potting soils have synthetic additives. So, to truly grow organic, you need to look for the “OMRI Listed” label. The OMRI-Organic Materials Review Institute-determines which products can be used within the national organic program.

5. Find a fertilizer. Again, to really grow organic, make sure you’re using an OMRI-listed fertilizer. Some plants only need to be fertilized when you sow the seeds, but others like more regular feeding. Read your seed package or talk to your local nursery to learn what’s best for the varieties you’ve selected.

6. Look for light. Some plants need more light than others. Many will fare well in a sunny window and many like the added boost of a grow light. Some species don’t need light at all (like mushrooms!) Check out these organic mushroom indoor growing kits.

7. Prepare for pests. Growing indoors means far fewer potential pest problems, but you should still be ready to battle bugs (without toxic chemicals). For example, whiteflies and mealy bugs can be controlled with a yellow sticky trap or diluted rubbing alcohol (though test your plant to make sure it won’t get burned).

Whether you decide to grow leafy greens such as lettuce, spinach, and endive; herbs like basil, thyme, and parsley; or produce like cherry tomatoes, dwarf beets, and blueberries, indoor organic gardening can save you money and protect your health. Also, it’s fulfilling, fun, and the food is delicious!

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Posted by: WebMD Blogs at 7:00 am

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