Growing a Vegetable Garden Indoors
INDOOR VEGETABLE GARDENING:
Indoor gardening is gaining in popularity, and the availability of indoor gardening equipment has really come a long way in the last few years.
The entire premise of indoor gardening is based on creating an outdoor atmosphere (or as close as you can) in the space that you decide to use. The area doesn't have to be anything special, but you should consider the year-round temperature of the area, and the fact that by adding the garden there will be water, and some low-level humidity in the space. Depending on how much you like the hobby, and how elaborate you decide to make your garden area, these factors can be easily controlled, and will most likely improve the atmosphere of the surrounding areas.
Fluorescents: The first, and most important thing to be considered is the lighting. On the low end, you can use fluorescent lamps. Standard T-12 tubes, mixing 'warm white', and 'cool white' achieve a full spectrum output. Usually, 48" tubes are used, and the more you use, the better.
There are several drawbacks to using fluorescent tubes. One is that they don't have enough intensity to reach the bottom of plants that achieve a height of 12" or more. Another is that they have to be kept close in order for the plants to use the light that they produce. That makes them perfect for smaller plants such as herbs, lettuce, spinach, and other greens. They also work well for most houseplants.
For larger plants, there are new fluorescent bulbs available that are better at penetrating the canopy that your plants are going to make. T-8's are commonly available, are more intense than T-12's, and are available in cool or warm color spectrum also. The best fluorescents currently available are T-5's, and TT-105's. You can check out some of these here.
If you start your plants from seed using fluorescent lighting, once the plants reach 6 to 8 inches in height you can put them under and HID light (sooner if you want). You'll want to get them used to it over a few days by putting the light 3 or 4 feet away for the first day, then gradually over a few days, getting the light a little closer. (If you do it all at once, you'll fry 'em.)
HID: When your garden plants are big enough, HID lights provide much more intensity, and offer enough light to produce respectable quantities of vegetables indoors. HID lights (high intensity discharge) come in two varieties that are commonly used for indoor gardening; 'metal halide', and 'high pressure sodium'. Everyone is familiar with them as they are used as street lights everywhere. The white ones are the metal halides, and the orange ones are the high pressure sodiums. In an indoor garden area, both can be used for different special purposes.
Metal halide lights cause plants to grow very compact. They simulate the brighter light of spring, and are great for vegetative growth.
High pressure sodium lights are used to produce their fruit and flowers. They replace the metal halides bulbs which causes a change in plant chemistry to start the flower-budding process.
This is what happens in nature as the bright intense spring light kind of fades into the more muted, filtered light of fall. HID lights are available in three different versions: MH, and HPS, and 'switchable' fixtures that are capable of both MH and HPS from one fixture by flipping a switch, and changing from one bulb to the other. They also come in different wattages, and can be custom fit to an area by wattage. Here's a link to a tutorial on our site that will explain more.
Beyond the lighting, in creating the outdoor environment, you should have oscillating fans to 'agitate' the plants. This will both provide them with necessary circulation so that they can perform normal healthy transpiration, and it will strengthen them with the air by moving their leaves and branches.
The garden itself can be either a good quality potting soil, or hydroponics. The choice is entirely up to you. Hydroponics has it's definite advantages, and if you'd like to learn some more about that, here's a link.