In this episode of The Evergreen Thumb, Jonica Burkett explains indoor gardening essentials. She discusses the hows and whys of growing indoors, briefly touching on methods like aquaponics and hydroponics, as well as the key concerns of managing soil, water, and pests.
Check out these other episodes
- Surviving Winter’s Wrath: Preparing Your Garden for Winter Weather – Episode 005
- Cultivating Expertise: Inside the WSU Extension Master Gardener Program – Episode 002
- Cultivating Second Chances: Benton-Franklin MGs Empower Incarcerated Youth
- Greening Your Space: Caring For House Plants with Ann Amato – Episode 008
[00:00:00] Jonica Burkett: Hi, good to be here.
[00:00:02] Erin Landon: Let’s start off with, uh, you telling us a little bit about yourself and how you became a master gardener.
[00:00:08] Jonica Burkett: Uh, yeah, I grew up in Western Washington and then went to Alaska and, uh, I made a lot of friends there and I learned how to grow an indoor sanity garden because seven months of winter.
[00:00:21] Uh, and long story short, my husband got a job here in Spokane and here we are. And, uh, well, we were out. Uh, with his sister, one of her friends came and said, Hey, why don’t you become a master gardener? Cause, you know, I’m already talking about this stuff. They gave me the info and I just joined in. All right.
[00:00:41] Erin Landon: So you’re here today to talk to us about growing indoors. Yes. What kind of plants besides your typical, you know, spider plant or ficus or whatever, what else do, uh, what do you like to grow indoors?
[00:00:56] Jonica Burkett: I like growing. Uh, herbs, especially. They make cooking better. And plus, uh, one of the biggest things to, to do when you’re growing indoors, you gotta prune a lot.
[00:01:07] So, if the plant is too busy growing leaves and stems, then it’s not growing roots as, as quickly. And so, then you, you don’t have to transplant it as often. Plus, the, the Italian dishes are just so delicious. And not just Italian. I, I grow a lot of herbs. Um, they are the most worthwhile, though.
[00:01:30] Erin Landon: What about growing vegetables indoors?
[00:01:32] Jonica Burkett: Oh, that’s a good one. I, I like, I like doing that. Mylon, you can grow just about anything indoors. There’s so much. There’s potatoes, cucumbers, uh, tomatoes, especially. Your, your normal garden veggies, they, they can be grown indoors, uh, if you know your environments. A lot of the stuff that we grow to eat, they, they come a lot from like, you know, Italy’s a good example.
[00:02:01] Uh, you got your tomatoes and it grows with your basil, rosemary, thyme. So when you grow them all together and one pop, they kind of give each other a growing synergy. So, and plus your tomatoes taste even better and you’re, you have everything ready for the sauce by the end of it. Great.
Light for Indoor Gardening
[00:02:17] Erin Landon: What are some of the key things to know about growing vegetables indoors?
[00:02:22] Jonica Burkett: Know what you want to grow and, uh, make sure that whatever you want to grow, they’re all going to have similar. needs. You have, like I said, tomatoes is a good example. Um, they have needs. They need an actual dark period in order to produce the fruit. You can have a 24-hour light cycle. Like when I was in Alaska, 24-hour sunlight and those tomatoes, they grow and grow and grow, but they wouldn’t get very good.
[00:02:49] You get these little grape-sized tomatoes are a little bit bigger than grapes sometimes. But if you didn’t like Some, some places they actually cover up the tomato plants like in a, in a, uh, lightproof tent so that they would actually like grow and produce good size tomatoes. And some people, they have the talent of a lot of different fertilizers, um, to use, but usually it’s, it’s, it comes down to your light cycle.
[00:03:18] Um, and, uh, especially, but if you do something like, uh, something like a leafy green, like lettuce. Lettuce loves the light. It needs all the light. You can have a 24-hour light cycle on that and you will have lettuce all winter long. So just make sure all the plants that you have have the same needs.
