Baby, It’s Cold Outside
Isn’t that the truth? Since early November, Old Man Winter has been hitting us lucky folks up here in Minnesota. While some northern gardeners are fortunate that they have greenhouses (for instance, Growing North has a greenhouse) or really awesome cold frames that can withstand cold temperatures (like Niki Jabbour’s cold frames), unfortunately, I am not one of those lucky gardeners.
What does a mere mortal gardener like myself do when the weather turns frightful? I still want some fresh lettuce, spinach and other herbs during the winter, and I want to start seedlings in February for spring. I am a renter, so I cannot cut trees and build my own greenhouse, and it was too late to build cold frames.
I suppose I could pack it in and just buy the fresh produce and seedlings, but I would prefer to do it myself and be a little more self-reliant that that. What to do?
Bring Them Indoors
With temperatures dipping into the teens and lower in early November, I decided shut down outdoor gardening for the season. I harvested the remaining broccoli, arugula and dill, and I brought the baskets of the spinach and lettuce inside. It’s a good thing too: it got colder, and we got our first snow of several inches. I am not sure how a cold frame could stand up against a Minnesota winter!
Next, I took apart the Hybrid Rain Gutter Grow System (HRGGS) and winterized the pipe by draining it. I also unfastened the 2″x4″ boards that made up the frame, and I took a couple of the spare “baskets” full of soil and emptied them into the compost. I figured I would Reset to Zero with the HRGGS by making it bigger and better, and I will need rich compost to get that system up and running. That, of course, is a post for another day.
Indoor Gardening Made Easy
After bringing the “baskets” of lettuce and spinach inside, I needed to get set up. Unfortunately, bringing plants inside meant going down to the dark basement. There are no southern facing windows that would support the lettuce and spinach, and even if there were, the big cat would probably make use of the baskets containing soft plants and even softer soil.
Fortunately, I had equipment from last year that could be used. I had two shop lights that were outfitted with T12 UV bulbs. One was a normal UV Sylvania bulb, while the other was a Gro-Lux Aquarium light. I had used the Gro-Lux bulbs a lifetime ago when I had aquariums full of fish and plants, and I knew they would work. I set up the two shop lights in this manner. All bulbs and shop lights came from Menards.
The next step was to use a timer to automate the lights. I had purchased a simple timer from Menards or Home Depot last year, and I believe it cost around $10. Both shop lights plug into the timer, and you set the correct time and the “stops” where the light turns on in the morning and turn off in the evening. It is a really simple system that works well. Typical range is 14 to 16 hours of light. I give the lettuce and spinach 16 hours of light (6 AM to 10 PM).
Using principles learned from Larry Hall and Micheal Ryder, I grabbed three spare bins that were in my basement. I put about 1″ of water in the bottom of each bin, and slid the baskets into each bin. One bin is big enough and has two baskets, while the other bins have one basket each. While I am considering building a frame to go around the bins for the lights, for now I am just simply laying the lights lay across the bins. The UV lights will not burn any of the plants if they grow that tall.
Results of Indoor Gardening Made Easy
So that’s it! It is a little….low tech….but it works. This essentially is Larry Hall’s Grow Bag Garden System indoors, and it is going to be fun to experiment.
The lettuce and spinach seem to like the cool temperature in the basement (about 62 degrees Fahrenheit), the constant water wicked up into the soil, and the overhead lights. After a month’s worth of growth, I have a ton of spinach and lettuce for meals. The picture shows the lettuce and spinach growth in 20 days! Wow! Pretty darn cool!
Next Steps for Indoor Gardening Made Easy
I have plans to expand this indoor gardening made easy operation. I have two more shop lights, and I want to get basil and kale growing before I start the fleet of seedlings. I figure I might as well continue to experiment with the system, particularly with the root pouches and the self-watering systems Larry Hall promotes on his Grow Bag Garden System site. I have big plans for all of these elements next season, so it helps to experiment inside before scaling this up outside.
Give indoor gardening a try this winter. It is not as hard as it seems. If you give this a try or have some other ideas, I would love to hear them!
Let’s grow this together!