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Growing food is fun in a tub

Keep Pickens Beautiful President Vered Kleinberger shows off her array of plants that are grown indoors. She has heard from other indoor growers that tomato plants can grow and fruit for two years or more if indoors.

By Vered Kleinberger           

You’ve probably heard of a garden tub, but have you heard of a Tub Garden? For the past few months, I’ve been experimenting with growing food indoors, and it’s been so much fun.

            Here’s how this all began… As the Keep Pickens Beautiful team was starting to scale up the Edible Jasper program, we realized that if we wanted to add thousands of edible plants to our new garden spaces, we’d need to grow them ourselves. We reached out to friends to help start our seeds, but quickly realized the labor and time needed to care for all the little seedlings. Our friends taught us how they’d been successful in their set-up, so I started investing in lights. I’d always wanted to step up my seed-starting game for my own garden, so this gave me the needed push.

            For their plants, KPB provided the seed trays, seeds, and soil, and I provided the lights, space, and time. It was such a fun, new adventure. During the fall and winter of 2021/2022, I grew more than 1,000 plants for Edible Jasper in my house and another KPB board member grew several hundred. For a few hundred dollars, we grew plants that would have cost the organization many thousands of dollars to purchase. 

            In addition to the herbs and other edible plants we grew for the garden spaces, we also grew roughly 150 tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants to give away at KPB’s Earth Day on Main event in April. However, as the plants kept growing before the event, some of the tomato plants grew really large and one started fruiting. The family who helped initially start our seeds also have a hoop house; they had a tomato plant that had been growing for almost two years and had been fruiting throughout that time, even during the winter. I had no idea that tomato plants could live that long because I’d only ever grown them outside. I started thinking how great it would be if I could grow tomatoes in my house all year, and thus began the Tub Garden adventure.

            I would not call myself a gardener. I really don’t know what I’m doing. But I’m not afraid to try. I’ve been playing in the dirt most of my life and have been building my outdoor garden space for more than 20 years so I’ve learned a lot over that time, but I’m definitely not an expert. However, indoor gardening is a completely different situation. 

            My house has a garden tub that was rarely used, so many years ago I started putting all my house plants in and around it. My bathroom is one of the few rooms in my house that gets any direct sun, so the plants were happy and it was super easy to water them. However, when I decided to start growing food, the house plants got exiled to another space (don’t worry, they’re still happy) and the tub got transformed.

Produce from the Garden Tub Adventure as Kleinberger calls it. An Anaheim pepper living happily indoors, away from pests and in an area where heat and moisture can be controlled completely. See more photos of what’s growing in Vered’s Tub Garden at the bottom of this article.
            Photos provided by Kleinberger

            I have two hooks in the ceiling where I’d hung some plants, so I ran strings down and anchored them. I then hung 4 four-foot lights from those strings to make a light wall. I hung two more lights on the side from the towel racks, and then got ready to add the plants.

            I bought 5-gallon buckets, drilled lots of holes in the bottoms, filled them with soil, and added the plants. I decided to focus on tomatoes, peppers, and basil in the Tub Garden; I’m also growing window boxes in my kitchen under lights that are filled with arugula, various lettuces, and spinach. My tomatoes have grown to the ceiling and the peppers are insanely happy, but the basil is having a challenge so I need to adjust my methods.  It’s all about trying and learning.

            My indoor garden is so much happier than my outdoor garden. This year, with our hot-and-dry then hot-and-swampy weather, plus the bugs, squirrels, and other critters, my outdoor garden is struggling. Since I can control all the indoor variables, I can focus more on growing the right plants for the space.

General overview of my set-up:

            •5-gallon buckets for the tomatoes

            •Large pots for the peppers

            •Smaller pots for the basil

            •2 four-foot lights on the side, 4 four-foot lights on my suspended ‘light wall’, and a large window opposite those lights for natural light

            •An oscillating fan to maintain air movement.

            Here are a few of my take-away lessons from these first few months of growing my Tub Garden:

            •LED lights are so much more affordable now and they last for many years so they are a worthy investment.

            •Picking the right plants is important – I wasn’t planning on growing indoors so some of my tomatoes are larger varieties and aren’t producing as prolifically as the small varieties. I have learned about the many small varieties available so I will start transitioning.

            •Thanks to the efficiency of LED lights, I haven’t noticed a jump in my electric bill.

            •It’s worth spending a few extra dollars for top-quality soil – it really makes a huge difference.

            •Most of the garden maintenance is focused on arranging the plants so the leaves don’t get burned by the lights. If they rest on the lights for too many days, they start getting dehydrated and turn brown.

            •Tomatoes are pollinated by shaking the plants (they don’t need pollinator insects), so I also spend some time every few days shaking them.

            •Eating a salad that was grown 100% in my house brings so much more satisfaction and enjoyment than store-bought, and the taste in incomparable.

Plans for the future:

            •Scale up for fall and winter –  I’m going to try growing zucchini, potatoes, peas, and other veggies in my porch.

            •Keep learning – there are so many veggie varieties that I didn’t know existed that I am finding as I’m researching smaller options. I have a lot more to learn about indoor growing in general, but I’m not afraid to fail so I know success will follow.

            •Remove most veggies from my outdoor gardens – only herbs, fruit trees, and flowers will be grown outside.

            If you decide that you want to explore indoor gardening, there are lots of resources available online. If you’re already experienced at growing indoors, I’d love to chat.  Happy gardening.

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