[00:03:41] Know their backgrounds, know what you want to grow in there. And, uh, just remember that the bigger space you’re going to grow, the more things you have to handle. It’s, um, it’s a lot of control issues. You have to control the entire environment. You’re simulating the outdoors. So you have to make sure like, you know, the room that you’re growing in.
[00:03:59] If you have like a big old window, that’s beautiful. Beautiful sunlight, but, uh, you got one heck of a draft coming off of that, so everything around that window is going to get a chill. You’re going to want to do something to shore that up. There’s, um, there’s plastic you can put around your windows. You can get some, uh, insulating curtains that have, and some blackout curtains.
[00:04:21] If you need that dark period. Um. With doors, uh, make sure the weather stripping is up to date and make sure it’s all functional. Uh, in some cases, uh, if you’re not going to use the door very often, you can put a big ol blanket up over it. Make sure it covers all the, the cracks around it and, and that does wonders for keeping the draft away.
[00:04:42] Um, but there’s a lot of, of tricks you can use to, to keep the environment where you want it. And you gotta, you gotta know your tools. Everybody needs an, an LED light these days. Those are, they’re making indoor gardening so much more accessible. Uh, there was a time when there was fluorescent lights and halogen lights, and those were okay, and those were industry standard for a long time, but they are no longer efficient.
[00:05:11] They are no longer, there’s, they’re being phased out all over the place because… Why pay 80 percent more for your, for the same type of light? Now you do get a little bit of phosphorus off of fluorescent and halogen lights, uh, just a little bit. And so it acts as food for the plants. And for some people, uh, that that’s great, but it’s not enough of a boon to save on that electric bill.
[00:05:36] And that’s always what you’re watching is your electric bill.
[00:05:39] Erin Landon: We’ve had good success with LED lights since I put LEDs on a couple of the house plants. It made a huge difference in their health.
[00:05:47] Jonica Burkett: Yeah, it does. Also, a fan helps, uh, when my first time trying to garden indoors, I’m like, why does it always start getting a mildew or something?
[00:05:58] Um, I actually went to, uh, Hawks Greenhouse in Alaska and she said, put a fan on it because you’re growing indoors. The smaller the space, it’s not exactly known for circulation, so it’s probably suffocating. And I’m like, oh, that makes sense. And the next thing you know, I got like the littlest little, uh, office fan that you use, personal fan.
[00:06:20] Oh, it made a huge difference. But that’s, that’s the gist of it.
[00:06:24] Erin Landon: What about a growing medium?
[00:06:27] Jonica Burkett: Yes. There’s a lot of different options than no indoors. It depends on everything from, if you want like a set and forget it, set up with, with a traditional soil and, and watering system that then that’s fine. But some people, you know.
[00:06:44] Some people want a science experiment. Some people want to try something different. Uh, there’s hydroponics, aquaponics, I want to try aeroponics next. I’ve tried everything else, but I haven’t worked with aeroponics yet, and it’s on my list. Depends, like I said, how much time, how much effort, how much money you want put into it.
[00:07:03] But, uh, hydroponics, that one kind of needs a babysitter. You’re working with, um… direct chemicals to water. And so because that is a science experiment, you have to watch your pH levels just because just the tiniest extra drop will make your pH levels go too acidic and you’ll start getting nutrient burn.
[00:07:26] Same if you don’t put enough. So like I said, that one needs a babysitter, whereas in aquaponics, you have a fish element to it where they’re sitting there and in the tank. So the roots are feeding off of the fish fertilizer and the fish are feeding off of nutrients from the roots and it’s kind of a symbiotic system.
[00:07:45] That one’s more of, it’s, it’s easier just to watch as long as you make sure that the fish are alive and okay. So you do have to feed the fish every once in a while.
[00:07:56] Erin Landon: So, and that, does the fish kind of help make the system kind of self-cleaning and self-sustaining?
[00:08:00] Jonica Burkett: Yes.
[00:08:01] Erin Landon: Compared to hydroponics?
[00:08:02] Jonica Burkett: Yes, it does.
[00:08:03] Uh, yeah, hydroponics, you gotta clean that water every once in a while and start, sometimes start fresh, especially if, oh no, newt burn, take it all out, dump it. I’ll ask, it’s like dump it, but not too close to the house. We’re going to slip all over it.
