Gonna Grow Some Indoor Crops
Most years, after a long, hot summer of tending to my backyard 2,500+ square feet garden, I take a winter break so I can catch up on a few other things: pressure wash the driveway – wash the windows and the vehicles – make some house repairs – clean out the attic. I gotta tell ya! My “honey-do” list is infinitely long – “Honey, do this.” – “Honey, do that.” – etcetera, etcetera, etcetera! I’m sure there are a whole bunch of other lucky folks that also get stuck with just this type of list. Fun, ain’t it?
We have not only eaten totally fresh and succulent food from our veggie plot all summer – but, we have canned, dehydrated, and freeze-dried cases upon cases of food to keep us going through the wintry months – from Fall through late Spring – until next year’s crop starts to produce.
Setting Up The Growing Area
My indoor growing experience was pretty easy to get started.
I put together 2 stacks of boxes – they were filled with things I did not plan on using until late spring or early summer. Keeping the stacks about 7 feet apart, I put them close to a wall – about an inch away. In the past, I’ve used plastic totes but, since these boxes won’t be supporting heavy weight – being cardboard was adequate – as long as they were filled with something. Normally, I would have used a closet – and, wouldn’t have needed to stack boxes – but, my closets were all full of stuff – and, anyway, I had a nice section of bare wall that was available. And, I wasn’t ready to clean out the closets – one of the chores listed on this year’s “honey-do” list.
I used inexpensive cotton/poly clothesline rope to connect the grow lights to eye hooks in the plywood roof. The grow lights were fastened to 6 foot long by 6 inches wide boards – with eye hooks at each end. Running ropes from the lights to the plywood roof made it easy for them to be raised and lowered as needed. For best results, the grow lights should be only 2 to 4 inches above the plants. And, as they grow, the lights are raised. But, beware – any leaves that touch the lights can be scorched. So, it is imperative that the light-to-plant distance be monitored daily.
Next, I layered the entire interior of the grow area with aluminum foil – shiny side out – to reflect additional light onto the plants. You can see this in pretty much every indoor garden image shown – and, it gets tremendously bright – enough to hurt your eyes and make you squint!
After drilling holes in the bottom of 3.5 gallon buckets, I put several inches of gravel in the bottom and filled them with a good quality potting soil – like Miracle Gro Potting Mix – followed by positioning the small buckets inside 5 gallon buckets that had a couple inches of gravel inside.
For indoor gardening, always use potting mix. DO NOT use garden soil – which is designed for outdoor use only. The reason is that garden soil is much heavier and compacts more easily than potting mix after just a few waterings. Thus, plant roots no longer have room to spread through the soil and moisture will have a hard time penetrating the compacted soil. Also, potting mix has a higher ratio of nutrients – up to 6 months’ supply – while garden soil usually feeds plants for no more than 3 months.
Putting a dozen or so holes in the smaller buckets allowed good water drainage. Excessive water buildup around plant roots can damage them. The larger buckets were just a reserve repository for any water that drained out of the smaller buckets.
The plants should get 16 hours of light per day. I accomplish this effortlessly by using a plug-in mechanical timer. An Intermatic Timer does the job very well for me. It can be easily scheduled for turning on and off the lights.
Taking into account that I was growing tomatoes, vining cucumbers (slicers), and runner beans (green beans), I added some extra rope trellising to help them climb as they grew.
Since my indoor garden was in a carpeted room, I placed a blue tarp underneath the buckets – to catch any potting soil or water that splashed out of them. The last thing I needed was to damage the carpet – so, I was taking all the necessary precautions.
Now, all I had to do was germinate some seeds, transplant some seedlings, and put the transplants directly into the buckets. Since my veggies weren’t going into the outdoor garden, I didn’t have to harden them off before putting them into their indoor garden home.
Until the plants were growing big and strong, I took steps to protect the entire area from my indoor predators – our 2 tuxedo cats. Not only would they have a field day munching on young plant leaves, they might decide to designate the buckets as their own personal, portable litter boxes. Can’t have that now, can we? Cat droppings and veggie plants do not go well together!
So, I made a short wall to shield the garden from our feline ladies. I had an extra roll of garden fabric on hand – so, I stapled plywood posts to each end and tucked them behind the boxes to keep the fabric tight across the garden. That gave me an quick and easy to remove temporary blockade – and, it has been working great!
I was going to use some light duty window screen but, I didn’t have a piece that was long enough to be a barrier. And, the fabric was tons cheaper.
Now, all that my 2 furry girls can do is sniff around the fabric. I just hope they don’t figure out how to crawl underneath it. Hmmmmm.
Done – And Done!
Whew! All I have to do now is sit back, talk to my plants, and watch the garden grow. Even though the Miracle Gro Potting Mix will feed plants for up to 6 months, I will occasionally add some Miracle Gro All Purpose Plant Food to give them a growing boost – especially during the flowering and fruiting phases.
What do you think of my makeshift indoor winter garden? How does your cold weather garden grow? Leave a comment or email me and tell me your story!