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Container gardens: A guide to growing veggies indoors

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Even without acres of land, it's possible to grow vegetables and herbs from within your apartment or yard-less house. It'll require a modest investment, but soon after you'll reap the financial and health benefits of having your own indoor garden. Below are a few pointers on how to get started.

Containers: Without a yard to grow veggies, you'll need to rely on pots for your plants. Since you'll be eating what you grow, you can't just go with any pot. Avoid treated wood or certain plastics that can seep into the plants. Standard clay or terra cotta pots are a good alternative, though you'll want to ditch the saucer it comes with for a cheaper, clear vinyl tray if you're taking your plants indoors. These trays don't leak or let moisture seep through and they won't scratch your windowsills.

Another option is the EarthBox Garden Kit ($41.24 + $10 s&h at Meijer.com). These plastic, rectangular planters are made from UV-stabilized materials and come in varying sizes. They include potting mix, fertilizer, and fitted covers. (Other EarthBox models can be purchased direct from EarthBox.com.

Grow Lights: While some plants don't mind the shade, most food-producing plants like basking in the sun's rays and require five or more hours of sunlight to soak up nutrients. However, if your plants are indoors, it'll be difficult to fulfill those daylight requirements.

Fortunately, Grow Lights can help with that problem. The 150W HPS Sun System Economy Plant Grow Light ($93.99 + free shipping at Specialty-Lights.com) provides your plants with 16,000 lumens of light. This model measures 15" in length and can be hung above your garden via its built-in hangers. Generally, the closer you hang it to your garden the more your plants will benefit.

Fertilizer: When plants are in pots, they typically don't get the nutrients they receive when they're planted in the ground. Potted plants rely on you to give them those nutrients in the form of fertilizer. Even if you don't shop the organic aisles at the supermarket, a case can still be made to use organic fertilizer on your vegetable plants. Planet Natural has a number of mixes and a helpful guide to tell you which fertilizer to use based on your soil's pH and the plants you have.

Plants: Before you plant anything, think about what kind of space you can dedicate to your plants and what kind of light you have or can support. If you don't have much space to offer, it might be best to start off with a few herb plants. Several can be planted in a single strawberry pot or in small, individual pots. The easiest way to get started is with an herb garden kit, which only requires assembly and water. Simple herbs to grow are basil, rosemary, cilantro, dill, mint, and chives.

Once you learn the basics with your herbs, you can graduate to plants that are a little more sizeable. You can try a Meyer lemon, which is a common potted plant originating from China. Other easy vegetable plants include lettuce, beans, and tomatoes.

Tool essentials: Even if your plants never see the great outdoors, there are still a handful of gardening tools you'll need to keep them healthy and growing. Among them we recommend a watering can. Its spout is designed to reach between the leaves and pour water into the pot without any spills.

And while you won't need a large shovel, a few small hand tools such as a small spade, hand shears, and fork to aerate the soil will serve you well. OXO Good Grips is particularly known for its signature rubber handles.

Container gardening is rewarding, especially when the plants begin to bear fruits or vegetables. Don't be discouraged if a plant starts to droop or one is lost. Determine what is needed and make sure the others are taken care of. Ask about the soil, light, and watering requirements when you buy the plants, and look for information online to get more tips. With special care you can grow your plants year round and some plants will produce vegetables even out of season.

Enid Burns

Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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