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How to start your own veggie garden, indoors or outdoors

The pros share tips for exercising your green thumb.
/ Source: TMRW

Gardening has skyrocketed in popularity over the past year, and with warmer weather on its way, TMRW was curious to know just how much work is involved in starting a veggie garden at home. So we asked a few pros to share their advice for planning, creating and caring for both indoor and outdoor varieties. Intrigued yet? These tips might just inspire you to exercise your own green thumb!

The benefits of a veggie garden

If you've been toying around with the idea of starting your own veggie garden but aren't sure if it's worth it, there are plenty of benefits to consider. Here are just a few:

  • You'll have veggies on demand: "There’s nothing worse than having to throw out store-bought lettuce because you forgot it in the fridge too long. If it’s growing outside, you can just snip a few leaves and have an immediately fresh salad!" said Blythe Yost, CEO and co-founder of Tilly, an online landscape design service.
  • It's great for experimenting if you like to cook: "When you start an edible garden, even if it is a small windowsill container, you can enjoy many salads, soups and seasonings during the spring and summer months. The number of herbs one can grow in windowsill containers is pretty decent; you will enjoy tasting delicious food for many months," Fabiola Cáceres, director of education at the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum, told TMRW.
  • It's a great activity for kids: "We always involve our kids in the process, from growing seeds to planting to picking, because gardening is a perfect hands-on learning opportunity," said Dave and Jenny Marrs, the stars of the HGTV hit show "Fixer to Fabulous."
  • You'll save money at the grocery store: With a family, "the cost savings on growing our own vegetables versus buying them is another huge benefit," the Marrs said.

How to start an outdoor veggie garden

Want to venture into the great outdoors and get your hands dirty? Outdoor gardens take a lot of work, but they're not as intimidating as they seem. Before planting anything, you'll want to do a bit of planning first.

"You need to determine where you’ll plant it. This doesn’t have to be limited by where you live. Even if you don’t have access to (a lot of) land, there are so many options for your garden: raised beds, greenhouses, pots, vertical towers for small spaces. You also need to determine what type of seeds you want to purchase — heirloom, non-GMO, for example — or if you’d like to start with plants rather than seed," the Marrs said.

Next, it's time to get down to business and focus on the following key details:

  • Sunlight: "Look for an area that has a minimum of eight hours of direct sunlight, preferably more. If you don’t know if your space has eight hours of sunlight, take a picture of the space every two hours starting at 8 a.m. for a clear vision of how the sunlight travels throughout the day in that space," Cáceres suggested.
  • Water: "Keep the soil damp, but not wet. You want the plants to have to work a little by growing their roots deeper in the soil so they aren’t susceptible to really dry or really hot weather. If you don’t overwater they will grow deeper roots and be stronger plants," the Marrs said.
  • Soil: "Next, get your soil tested. This can be done at the county extension office and is usually free. Different plants require different soil acidity and minerals, and the county will tell you what additives you need to put in the soil," the Marrs said.
  • Drainage: "If your raised bed is built-in and comes with a base, make sure the base has drilled holes for drainage. Ideally, your raised beds are a frame where you can lay a layer of plant fabric and add the soil and compost on top; this will protect your seedlings from any contaminated soil underneath," Cáceres said.

How to start an indoor veggie garden

If you're short on outdoor space, you can still reap the benefits of a veggie garden in the comfort of your own home. Indoor veggie gardens require you to get a bit creative, but they're worth it if you put in the work.

"The best place to start when thinking about an indoor garden is how committed you are. This means in terms of time, space and cost," Yost said.

Finding a spot for your indoor garden is perhaps the most important decision you'll make since it'll impact how well the plants grow and how accessible it is.

"If your space is small, use window sills or a fire escape to house your plants. You can place them on the floor or a stool near a window. Ask if you can access your building’s rooftop, which is a great area to grow," Cáceres said.

Next, it's time to get down to business and focus on the following key details:

  • Light: "If you don’t have great natural lighting, you can consider investing in grow lights. We recommend LED to save on energy, but fluorescent and metal halide lights work well also. Try to mount the lights in such a way that they can be adjusted as your plants grow," Yost said.
  • Soil: "Any sort of lightweight potting soil should work for indoor growing. I like to start seeds in a peat mix and then transplant to larger pots with regular potting soil," Yost said.
  • Growing trays: "Ask your local food store if they have wood crate pallets; they usually dispose of them. You can lay it vertically against a wall that gets a lot of light indoors and build your vertical fruit/veggie pallet garden. Or, use household materials like the wood drawers of an old armoire, an old suitcase, a milk crate or an old metal bucket. Just make sure to drill holes when using these containers and lay a plant fabric inside before adding the soil," Cáceres said.

What veggies to grow indoors and outdoors

Some veggies do well with limited light and space, while others need plenty of sunshine and room to grow, so deciding what you'll grow in your indoor or outdoor veggie garden is one of the most important decisions you'll make. Here's a quick cheat sheet!

  • What to grow in an indoor veggie garden: Chives, mint, parsley, thyme, leafy greens and herbs, and dwarf or compact fruiting plants.
  • What to grow in an outdoor veggie garden: Cucumbers, tomatoes, beets, peppers, pole beans and just about any other veggie.

Want the best of both worlds? You can always start your outdoor garden indoors.

"It can be very important to start your seedlings indoors where you can keep the soil temperature and moisture more constant. Starting seeds can be as simple as planting them in an old milk carton and setting them on a sunny window sill or more complex with soil warmers, grow lights, and multicelled trays," Yost said. "However you start them, you want to be sure to 'harden off' before moving outside full time. This means slowly acclimating the seedlings to the harsher light, wind and soil conditions of the outside world."