[00:08:20] Erin Landon: How do you recommend preparing or taking care of, of the messiness of gardening indoors?
[00:08:30] Jonica Burkett: Oh yeah, your, your floors are going to get dirty, especially when you’re first start. But, and if, especially if you have kids or pets, you will have accidents. They happen. And, uh, if you have a dedicated space to your plants, get one of those, uh, painter’s drop cloths.
[00:08:48] So, you know, they have it to protect the floors for a reason. It translates very well to indoor gardening. And make sure that, that whatever medium you go, so if you got like hydroponics or aquaponics and you accidentally spill all the, uh, all the water everywhere, uh, make sure that you’re using a, a cloth drop cloth because those plastic ones it can the water will get trapped underneath and your subfloor Your subfloor might get kind of water damaged and you won’t even know it, so the those painters drop canvas drop cloths are like the best for everything, in my opinion; you can put those plastic ones on the table where they’re sitting on the underneath the light
[00:09:40] Erin Landon: We’re taking a quick break to talk about Master Gardener training. Do you want to learn more about gardening, meet new people, and make a difference in your community? The WSU Extension Master Gardener program may be just right for you. You will gain science-based knowledge to tackle the yard and garden problems that matter to you, your friends and neighbors, and to your community.
[00:10:00] With WSU Extension’s Master Gardener training, you’ll learn about soil health, plant identification, pest management, sustainable gardening practices, and so much more. Unlock the secrets of successful gardening and make a positive impact in your community. Don’t miss out on this incredible opportunity to become a certified Washington State University Master Gardener volunteer.
[00:10:20] Visit mastergardener.wsu.edu/join-us today to learn more about the program and how to apply.
[00:10:32] So watering indoors, what’s the best way to make sure that your plants are getting adequate water and not too much water?
[00:10:40] Jonica Burkett: Yeah, and that’s part of that mess area. Uh, I would have a dedicated spot for them and I, I put water in the trays.
[00:10:49] So they, they have, I get like these. Big old trays and I put the pots in there. They’re well drained pots and I just put the water in the trays. So I have a visual reminder that, hey, there’s water in there. And if there’s no water in there, I just stick my finger in the soil and, okay, it definitely needs water.
[00:11:06] Let those roots wick it up. The plant knows what it needs. It takes what it needs. And if you’re worried about over-watering, don’t get a really big tray. Make sure there’s like a good two inches around the pot. And, uh, I mean, so that way it’s, you can’t over water it that way, you can’t under-water it either as long as you, because it’s got that reservoir, it lasts a while, you don’t have to do as much.
[00:11:31] Now, if you have multiple plants in a really big tray, that… That starts getting a little bit more tricky. Those ones, they, uh, if one has a problem, they will all have a problem. So you have to monitor that one a little bit more closely. Oh no, one of them has got root rot. Check the others. It might just… Be the one, but you’ll see like, oh, or you’ll see like one’s really badly going and then, and then you’ll check the one next one.
[00:12:00] It’s not as bad. Third one over. Okay. It’s barely touched. We got this in time. And then you separate them into their separate little trays and, and you put a fan on them and, and do not water them. Let them, let them get a little drought stress, just a little, and then, and then just water them in the trays.
[00:12:20] And it also helps with hydration or not better. Humidity. Your plants like humidity. They’re, they’re like us. They, they like a shower every once in a while. They like, they like to feel the moisture on their skin sometimes. Uh, you don’t have to water from the top. Um, sometimes all you need to do, you see the water in the tray is a little bit low, but they’re okay.
[00:12:43] Uh, just take your little spritzer bottle, your little water spritzer bottle, and just put just a little bit, just like morning dew.
Pollination for Indoor Gardening
[00:12:53] Erin Landon: How do you get your plants to fruit when you don’t have pollinators?
