Laura Newcomer | Greatist.com
From farmers’ markets and Community Supported Agriculture, to urban farms and rooftop gardens, to produce delivery services, more and more people across the U.S. are embracing farm-fresh food.
And for good reason: Locally grown produce tends to be better for the environment and for local communities than its store-bought counterparts. Growing food at home also ensures that growers know exactly where their food comes from and how it was grown (no need to worry about deceptive food labeling). If you’re not whipping out the pruning shears yet, consider this: Learning new skills is good for our brains.
Luckily, you don’t need to be a farmer (or even live near a farm) in order to reap the benefits of home-grown produce. If you have a sunny window (or two, or five) and a bit of extra time on your hands, then you’re capable of growing your own food right at home. Read on for our roundup of 16 easy, healthy plants to cultivate indoors — and how to get them growing!
GENERAL GROWING TIPS
Before you get started, here are a few tips that will be handy to keep in mind no matter which of the plants from this list you choose to grow.
All of these plants require well-draining soil, which means you will either need to use a pot with holes in the bottom or pile up some stones in the bottom of your pot before adding soil (so that the water can drain through the stones). If you choose to use a pot with holes in the bottom, be sure to put a shallow drainage container under the pot so the water doesn’t drain onto your floor, shelf, or windowsill.
For each of these plants, feel free to purchase potting mix at a garden center or make your own (You can also choose whether or not you want to stick with organic soils). Each plant grows best in a slightly different soil environment, but this general potting mix recipe will help get you started.
Many of these plants grow best in areas that receive lots of sunlight and remain fairly warm throughout the day. Sunny windows are extremely helpful for growing plants indoors. However, if you don’t have sunny windows (or if the area is a low temperature), grow lights will be your new best friend — they help maintain optimal light and temperature conditions for plants regardless of outside weather or indoor conditions.
Why They’re Healthy: Avocados are chock full of healthy fats in addition to vitamins E and B6 and carotenoids, which are high in vitamin A and have been linked to a reduced risk of cancer, heart disease, and eye degeneration. No wonder these fruits are one of our favorite superfoods!
How to Grow: It’s possible to grow an avocado tree from an avocado pit, but doing so may not yield edible fruit. If you want to eat what you sow, it’s best to purchase a dwarf avocado plant (varieties that yield the larger green-skinned fruit or the more common black-skinned fruits are equally good) . To tend for your tree, add some sand to the bottom of a large, well-draining pot before filling it with regular potting mix and planting your tree. Water the tree regularly but make sure the soil is never soggy — avocado roots don’t take well to being waterlogged. Prune the shoots regularly, and be sure to place the tree in an area with high ceilings — even dwarf trees can grow higher than 10 feet!
How to Harvest: Green varieties are ready to harvest when the fruits’ skin turns slightly yellow, while darker varieties are ready when their skins have turned almost black. Ripe fruits can be left hanging on the tree for a few weeks, but any longer than that and they’ll start to lose their flavor and texture.
Why They’re Healthy: Carrots are a good source of a variety of vitamins and minerals, including thiamin, niacin, folate, manganese, potassium, and vitamins B6, A, C, and K. They also supply carotenoids, which are a big boon for eye health .
How to Grow: Purchase carrot seeds and a pot or window box that’s at least a foot and a half deep and wide, with drainage holes at the bottom. Fill the container to within an inch of the top with a humus-rich potting mix. Water the soil before planting the seeds. Plant the seeds one inch apart in rows that are six inches apart from each other, pressing the seeds gently into the soil and covering them with a thin layer of soil. Water. Place the container in an area that receives tons of light. Keep the soil moist, but not soaked. To help preserve moisture, soak some peat moss in water overnight and then spread it on top of the seeds. Expect the seeds to germinate (i.e., start sprouting) in about two weeks.
How to Harvest: Carrots are ready for harvest when they’ve grown to about ¾ of an inch across the top (just below the green stem). If you can’t see the carrot itself, gently brush aside some soil around the stem so you can size it up (Note: Though it may be tempting to see how big carrots can get, they’ll start to lose their sweetness and flavor once they surpass their peak size.). To pick the carrots, grab them firmly at the root and wiggle them around a bit, then pull straight up. If you find that the soil is quite hard, water it and then wait an hour or so before retrying the harvest. Once the carrots have been pulled from the soil, remove the greens immediately, wipe off any excess dirt, and let them dry before storing them in the fridge.
