Beginners’ Corner: Planning an Indoor Garden
By Christian Mason • 3 weeks Ago
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By Christian Mason • 3 weeks Ago
Since this is “Beginners’ Corner”, let’s presume you’re starting from square one. And square one, surely, has to be “I want to grow something indoors. Am I mad? Is it even possible in my two-bit dump of a flat / house?” Ever eager to help our fellow man, we provide here an essential guide that should put all your hydroponically-virginal concerns to bed. Or at least a few of them. Read on, you’ll learn about setting up an indoor garden.
Okay. You’ve got a place. A flat, house, riverboat, whatever… It better be your place if you’re going to start building a propagation station and growing vegetation in it. At the very least get the owner’s permission. Anyway, you’re looking around thinking “will plant x grow in room y? Is the light sufficient? Is the toxic tap water going to kill my tomatoes? It’s freezing in here – is this going to work? Am I insane to even consider this?” Well just calm down a minute – we’ll address most of those points with this handy 7-point vade mecum for growing your indoor garden.
“Before you go rushing to the loan sharks to invest in all the fancy kit, you’d do well to investigate the conditions in different areas of your property first.”
It’s a good place to start so why not? Mother Nature can be a cruel and fickle beast. And like all women she can blow hot and cold. Too hot and you’re looking at your plants’ metabolism going haywire – herbs and lettuces prematurely flowering like precocious girls on a Newcastle council estate. Too cold and growth is stunted, with nutrient and water uptake inhibited – you’ll have a long, tedious wait before your plants, if ever, go into bloom. So first things first, ensure your garden is insulated from the ravaging effects of the elements!
Before you go rushing to the loan sharks to invest in all the fancy kit, you’d do well to investigate the conditions in different areas of your property first. There’s no point moving the mountain to Mohammed if Mohammed is already camped out, with his feet up, at the base of the mountain. The better the “base level” of insulation in your chosen room the less time and money you’ll have to fork out regulating temperatures. So before spunking hard-earned cash on the most expensive temperature controller on the market for those prized Harbinger Peppers in your dilapidated, ice-cold attic – why not first consider moving the chilli garden into, say, your nice, warm basement?
“Extremes of temperature are to be studiously avoided. This is the point when you’ll need to run a cursory glance around your home and ask yourself: How thick are the walls? What are they made of? What type of insulation has been used?”
Finding a good spot for your growing area is imperative. Extremes of temperature are to be studiously avoided. This is the point when you’ll need to run a cursory glance around your home and ask yourself: How thick are the walls? What are they made of? What type of insulation has been used? Which side of the house is bathed in sunlight during the summer? Which direction does that Arctic wind come from? Is this wall damp? Oh my God, look at those cracks! Why did I buy this shithole? Is this the best I could afford? Why don’t I have a better job? What’s the point of my life? Alright, scrap the last questions and focus. If the spare room you’d eyed up for the growing area becomes a sauna in the summer, whilst your bedroom is nicely cool and in the shade – think about juggling the rooms around. You can explain everything when your other half comes home later. Tell them we made you do it if that helps.
Generally speaking – we like to speak generally; it invites less inspection – growers have spades of success when their gardens are located in cellars. Why’s that you ask? It’s pretty obvious isn’t it? Same reason wine lovers keep their collections underground – it’s the amazing insulating quality of the earth. So chuck out all those bottles of vintage Chateau Lafite-Rothschild and start preparing your garden! Incidentally, you may want a dehumidifier as those basements can get pretty damp.
So, let’s now assume your garden is in the best possible location. You’re probably still going to need some additional insulation. So here’s the business part; we recommend the following:
“Not only will extra height give you more space for those particularly tall plants and creepers, but it also allows you to potentially raise your working area off the floor for easy access and drainage.”
Room Height. What’s that? You’ve just read item one of our guide – 1: Temperature Regulation – and you’ve built your propagation station and started growing already?
WRONG! That would have been extremely stupid. Why? Because there are still six whole points to go through in this article! For example, have you thought to look up yet? Don’t you realise your prized Harbinger Peppers can grow up to seven-feet tall yet you’ve just planted them in your six-foot high cellar? Oh dear… That’s right – ceiling height is another major factor in choosing the right spot, but you had to just run off… Not only will extra height give you more space for those particularly tall plants and creepers, but it also allows you to potentially raise your working area off the floor for easy access and drainage. But even more usefully, the extra volumes of air will help you control temperatures and CO2 levels. Now before moving your peppers back to the ice-cold attic, keep reading in case you make another ghastly faux pas.
“Although plenty of growers successfully use hard water with their crops, many prefer to use Reverse Osmosis (R.O.) machines.”
Water supply. You were no doubt wondering when this would come up. It seems ridiculous to have to write this but plants do quite like water and will need rather a lot of it… But it’s not as simple as that, nothing in life ever is – just as a cool glass of Evian on a scorching summer’s day goes down the old throat a little easier than the brown sludge flecked with limescale that comes out of your kitchen taps – plants have a similar preference for the tasty pure stuff. They tend to flourish with uncontaminated soft water. It therefore might be a plan to ascertain your local water’s “hardness”. We’re not saying spill its pint and call its girlfriend a whore – that’s not going to get you anywhere – but contacting your water supply company might yield some answers.
Although plenty of growers successfully use hard water with their crops, many prefer to use Reverse Osmosis (R.O.) machines. It sounds fancy but we recommend you leave the science to the eggheads and just understand that they basically filter out all the crap and leave you with water as soft and pure as a baby’s arse. Purer in fact. Definitely purer.