[00:13:00] Jonica Burkett: This is the, that’s the fun part. You get to, you get to take one of those, those little, uh, uh, dollar store vibrating toothbrushes and go around. Some of them, some of them are, you don’t even need to do that. You just tap the little flower and pollen comes falling out and, and that’s all you really need to do.
[00:13:16] You want to be efficient, make sure that this is going to flower. You get one of those little vibrating toothbrushes, you go play a little bee, buzzing each one. I am sure they sell like some kind of expensive toy to do that, but a dollar store toothbrush is really all you need.
[00:13:33] Erin Landon: Yeah, I’ve used um, like a little paintbrush, like an artist’s paintbrush too for that.
[00:13:38] Jonica Burkett: Oh yeah, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. You want to make sure the pollen gets on the bristles and then go to the next one. They all get it.
[00:13:46] Erin Landon: So what about pest management? What kind of, what kind of pests do you see on indoor plants?
[00:13:53] Jonica Burkett: The most common I ever saw was, um, Was spider mites, uh, to this day, I battled them, you’re in, you’re out.
[00:14:03] And they, they’re a constant one. They, they’re, they’re so tiny and it is so hard to get uncontaminated mediums, like from a big chain hardware store or big supply place, because they don’t know when they have them. So they don’t even know they’re selling contaminated dirt sometimes. The best thing to do is go to somebody who’s smaller, who’s local, and, and make sure that whatever growing medium you use, from, get it from them, because they’re most likely to actually inspect their stuff and make sure that it’s safe to sell.
[00:14:37] But if you do end up with these, these little buggers, they, they don’t like soapy water, they don’t like being cleaned. And so that spritzy thing that you do for your plants, it makes them feel good, put a little bit of Dawn dish soap in there and… They don’t like it so much. They, they can’t stick to it, I think, is what it is.
[00:14:56] They can’t crawl all over it and if you make sure that the bottoms of them are nice and clean, like when they’re in a pot, you really want to, we used to call it lollipopping where, where you, uh, uh, make sure the first few inches above the growing medium is completely clear, uh, of anything, no little straggling bits, no, no leaves.
[00:15:19] So that way, um, so that way those bugs don’t have anywhere to hide. And on top of that, it helps when you put your fan on it. The, the air can get down into the roots. Those roots need oxygen. They need to breathe. And again, tight spaces, small, small indoor spaces, they, they don’t get a lot of circulation. So, so there’s multiple levels to, to helping that.
[00:15:41] Erin Landon: What other types of insects do you see in, in indoor gardening?
[00:15:46] Jonica Burkett: There was a time I had, I had ants. Oh, ants are, they’re the worst ones of all. Uh, and that was, that was when I got here to Spokane. I hadn’t had to deal with ants before. And I was trying all sorts of different things, but diatomaceous Earth!
[00:16:03] Um, that one, that one was surprisingly effective. The tricky part was my cat would roll in the ant hills and then come inside to play with the plants. I don’t know why my cat did this, but, uh, it was, I, I, uh, I had to, to go all over the yard and find the anthills and, and get them, but, um, but, but mostly it’s been spider mites.
[00:16:29] It’s been the big trouble. Um, occasionally you’ll get the, the fruit fly, the nanny fruit flies on there. That one, I just used the, the good old fly sticky tape and, and definitely a fan, get a bigger fan for that. They can’t stand a strong breeze. If you have a place for that breeze to blow them right into that sticky trap, well, it’s easy.
[00:16:54] Erin Landon: Is there anything else that you’d like to add about vegetable gardening or indoor gardening?
[00:17:00] Jonica Burkett: Ah, plenty. I mean, I could talk all day about it. The most expensive thing you’re going to buy for it, though, is going to be your LED light. Now, we’re in Washington, so, like, there’s actual daylight. During the days, you don’t have a three-month period where you’re going to have like three hours of this twilight wannabe sunshine and it just be dark the rest of the time for months of just months.
[00:17:27] Um, so I, I ended up spending like 120 bucks on my first LED light just, and I noticed a significant improvement in my mood. And, and just everything goes, well, we’re connected to nature, we need light too. So growing things indoors and, and having, just having like a, a literal nearby nature in your house can be amazingly good for mental, mental health and mental awareness.
