Gardening (indoors) – Containers and Soil and Lights – Oh My!
The basics – By basics I do not mean this will get you through until you become a super pro master gardener. These are the basic needs for anyone – beginner, intermediate, or pro. The theme here, is that anyone can do this. You do not have to buy expensive equipment, elaborate lighting systems or construct a greenhouse. You can live in a tiny apartment, sprawling estate, or moderate townhouse and grow cool things. Plants are complex creatures – with pretty clear and sensible needs.
Design, plan, visualize. What plants do you want to grow and what plants can you grow. Theoretically you can grow anything – space, attention, light, temperature and a million other factors may, however, limit your potential – for now.
Once you know what & where; we look to “in what?”
I refrain from using the word “planter” here. I do not want to give the impression you must go out and purchase fancy terracotta pots with hand-painted mosaics on them. Obviously you can, but this is about sustainability – ya know waste not want not.
Soda bottles/Milk Jugs (and the like) – Cut the top off, make some drainage holes and TADA! planters. You can even decorate to make them beautiful accent pieces to your home – paint, glue, glitter, ribbons – the possibilities are endless.
Mason Jars – So I don’t love this idea, I think there are way better uses for them, but I must admit that some of the indoor garden displays I have seen in these are cute. I also do not like the inability to add drainage. The only time I have used them is for cuttings I am rooting.
Aluminum cans & Coffee Containers – One of my true favorites, they are easy to cut, add drainage, attach together and are super economical (you buy canned food right?) They also don’t use more soil than absolutely required (a huge consideration if you have to make/buy your soil. Which you will.)
These can be decorated too, labels, even attached to boards via clamps for space saving designs.
Egg Cartons – Amazing little inventions, I love egg cartons, I use them for 100 different things. For indoor growing though they serve two purposes.
Seed starting – obviously they are small (not wasting soil/space,) easy to thin sprouts, and the cardboard can be “X-cut” on the bottom to put directly in the ground or tossed in your worm bin after.
For Grow to Harvest – all I have to say is perfectly manageable herb gardens. Grow whole trays of one herb, or mix and match.
5 Gallon Buckets (yes another use for these) – So my love for these ugly buckets run deep, what can I say? These are wonderful for your larger indoor adventures (tomatoes/squash.) Again, poke holes for drainage, decorate if you want, but my biggest recommendation – place them on a rolling tray. This will save your back later when you want to move them outside, chasing the sun, or decide today is the day you’re really going to clean the floor.
So here’s the dirt – on dirt. Don’t use “dirt.” Dirt is what coats your shoes when walking down a dusty country road. We want soil. Now that is a horse of a different color. Soil is wonderful. Full of micro-organisms that have been scientifically proven to make you feel better, healthier and relaxed – hands in the mud kinda soil. Deep and rich, light and sandy; and everything in between – depending on your (or your plants) needs. This is important! I cannot convey how serious I am about soil, I could write encyclopedia volumes – but I won’t. But try this, think of soil like education- a quality education produces quality professionals (quality soil=quality plants) and each profession requires the right education (use the right soil for the plant you are growing!!!)
Potting Soil – You can buy this. You can make this. Buyer beware. “Potting” or “seed starting” soils can have some nasty sh*t in them (see controversy below.) Bottom line, not all created equal. Again, look at your plants needs. Generally for seed starting or early transplants you will need something a bit lighter – those little baby roots needs to be able to stretch and grow.
Sand – A great additive for many soils, it often contains nutrients necessary for some plants and can ensure good drainage – when used right.
Compost – My favorite. This is soil, broken down organic materials, maybe some sand, maybe some agricultural lime. It is, whatever you want it to be. The pH (more on this below) is where you want it to be. Bottom line, compost is where it’s at.
And again, I promise, at some point, in the near-ish future, to get a full post (probably segmented) up on making, maintaining and using kick ass compost.
Soil Additives – Important? Yes. Humans have five food groups – plants have something a bit different. Before you go trying to make some magical growing medium – buy a pH thermometer. Why? OK, the quick and dirty – pH is between 0 and 14. Below 7 is acidic, 7 is neutral, above 7 is alkaline. Different plants like different levels, because different levels provide different nutrients.
