The typical hydroponics set-up, while amazing and exciting for those who own them, is not something you would usually set up in your living room to add a splash of living color to your decor.

Fortunately, there are some indoor growing options that are compact as well as attractive, so instead of growing houseplants, you can grow vegetables year-round in your living room.

Enter the tower garden system.

Benefits of Food Towers

Besides providing a way for apartment dwellers to grow their own food, tower garden systems can offer increased growing capacity over traditional growing techniques. Home gardeners also need not deal with weeds, and growing indoors extends the growing season. Many of these systems are marketed as perfect for novice growers with little-to-no gardening experience.

Tower gardens don’t typically require much space, with many systems only taking up 2-3 ft., and many units start small but can be expanded as you become more comfortable with growing indoors. Hydroponic and aquaponic systems (soilless systems) eliminate the potential mess you could experience when growing in soil, and they also produce faster-growing plants, which leads to more frequent harvests.

Choosing a System for Your Food Tower

Before choosing your system, you’ll want to consider details such as lighting, hydration, cleaning and expandability before you make your selection. You can also choose between hydroponic and aquaponic systems, and some systems use regular potting soil.

Many tower garden systems are used outdoors with natural lighting, but can be used indoors as long as proper lighting is used to allow for optimal plant growth. Some units may require T5, T8 or T12 fluorescent grow lights. Some may use incandescent bulbs and some may even use LED grow lights.

Also, be sure to find out if the lighting requires a separate kit, or if you need to come up with your own lighting source, in which case you’ll also need to consider reflectors, ballasts, timers and other gear to make your lighting system work.

Another important consideration is irrigation. Soil-based systems will require normal watering and may have an irrigation reservoir. You’ll need to fertilize as needed, depending on what you are growing. Aquaponic and hydroponic systems will need appropriate nutrients as well as a growing medium. You may also need a pH meter, water pump and other gear specific to the system you have chosen.

Expect to clean your system at least yearly. After plant matter is removed, most systems can be cleaned with soap and hot water or a cleaning solution. Also, be sure to conduct regular weekly maintenance such as checking water levels, keeping roots away from pumps and cleaning pump filters, checking nutrient levels and rotating your grow tower as needed to allow for proper lighting.

What Can I Grow in a Food Tower?

The best plants for growing indoors include leafy vegetables such as:

  • Swiss chard
  • Collard greens
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Mustard greens
  • Pak choi
  • Radicchio
  • Spinach

Other vegetables that do well indoors include:

  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Leeks

Herbs also do well indoors:

  • Basil
  • Catnip
  • Chamomile
  • Chives
  • Cilantro
  • Dill
  • Garlic chives
  • Lavender
  • Lemon balm
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Stevia
  • Thyme

Fruit-producing plants like tomatoes, peppers and squash can be grown indoors as well, but they are a bit more challenging. You’ll have to do the pollinating since there are no insects indoors to do the job for you. Self-pollinating plants, such as tomatoes, beans, peas, strawberries and peppers, can be shaken or swabbed with a small paint brush to transfer pollen to the pistil of each flower.

For plants such as melons, cucumbers, and squash, which have male and female flowers, use a paint brush or a cotton swab and brush the inside of the male flower (the one with a slender stem instead of a “bulb” under the flower) to load it with pollen. Then dust the pollen onto the pistils of the female flowers. This will need to be done every 2-3 days until you start to see fruit developing.

As with any gardening method, start small with your tower garden and let your garden grow as your skills grow. Most companies offer plenty of advice in the form of articles, newsletters, customer service numbers and even training classes to get you going.

The final step is sitting back and enjoying that indoor oasis you’ve created!