No, really: how does my Glasgow garden grow?
April 7, 2017 12:32 PM   Subscribe

Where can I learn everything there is to know about growing edible plants indoors, but with the slight hindrance of Scotland's lack of sun?

I've grown some sprouts and kept a succulent or two alive, and now I'd like to try my hand at something bigger. My only trouble is, I live in the west of Scotland and I don't know the first thing about growing edible plants indoors. (Or outdoors, but I'll get to that eventually.) All the guides I've come across for growing inside are aimed at more temperate (and on average, warmer/sunnier) climates.

It's cold here, it's wet, and we rarely have much light. Where do I start?

PS: What I want to grow are things like tomatoes, salad greens, some brassica vegetables, courgette/zucchini, and eventually anything else that will grow inside my wee flat.
posted by Vrai to Science & Nature (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Growing tomatoes indoors is pretty difficult even in more temperate climates. Brassicas and squashes like zucchini are not much better.

Are you interested in using supplemental grow lights? Or are you hoping to grow these on a windowsill? If the former, the same advice really does apply no matter where you are. If the latter, it's pretty difficult to do.

Salad greens and herbs are not too difficult though - you might want to start there (basically: leaves are easy, fruits are hard).
posted by mskyle at 12:47 PM on April 7

Definitely start with greens and herbs. Greens especially are already cool weather/spring crops. If you want to provide supplemental light, that's not that difficult. You just need a full spectrum light of some sort. I use a cheap shop light with a fluorescent tube for starting my seedlings indoors every spring. I hang it from hooks with chains so I can move it up and down depending on how tall my plants are. Use a timer so you can make sure your plants are getting at least 12 hours of light a day. They also sell mini greenhouse kits for seed starting that you might be able to use for full-time greens-growing. Just beware you don't let it get too moist in there. You don't want to encourage mold and rot. I have made this mistake in the past.

Tomatoes and zucchini are both HUGE plants. They need room and big, big pots. People do grow tomatoes in containers, but usually very large pots that stay outside on the patio. I can't really see how you could grow either indoors without a for-real greenhouse.

Rather than fruits of that nature, I'd instead look into seed pods: beans and peas. Bush beans are fairly compact plants, and peas will need something to climb up but don't take up much horizontal room. Peas are, again, spring plants that prefer it on the cooler side. Beans are high summer plants but you might be able to trick them with lights.

(Also, the last time I was in the West of Scotland, I got a sunburn, in March. It can happen!)
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:04 PM on April 7 [1 favorite]

I respectfully disagree with both the above posters! I've totally grown tomatoes successfully on a sunny Edinburgh window ledge (admittedly the Burgh has more sunshine than the Weej, so YTMMV).

I grew each one in a foot wide/deep pot sat on a wee tray; put some polystyrene or pebbles in the bottom for drainage, potting compost on top. If you're not aiming for organic, get some Tomorite and use as instructed on the bottle. You'll need bamboo canes with string/ties to stake them to as they get taller, and read up on which side branches you should pinch off and how/when to pinch the tops out to stop them growing upwards (both of those things stop the plant putting its energy into growing more and more branches and leaves, rather than into the fruit).

Also, don't expect to be able to use that window for anything else, like seeing out of, for the second half of the growing season, because the plants grow TALL and will take up most of the window.

Cut-and-come-again salad leaves and rocket I've also grown successfully on the same windowsill, in a windowbox tray. Fill with compost as above, sprinkle the seeds as directed on the packet, chuck a bit of water on them every few days (or every day during the only 3 day spell of hot weather that Glasgow's summer will produce) so that the soil doesn't dry out too much, Bob's your uncle. Pick as needed (without removing the roots) and they'll keep growing back.

Courgettes would be crazy to grow inside - they sprawl sideways hugely, I've grown them outside and had one plant in one square metre of ground.
posted by penguin pie at 1:50 PM on April 7 [4 favorites]

Footnotes: As you may observe, by the pot size mentioned above, it was a wider than average window sill. And the fact they got so tall suggests I never got around to pinching out the tops... but I still got tommy toes :) They were cherry toms, FWIW.

Come to think of it, I also grew large tomatoes in pots on the floor inside a patio door in the Falkland Islands too - similar size pots; similar temperatures but surprisingly sunny down there. So the Embra ones weren't a freak occurrence. You do just need a wee bit of space.
posted by penguin pie at 2:14 PM on April 7

Pick a variety that's designed for growing in pots, there's a few of them. Those plants won't get huge, and usually don't need pinching out either (it should tell you on the seed packet if you need to do this or not). I've grown tomatoes in 10" pots on my office windowsill, in London mind.

You could try chillies. Pick your sunniest windowsill, but I've had them grow in spots without that much direct sunlight (although they did get a few hours on sunny days).

You may have to give them a hand with polination, tomatoes are wind pollinated, so give the plant a gentle shake every day when the flowers out. Chillies are insect pollinated, so I gently brush each of the flowers with my fingers to spread the pollen around. Or use a small paintbrush or make up brush, you don't want to damage the flowers.

Because they're out of the cold, the plants can carry on well into autumn. I had tomatoes in November from my office window garden (it was a very sunny spot though).
posted by Helga-woo at 11:25 PM on April 7 [1 favorite]

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