Wednesday, December 9, 2015

More Thoughts on Indoor Vegetable Gardening

We have made a commitment to grow as many vegetables and herbs as possible indoors this winter, within the limitations of our equipment and space. We are using a 250-watt metal halide fixture, which adequately illuminates about 25 square feet of growing space. In this area we have the following:

2 Tiny Tim tomato plants, each in a 12-inch pot
6 Half Pint pea plants, in two 6-inch pots
8 Fantastic Filet bean plants, in a 30-inch planter
2 Bush Spicy Globe basil plants, each in a 6-inch pot
Arugula, 6-inch pot
Upland Cress, 6-inch pot
Scallions, 6-inch pot
Corn Salad, 6-inch pot
Cilantro, two 4-inch pots

All these plants are thriving with this amount of light. At present TVA electric rates, the lighting system costs about 30 cents a day to operate.

Commercial-scale indoor growing space
We have learned that surrounding the growing area with reflective surfaces, in our case some old wall mirrors, keeps the plants from leaning and causes them to grow much more uniformly.

The biggest problem we have uncovered with our indoor garden is the lack of modular growing containers. We are using an assortment of containers we happened to have on hand. If we used only square or rectangular containers, we could make more efficient use of the limited space. Check out the commercial system in the image, and you can see how the right equipment can improve efficiency.

It is important to give each crop its own container. While container gardens planted with multiple crops may look attractive, the different maturity times and growth requirements can result in inefficient space utilization. We have also found that the differing heights of mature plants means you have to be able to adjust the elevation of the pots. Tomatoes that start out only 6 inches beneath the lights when they are seedlings will need to be lowered as they grow into three or four foot tall mature plants. In our experience, really compact tomato varieties do not produce very tasty tomatoes. That's why we chose Tiny Tim, a small, but not tiny, variety, that produces 2-inch diameter fruits.

Select crops for the indoor garden with an eye toward getting the most savings in groceries. In winter, fresh herbs, tomatoes and leafy greens all command high prices at the market, and often the quality is poor. All these crops are relatively easy to grow indoors, if you select appropriate cultivars.

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