Aside from nutrients, we must consider the water needs, root systems, length of germination, transplanting, and changing needs during the plants life. Luckily, that information is readily available. It’s ok, we’re getting through this.
Perlite & Vermiculite – both of these products help aerate your soil while maintaining moisture. This is important for our wee little seedlings – soil doesn’t compact and murder them. Water loving plants – use vermiculite; Dryer buggers – use perlite.
Manure – it’s animal poop. It’s organic. It provides all the microbes and stuff your plants need. Educate yourself though, an abundance of anything in bad (too much nitrogen rich manure is plant murder.)
Vermicompost – Enter our worm bins! Yes, get some good ‘ole red wrigglers and recondition your soil by letting your worms do the work. I’m passionate about this. Probably means it outstanding.
Peat Moss – ***WARNING Entering Controversy Zone!*** – Interesting stuff to say the least. Used by tons of gardeners, found in most “commercial” soils, when used correctly provides acceptable, at best, results. Billed as a renewable resource, which is more than a little misleading. Using peat moss is equivalent to clear cutting the redwood forest. I’ll be honest, I’ve done it. I didn’t know better. I cannot explain it better than Ken Druse does here.
There are countless other additives. For countless reasons. Plants needs, soil properties, external forces. Bottom line; your soil is responsible for giving your plants the majority of the nutrients they need. Feel it, test it, smell it, love it.
Mood, or Rather Growth Lighting
Light – waves, wait no particles, no wait – both. I won’t get crazy here but there are some basic things we should understand. A change in a magnetic field produces an electric field and visa versa – resulting in the the big picture – Electromagnetic Field. So what? Well all that change, all that creation, results in energy – and stuff uses energy to do other stuff. We (humans) utilize take advantage of this energy when we observe the visual spectrum. Plants utilize chemical energy via the absorption spectrum. Did you need to know that, no. But now you do.
The Facts: Light comes in all kinds of wonderful colors – plants absorb and utilize red & blue light waves. I could get technical but blue=leaves and red=flowers (fruit.) So your best bet: start with higher amounts of blue light and then switch to higher amount of red light. How do you do that? Various bulbs….
High Intensity Discharge (high pressure sodium (HPS) and Metal Halide (HS) – These sound intense because they are intense. They have gained popularity recently, making a “starter set-up” more reasonable but still costly to buy and operate. These produce an emense amount of energy and heat rso you must vent and cool the area. They require a bit of bulky equipment but, all in all produce exceptional growth,
Metal Halide – produce your blue light – give you leafy, stocky, awesome plants.
High Pressure Sodium – here’s your red light – perfect for flowering (producing your flower/fruit/veggie.) These are used by serious indoor growers – they are an excellent choice, but a commitment.
LED – you’ve seen that purple glow from a LED grow lamp right? Guess what makes purple – red and blue – the two light colors that plants need. Seems obvious right? Not always…
LED lights are SUPER efficient – using almost 100% of their energy to produce light. They cost less to run, don’t heat up (no venting/cooling,) take up less space, way super easy to set up, and last forever!
So what’s the problem? They are expensive to buy – are they worth it? How much are you growing – here’s where your ROI numbers come in, good luck. Also, the light is friggin weird – making it hard to inspect plants, you might not see discoloration, damage, or bugs. “Light Emitting Diodes” it even sounds heavy – so structurally – especially if you have a larger area – attaching these is a job in itself.
I’ll let you decide, and support your decision either way 🙂
Fluorescent (including CFL’s)– emit large amounts of red & blue light. Produce light more efficiently than traditional bulbs, using more energy for growing and less for heat, also because they run cooler you can have them closer to plants. May (very often) require use of a (bulky) ballast. Best use: Seed Starting & Low Light Plants
***You can use traditional incandescent bulbs as well – I wouldn’t recommend. They are inefficient – on all levels.
So – aside from your seeds, maybe some gloves and unwavering desire to grow incredible edibles – that my friends is you <basic> indoor garden guide.
Yea, that escalated quickly. You wouldn’t believe the stuff I held back though!
But Please Remember, above all….