3. Garlic Greens
Why They’re Healthy: Pungent garlic is a member of the cancer-fighting allium family . It’s also a Greatist-approved superfood that’s been linked to improvements in high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.
How to Grow: Note: Growing actual garlic bulbs indoors is a bit tricky, but you can easily grow garlic greens, which can be used just like scallions. Start by purchasing a few garlic bulbs with small cloves, and don’t be afraid to buy a shattered bulb (i.e., one that’s started to burst or is fully pulled apart). Select a four-inch pot with drainage holes at the bottom (a quart-size yogurt container with holes poked through the bottom will also work) and a small bag of potting soil. Fill the pot with soil to about half an inch below the top of the container. Break the bulbs into individual cloves (leave the peel on), and push each individual clove about an inch into the soil, pointy end up. Plant about 12 cloves close together. Water well and place the container in a sunny spot. Water regularly, making sure that the soil remains moist but not soggy. Green shoots should appear in about a week.
How to Harvest: Once the shoots are 8-10 inches tall (this will take a few weeks), clip off whatever you need with scissors. When the cloves start putting up more sprouts, compost the contents of the pot, fill it back up with fresh potting soil, and plant new cloves (Each clove only sprouts good greens once; to have a constant supply, you need to keep re-planting).
Why They’re Healthy: A Greatist superfood, lemons are packed with vitamin C and antioxidants, which could help decrease heart disease risk, reduce inflammation, and fight some cancers   .
How to Grow: If you want the option of harvesting fruits right away, purchase a two-to-three-year-old dwarf tree at a nursery. Choose a clay, ceramic, or plastic pot slightly larger than the root ball of your tree, and make sure it has several holes in the bottom. Fill the drainage dish with stones to allow air to circulate. Use a potting soil specifically formulated for citrus trees, or choose a slightly acidic, loam-based potting mix. Place the plant in an area that will receive eight to 12 hours of sunlight each day and will ideally maintain a temperature between 55 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Water regularly, but be sure not to over-saturate the soil (it should be moist, not sopping wet). Citrus trees like moist air, so regularly misting the leaves with a spray bottle will help keep the leaves perky.
How to Harvest: Most lemons will ripen in six to nine months. Test for ripeness by looking for full color and gently squeezing the rind — a slight “give” indicates that the lemons are ready for eating.
5. Mandarin Oranges
Why They’re Healthy: These sweet little fruits are a decent source of antioxidants, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, and fiber.
How to Grow: Purchase dwarf mandarin orange trees for the best chance of growing fruits successfully indoors. The trees will grow best in spacious pots with drainage at the bottom, and in rich soil. They also require a sunny location (rotate the plant regularly to ensure that it receives light evenly on all sides). Water regularly, allowing the soil to dry out slightly between waterings. The trees can grow up to six feet tall, and their root system grows along with them — when the roots begin to grow back on themselves or out of the drainage holes, it’s time to re-pot in a container that’s at least 2 inches larger in diameter.
How to Harvest: Mandarins need to be harvested as soon as they turn orange in order to preserve their flavor. When the fruits turn orange, clip or carefully twist and pull the fruit from the tree, making sure that the “button” at the top of the fruit remains intact.
Why They’re Healthy: A big bowl of leaves can be a stellar source of vitamins A, C, K, and folate. And microgreens (a.k.a. seedlings of herbs and vegetables) might have even more nutrients than their full-grown counterparts .
How to Grow: Start by purchasing a variety of seeds, such as radishes, kale, Swiss chard, beets, basil, and dill. Fill a shallow tray (no more than 2 inches deep, often called “seedling trays”) or a shallow pot with a drainage hole and fill the tray to the top with potting mix. Moisten the soil with water, making sure that it’s damp but not wet. Sprinkle the seeds evenly over the soil (they should be close to each other but not touching). Sift a thin layer of soil over the top to cover the seeds. Using a spray bottle, lightly mist the soil. Place the tray on a sunny windowsill in a room that’s between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Mist or lightly water the soil daily so it remains moist; don’t let the soil dry out, but also make sure that it isn’t waterlogged. In about three to five days, the seeds will likely germinate — once they do, make sure they get 12-14 hours of light every day. Keep the soil moist at the roots, but avoid soaking the leaves.
