Getting Started: Don’t Get Overwhelmed
Guest Post By : Emily McGowan / Worm's Way Group
Hanging up the garden hat for the winter is difficult for most gardeners, but for indoor gardeners, the change in temperature is simply the beginning of a new and different season! With all the meters, nutrients, and systems, indoor gardening can seem intimidating at first, but if you keep in mind certain fundamentals, you’ll be eating home grown veggies or decorating your home with fresh flowers in no time!
Whether you’re choosing to grow in soil or a hydroponic system, the most important concept to understand is that you control everything about your indoor garden’s environment. Seasons don’t matter as much, unexpected rainfalls (or droughts!) won’t get you down, and you may never have to deal with pests if you take proper precautions (such as washing your hands and keeping pets out of the growing room).
Before you start your indoor garden, take a few moments to jot down your intentions. Are you looking to grow flowering, fruiting, or vegetative plants? Tomatoes take larger, sturdier setups than do small heads of lettuce. Measure out the space you’ve designated for your indoor garden so that you know how much light you will need—square and rectangle spaces in well ventilated rooms work best! Ideally, rooms should have access to a water source and drain for easier watering and reservoir upkeep if you choose to grow hydroponically. Proper ventilation and air flow is important for keeping temperature and humidity in check and having oscillating fans in your growing area will even help strengthen plants. A good rule of thumb is if the indoor environment is uncomfortable for you, it’s likely uncomfortable for your plants as well.
Container growing with soil indoors isn’t much different from its outdoor counterpart. But, there are a couple things to keep in mind if you choose to keep growing in soil:
- If you’re bringing soil in from outside, you should test the pH level and make sure it is suitable for your plants—typically plants look for a slightly acidic medium, around 6.0. If you purchase potting soil from a store, it’s likely already pH buffered, so you won’t have to worry about testing.
- Be sure to empty out the saucers or trays that gather excess water regularly, so that stagnated water won’t be reabsorbed into the plant roots. If you have many indoor plants, consider placing them all in a grow tray with a drainage grid and set the drain over a small bucket for easy water disposal.
Getting started with your first hydroponic system will require a little extra setup, but the rewards are truly worth the effort. Hydroponic gardening uses 60-90% less water than soil growing, and yields faster, and oftentimes better, results because of the completely controlled environment. Important factors to consider when starting a hydroponic garden are:
- What type of system and media should you use? There are several types of popular hydroponic systems that vary in price, size, and technical difficulty. Growing media choices vary by plant and system.
- Just as an outdoor garden, make sure you have time to check on a hydroponic garden at least once a day. You’ll need to test the pH of the water/nutrient solution daily with a meter or good old fashioned litmus paper test, and check the TDS (total dissolved solids) level to help you maintain the proper concentration of nutrients (if a TDS meter seems too daunting, this is an advanced step that can be skipped). You’ll also have to drain, clean, and refresh the water and nutrient reservoir once every two weeks.
- Nutrient packages will vary by plant and system. There are endless online resources on which nutrients are best to use at different stages in the plant’s life, and Worm’s Way is always willing to talk to you about which nutrients your indoor garden will benefit most from.
If you’re interested in learning more advanced hydroponic gardening techniques, we recommend George Van Patten’s book, Gardening Indoors with Soil and Hydroponics.
Should I DIY?
Some gardeners are off put by the expensive equipment they see online and in the store, and wish to pursue a DIY option instead. We don’t recommend making your own lighting systems because they are not always safe and reliable, and the materials needed can often be just as expensive as purchasing a small grow light at an indoor garden store. However, as far as DIY hydroponic systems go, you can upcycle two liter bottles to make a very simple passive system, or for larger plants, you can use a five gallon bucket and a small air pump.
If DIY is out of the question, but you still want to stick to a small budget, we recommend the Sunleaves Garden of Ease, the VitaLUME Compact Fluorescent, and a Lightwave Fluorescent Fixture—all together, they’ll make a great system for under $130. But whatever your approach to indoor gardening, don’t let yourself get overwhelmed! Indoor gardening can be as easy or as complicated as you make it. You may have to pick up a few new habits, but hey—as gardeners, we’re prepared for anything, right?
Happy Indoor Gardening!
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