[00:17:59] It gives you something to do every day. That it, it gives you, uh, uh, light. I don’t know what it is about that light that just, it made a huge difference. And those plants love it too. And then plus your spouse and neighbors love it when you cook, because you’re using all fresh, ve uh, vegetables and herbs all the time.
[00:18:21] Thanksgiving is a thing at my house. We do everything’s fresh, so when we had, uh, Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving, we would say, Hey, let’s see what’s in, what can we use, uh, that was the greatest. But down here, you guys have actual sunlight, so you don’t need to spend 120 bucks on a light. You can get one of those $20 little LED lights on Amazon and be just fine.
[00:18:43] I know the, the, the electric bills down here are nothing compared to Alaska’s electric bills. Those 80 percent fuel surcharges they’d add to your bill in the winter. Uh, you can’t need an LED light.
[00:18:57] Erin Landon: Do you have any more information about the, um. Mental health or emotional benefits of gardening?
[00:19:06] Jonica Burkett: Well, I have mostly my own experience, but I also have a lot of friends up in Alaska that, that they swear by it.
[00:19:14] They, everybody gets like a little LED light of some kind, a happy light. They call them happy lights and everything. It’s just, it’s very good to have. And it’s hard to explain how, how much it improves your mood. It makes you a little less dependent on other factors. So, like, if it’s too cold, like, if it’s 50 below outside, uh, and, like, if that’s too cold to even play winter sports.
[00:19:43] So what are you going to do? You’re going to go inside and you’re going to stand in front of that really nice warm light. And you’re going to, and you’re going to do some pruning. It also, like, it also is kind of a, another heater for your house too. It’s an extra heater. Because those things, even though they’re LED, they run colder than most.
[00:20:02] That whatever room you put it in, it’ll get a couple degrees warmer. It’s a little bit extra. I was happy that I had good friends to help me figure a lot of this out. I was happy for the people who gave me the opportunities to learn all about how to grow indoors. It was, it was helped me in many ways.
[00:20:26] Especially those, those deep, dark winter months, I looked forward to the growing seasons and you could grow all year. Um, you do want to have that little lapse between Christmas and mid-February before you start your summer seeds.
[00:20:41] Erin Landon: All right. Well, thanks so much for joining us today and sharing.
[00:20:45] Jonica Burkett: Yeah, of course.
[00:20:45] Thank you for having me. Letting me talk, talk everybody’s ear off about my favorite season. subject.
[00:20:51] Erin Landon: All right. And we’ll have, uh, all links in the show notes.
[00:20:54] Thank you for joining us on this episode of the Evergreen Thumb brought to you by the WSU Extension Master Gardner program volunteers and sponsored by the Master Gardner Foundation of Washington State.
[00:21:06] We hope that today’s discussion has inspired and equipped you with valuable insights to nurture your garden. The Master Gardener Foundation of Washington State is a nonprofit organization whose primary purpose is to provide unifying support and advocacy for WSU Extension Master Gardener programs throughout Washington State.
[00:21:25] To support the Master Gardener Foundation of Washington State, visit mastergardenerfoundation.org/donate. Whether you’re an experienced master gardener or just starting out, the WSU Extension Master Gardener program is here to support you every step of the way. WSU Extension Master Gardeners empower and sustain diverse communities with relevant, unbiased, research-based horticulture education.
[00:21:50] Reach out to your local WSU Extension office to connect with master gardeners and tap into a wealth of resources that can help you achieve gardening success. To learn more about the program or how to become a master gardener, Visit mastergardener.wsu.edu/get-involved. If you enjoyed today’s episode and want to stay connected with us, be sure to subscribe to future episodes filled with expert tips, fascinating stories, and practical advice.
[00:22:16] Don’t forget to leave a review and share it with fellow gardeners to spread the joy of gardening.
[00:22:21] Questions or comments to be addressed in future episodes can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed by guests of this podcast are their own and do not imply endorsement by Washington State University or the Master Gardener Foundation of Washington State.