How to Harvest: Once the seedlings have grown to one or two inches in height (expect this to take three weeks or more) and have about two sets of leaves, they’re ready to eat! To harvest the greens, hold them at the stem and use a pair of scissors to cut off the leaves, making sure not to cut into the root (by leaving the roots intact, you ensure that your greens will yield multiple harvests). Eat the microgreens right away or store them in a plastic bag in the fridge for up to five days.
Why They’re Healthy: Mushrooms aren’t just flavorful; they’re also a good source of fiber and vitamin C as well as antioxidants and cancer-fighting compounds .
How to Grow: The easiest way to grow mushrooms indoors is to purchase a kit or grow them in a laundry basket. If you’re looking for a more labor-intensive option, follow these instructions.
8. Salad Greens
Why They’re Healthy: Just like microgreens, salad greens (which include iceberg, spinach, romaine, red leaf, and arugula) are chock full of vitamins A, C, and K, and also contain folate and iron.
How to Grow: Begin by purchasing starter plants or seeds from a local nursery (You can also order seeds online). Choose a planter box that has drainage holes in the bottom and fill it with potting soil. Use your finger to poke holes into the soil about four inches apart.
If using seeds: Sprinkle a few of them into each hole, then pat the soil back over the hole to cover them up.
If using starts: Massage the roots before placing each start in a hole, filling in around them with soil.
After planting seeds or starts: Water the soil. When plants start to appear (if growing from seed), pull out all but the largest, healthiest shoots. Water the soil regularly, making sure that it always remains moist to the touch.
How to Harvest: To harvest mixed greens, pull off only the outer leaves to allow the plants to keep growing, and be sure not to disturb the roots.
Why They’re Healthy: Like garlic, scallions are part of the allium family of vegetables, which has been associated with cancer prevention and may help protect the body from free radicals (by-products of cellular processes that can cause cellular damage) .
How to Grow: No seeds required! To cultivate your own scallion crop, simply buy a bunch of scallions, wrap the bulbs together with a rubber band, and place the whole shabang (greens, bulbs, and all) in a glass with an inch of water. Change the water daily. When new green shoots appear and the roots have doubled in length (in about seven to 10 days), plant the scallions in a shallow pot or other container (not too big). Keep the plants evenly watered (i.e., don’t let the soil get too dry before watering) and in full sun.
How to Harvest: Snip the green tops (leaving at least an inch or two of the plant in the dirt) as needed. To use the white part of the scallion, harvest the plants when they’re six inches tall. Gently pull the white clump from the soil. Washed and trimmed scallions should keep for a week in the refrigerator (To maximize freshness, wrap them in a moist paper towel and store them in a plastic bag.).
Why They’re Healthy: Tomatoes contain lycopene, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and may help prevent coronary heart disease  .
How to Grow: Start by selecting one six-inch pot (for one plant) or a larger pot (approximately 12 inches) if you’d like to grow two plants. For a continuous supply of tomatoes, start one or two new plants from seed every two weeks. Fill the container(s) with starter potting mix and plant seeds about ¼ inch deep. Water, keeping the soil moist but not soggy. Place the container in an area that receives substantial sunlight, turning the pot(s) occasionally so all sides have even access to the sun. Expect the seeds to germinate in five to 10 days. When the seedlings are about three inches tall, transplant them from the starter mix to potting soil. About two weeks after transplanting, add an organic fertilizer to the mix. Water the plants thoroughly; again, keep the soil moist but not soggy. As the plants grow larger, they may need to be staked to avoid broken stems. When plants bloom, tap the main stem and larger side branches with your finger — this will help to encourage pollination.
How to Harvest: Tomatoes grown indoors will not grow to be as large as outdoor tomatoes, but they’ll still be full of tomatoey taste. When the fruits are red and firm, but with a slight “give” to the touch, they’re ready to eat. Either clip or gently twist and pull the fruits from their stems.