(Grow Your Own Food Indoors-Part 2) Increase the yield and variety of food you grow in your indoor garden by grouping plants that complement one another. Here are some “companion planting” concepts that apply to indoor gardens, grow rooms or grow tents.
Growing your own food in an indoor grow room or grow tent has some key advantages over outdoor gardening. And if you learn to manage the mix of plants, you can produce a substantial amount of vegetables, fruits, and herbs while devoting only a small portion of your home to it.
The main advantage of an enclosed growing space is the ability to control the environment. Depending on how you set up your garden space, you can control light cycles, humidity, and heat.
The other obvious advantage is that you can grow and harvest food all year — it goes from the vine to your table, fridge, oven or saute’ pan in less than a minute.
If you’ve got an indoor garden or you’re planning to start one, here are some ideas about how to get more food from a given amount of space:
1. Use Companion Planting Methods
Companion planting is a simple concept: Some plants grow better near certain companion plants than they do alone. On the other hand, some plants grow poorly near certain other plants.
Companion planting techniques are often handed down generation to generation, even becoming folklore. Google “companion planting” and you’ll see a huge variety of companion planting guides.
Many of these are simple charts that indicate only two factors: whether plants play nicely together or whether they fight. (Click here to download a good example of a simple yea-or-nay chart from the Permaculture Research Institute.)
A more complex companion planting chart like this one tells you not only which plants are friends and which are foes, it lists which plants should precede or follow one another if you’re rotating them. Bonus: It also suggests fertilizers and soil preparation tactics.
Keep in mind that some of the pairings in these guides are intended to thwart pests that may not be an issue for indoor gardens, especially if you’re using a well-sealed growing chamber. And to thwart pests that do threaten indoor plants, you can find a host of organic-friendly recipes.
Aside from pest and disease control, plants in indoor containers can benefit from some key elements of companion planting:
* Climate co-operation
Most vegetables need full sunlight (or grow lights) to grow well, but some grow well with some shade. In an indoor garden, you can pair taller sun-loving plants with shorter, shade-tolerant plants in the same container, and both will benefit.
Pepper plants and vining varieties such as beans and tomatoes, for example, can provide enough shade for lettuces, chard, herbs, and many other shorter plants.
The shade-tolerant plant can provide ground cover for taller plants. That’s one reason basil grows well with tomatoes — the basil can keep moisture from evaporating out of bare soil beneath the tomato plant.
* Nitrogen fixation
Peas, beans and other legumes produce nodules within their roots of a form of nitrogen they can absorb (unlike the gaseous form of nitrogen in the air, which they can’t use directly). The great thing about these nodules is that neighboring plants can use them, too.
Inter-plant a container of beans with cucumber, lettuce, parsley, cabbage and other members of the cabbage family (such as cauliflower, broccoli, and brussels sprouts). Pair broad beans with potatoes.
Using natural nitrogen fixation through legumes reduces the amount of nitrogen you need to provide with fertilizer.
2. Go Vertical
Combining tall and short plants that pair well helps you grow more in confined space. In addition to the complementing sun-loving and shade-tolerant pairings mentioned above, you can inter-plant tall, skinny vegetables with those that stay closer to the soil.
For example, inter-plant celery, leeks, onions, and garlic with leafy greens such as endive, spinach, and lettuces.
If you’ve got a good five feet or so from the floor of your grow space to the lights, vines and hanging plants can stretch your growing area as well as provide shade. Keep in mind that vines can dry out faster than plants closer to the soil, so be sure they get enough water.
3. Pair Fast- and Slow-Growing Vegetables
If you plant lettuce in the same container with cauliflower, you can harvest the lettuce before the cauliflower really begins to take off. The lettuce shades the ground and acts as mulch, holding in moisture, for the slower-developing cauliflower.
The lettuce/cauliflower pairing is a classic, as is spinach with leeks.
This concept works in reverse, too. A slower-growing root vegetable, such as a radish, can make a perfect bed for a faster-growing leafy green. So, when you pull an onion or a radish, pop a lettuce start into the hole. The nutrients left behind by onion or radish will help nourish the lettuce.
One of the great things about a controlled indoor gardening environment is that you can experiment with all of these techniques. With more than one growing season per year, you’ll be able to learn faster what works.
And while you learn, you’ll be producing fabulous food that didn’t have to make the trip to your table via planes, trains, and automobiles.
(Read Part 1 of our “Grow Your Own Food Indoors” series, featuring tips for growing tomatoes all year round.)
Are you ready to grow your garden year-round?