Now there are several different irrigation systems, but more of that in a later article. Let’s just say for now you’ll need a rain collection barrel, tank or reservoir (or “res” as the cool people call them – personally I don’t like to get too familiar with my reservoirs). This is where you’ll mix and store your nutrient solutions. If you’ve got the space and an understanding partner you’ll also ideally keep this container in a separate, but adjacent room, away from your growing area’s fluctuating temperatures (“Not my study – you promised it would stop at the cellar”)! And if you can wrangle it, get yourself a dedicated tap providing filtered water into your nutrient reservoir. The alternative is metres of hosepipe running through your home, requiring an even more understanding partner when the pipe comes loose and water comes cascading down your stairwell. Hosepipe everywhere is also something to avoid if you have recalcitrant children with a mischievous streak and a love of spraying water at irate (possibly by now divorcing) parents…
We won’t insult your intelligence by pretending your spent water and nutrient solution will just magically disappear. Of course it won’t. Your reservoir will need to be cleaned regularly. If you’re smart you’ll use something like a submersible pump and hose to drain it. If not you’ll either never clean your reservoir and despoil your garden or you’ll end up improvising, possibly trashing your stairwell even further in the process.
“You’re going to need a proper ventilation system, with fresh air being sucked into the room and the exhausted, CO2 – depleted air, pumped out.”
Okay, you don’t need a science degree to know plants like fresh, CO2 – enriched air, and once they’ve sucked it up and spat it out, it comes out CO2 – depleted. So if your idea of ventilation is to pump the air in your growing area straight back into the same room, don’t come crying to us when your plants turn a funny colour and keel over. Would you keep your gerbil in an airtight container? Of course not. (Although that would teach those disobedient, hosepipe-disrespecting children of yours a valuable lesson not to touch your stuff again).
If you thought you were done buying all the kit, think again; because you’re going to need a proper ventilation system, with fresh air being sucked into the room, and the exhausted, CO2 – depleted air, pumped out. We know, we know, you don’t get paid till the end of the month and the divorce is eating into your savings already – but trust us – you won’t regret this little investment. There’s simply no better way to keep control of the temperature, humidity and CO2 levels in your growing area. You do want to keep control of temperature, humidity and CO2 levels in your growing area, don’t you? So here’s the thing, you’ll want the air coming in to come from another room in your house. Preferably not from the smoking room. Air coming straight in from outdoors will – obviously – just expose your plants to outdoor temperatures, and if they happen to be sub-zero, well: Well done. All that hard work looking around your home for the perfect spot, moving your garden from the icy attic to the warm basement – we’re now back to square one. Don’t say we haven’t explicitly warned you. Conversely, it’s probably best if you pump the foetid, moist air of your garden area outdoors, and not straight into the kids’ bedroom. (Although again, this could be another good lesson for those wretched layabouts and their hosepipe-inspired tomfoolery.)
Being serious for a second, it’s a good idea to get a more powerful extractor fan than the one providing your input. The reason being more air going out than coming in creates negative pressure – meaning in practical terms – no weird aromas leaking out into the rest of the house (and also a boost to the efficiency of your input fans). Another useful tip: use particle filters – especially for your input fan. The last thing you want is mould, alien spores and insects being sucked into your home. Equally, to aid in controlling CO2 levels, it pays to add a cheeky carbon filter into the mix. Just be aware that all these filters cause a degree of drag that reduces the effectiveness of the fans – something you might want to consider before choosing your system.
“You need to be able to approach the growing area from all angles in order to inspect each plant with due care and attention.”
There’s not much to point out here beyond the blindingly obvious – try to locate your garden in an easily accessible location. You need to be able to approach the growing area from all angles in order to inspect each plant with due care and attention. You don’t want to have to clamber over piles of junk to tend to your plants every day – nor do you want, however tempting it may be, to grow too much. Here at HYDROMAG we’ve known plenty of indoor gardens that started as a few herbs and ended up a sprawling rainforest, turning what should be a fun hobby into a grinding, back-breaking chore. Is that your idea of fun? Oh it is? Well just ignore us then.
“We recommend you remove all carpeting in the immediate proximity of your growing area. Pests are drawn to carpeting like bankers are to reckless leveraging schemes with wads of your money in their pockets.”
Pests are the bane of every gardener. Your garden looks fantastic, you go away for a few days and – BAMMO – your leaves are covered in black spots, petals have turned brown, and there are thousands of tiny bastards crawling all over your growing area.
Now as cathartic as the mass slaughter of God’s creatures can be, it’s usually best practice to take preventative measures first. We recommend you remove all carpeting in the immediate proximity of your growing area. Pests are drawn to carpeting like bankers are to reckless leveraging schemes with wads of your money in their pockets. So rip up that carpet (unless it’s your partner’s late-mother’s antique Persian carpet and you’re on a final warning – in which case protective plastic sheeting will suffice)!
Secondly, you’ll have hopefully heeded our advice about the particle filter on your input fan. But this won’t do much good if you’ve got a wide-open window in the room. If you are going to leave windows open (not a clever idea if you’re trying to control temperatures anyway), ensure you stump up a few quid for a screen. Similarly, look for any other holes in the room and caulk ‘em up pronto.
Thirdly, pests can hitch a ride with visitors, pets, and even on new plants. While we don’t suggest you strip search and thoroughly examine everyone entering your growing area (trying this too many times might result in the nice men in white coats knocking on your door), it pays to limit the number of invitees to your garden. If you buy grown plants, consider a period of quarantine before you bed them in.
If all else fails, it’s mass murder time. There are plenty of good sites to acquire some good pest control products – ideally of the safe, non-toxic variety.
Next step; choose a substrate to grow in with our guide to growth media.
This article was originally published in Issue 001 of HYDROMAG (September – October 2012).
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