As long as I can remember I have been gardening under lights in my home and basement. Many years ago I used shop lights which were fluorescent and today I use the high output LED work shop lights that I purchased at Costco for $35 each. I was actually able to take advantage of a promo they were running and saved another $5 on each of these lights.
These lights are great because they throw out so much light (2000 Lumens, a measure of the total “amount” of visible light emitted by a source) which is similar to about the same output as a 100 watt bulb. The great thing about these lights is they only draws 25 watts of power. Setting up your indoor garden under lights and keeping them on 12 or more hours each day is the same as burning a 75 watt bulb.
Bring Your Favorite Annuals Indoors
Over the years I grew orchards under my lights, flowers, vegetables and many other plants but this years I was able to take some of my beautiful geraniums and herbs indoors, put them on my Metro type open shelving unit in my basement and set up my complete system for under $100.
Normally I replace many annuals each year, but it becomes expensive if you want a full and flowering geranium plant. It usually takes an entire season to get them to fill a large pot from what I buy at the garden stores, so this gives me a large pot full in the beginning of each season.
This coming Spring I will have enough to fill a couple of my larger flower pots with the plants I saved and brought indoors.
Starting Your Seeds Indoors
Now most people wait until the frost is over to begin planting their flower and vegetable seeds. Many simply go out and purchase seedlings or flats of young annuals, but that can be expensive. I start many of my flowers and vegetables indoors under my lights to save money and to get a head start on the growing season.
How many of you that are reading this go out and buy flats of 12 Marigold plants each year at a cost of $8 or more? I don’t, I start them from seeds indoors. Getting the seed from many flowering plants like a Marigold is quite easy. I wait until the flower dies and dries up, c;lip them off, open them up and there are at least 30 or more seeds in each. I have also taken these dead Marigold seeds off plants in the nurseries if I see a variety I like and use the seeds as well. Other flowers also offer their seeds for the taking. My Sunflowers is another one and easy to take the seeds.
Of course it is easy to simply purchase some packets of seed, but for those of us that like to be frugal harvesting your own seeds is better and more satisfying.
Propagating Your Plants
Propagating plants from cuttings is one of the easiest and most used methods of propagation. Many plants will root from just a section of a plant. Some plants will root in water, but cuttings will develop a better root system when rooted in a soil-less potting mix. Sand or perlite can also be used, especially for cuttings that need good drainage and may rot if kept too wet. Many easy-to-root plants will not require the use of a rooting hormone but doing so will assure faster rooting. Some plants, such as, citrus, may root very slowly or not at all without the use of a rooting hormone.
I brought a few of my Geranium plants indoors this year. In previous years I didn’t do this and realized I could simply keep them growing under lights and create a nice bunch of new plants through propagation. I purchased a jar of rooting hormone to help the cuttings root faster and began to take cuttings from the large plants I have.
Now I have 16 young, rooted germanium plants growing in my basement and when the time is right I can now save a ton of money and plant them in my large pots and in borders around the house. I might go and purchase some begonias now and take cuttings so I will have enough for my garden by May.
Here is a link to a site that will show you step by step how to do it. I didn’t have to put them in individual containers, although I did transplant them recently because they had already rooted. I go down to the basement each day to spray them with water to keep them moist. I use a one gallon garden sprayer for this that costs around $10.
How To Set Up Your Indoor Greenhouse
There are many articles on how to set up your indoor greenhouse and years ago I used to sell my own grow lights on the internet.
It was at a time that High Output Flourescent lights were just showing up on store shelves. I purchased hundreds of the lights meant to be outdoor lights for your home from Costco, opened them up, modified them and added an electrical cord and plug, put on a hanging system and sold them at Grow lights and Aquarium lights. I sold over 800 of these at that time.
You can see me using them in this photo in my basement. I was growing basel plants, tomato plants and other and you can see I had a number of these lights sitting on the top shelf of these metro type racks. Many of these plants would grow high and I would have a huge jump on my fully grown plants when transplanted in the late Spring.
Current Set Up of Lights and Shelving
Now the lights are replaced by the LED lights and you can see that I have now mounted mine directly on the beams in my basement and some of the shelves. Because they are made to be rugged work lights they are waterproof as well and have a nice mounting bracket that allows you to rotate it and screw it into a beam or other support.
You can see in this photo how some simply sit on a shelf and light the lower shelf of herbs I brought indoors for the season. This enables me to pick fresh herbs throughout the year.
You will also need a inexpensive timer and a strip outlet to complete this set-up. I plug the strip outlet into a timer and have up to 6 outlets now so I can plug in all of my lights.
I set the time to go on early in the morning and keep them on for a full 14 hours each day. Some people keep them on longer, it is up to you and how fast you want your plants to grow. The more light the faster the growth.
I like to set up my system in my basement in the small room where my furnace is. It is warm and moist and near a small window. If you have a larger area, even better. When I was growing orchids in the basement I had this shelving covered in heavy clear plastic to create a greenhouse and retain the moisture, but now I don’t really need it with this set up and I can control the moisture easily keeping it open.
Depending on what you are growing you can improvise and create your own set-up, this is just meant to give you an easy and inexpensive method I have found works.
Preparing the Mix and Pots
You can see in the photo on the right that there are two large plastic bins with holes in them. This is my vermiculture set up. Yes, as many of you know, I have red wiggler worms that are fed my vegetable and fruit peels and waste and they turn that waste into rich black castings (worm poop) that is the worlds finest organic fertilizer.
I mix some of the castings in to my soil mix, which can either be a bought soil mix you can buy at Home Depot or Lowes or you can make your own. I like to start with the basic soil mixture from these stores and add to it. I might add some additional organic material like Peat Moss, because they are usually too heavy for seedlings and a larger portion of peat moss and castings is a preferred mix for seeds.
I cover each flat or container, I repurpose many take out containers or cake containers that have clear covers on them for this purpose too. For others I will cover the seeded trays with plastic wrap to keep the moisture in. Once the seedlings are large enough, I remove the plastic wrap and if they have at least two sets of true leaves, I begin to thin them out and transplant them into new pots or flats with a better growing mix.
You can find out more about planting your seeds from our new article courtesy of Home Depot here.
Watering Your Seedlings and Plants
Since the flats are covered and will retain the moisture in the flats and prevent evaporation, the only time I will water them is once the cover is removed and they begin to grow. Another method is to put them in a plastic bag and blow air into the bag so it is inflated. I use a spray bottle or my garden sprayer for this and spray them since the young plants are very delicate.
Once the plants are transplanted and growing it is easier to water them with a small watering can with a fine head. If I have water trays under them which I do as seen in my photo above, I can even add the water directly to the tray and not have to water from the top.
It is not only fun to start your seeds and cuttings indoors but it will save you a bundle each year. You can get a lot of your vegetable seed directly from the vegetables you have in your home. I pull my tomato, pepper, eggplant, cantaloupe and other seeds directly from the food we eat. Other seeds from flowers in my garden. I would estimate that I can save $200 or more each season with this method.
I would encourage all of you to do this yourself. It is fun, each to do and once the initial cost of the lights and shelving is spent, the monthly cost is literally a few dollars each month at best.
If you want to purchase worm castings I have them and can even help you set up your own vermiculture system with everything you will need including the red wiggler works. See our other article on producing your own organic fertilizer and see my system here.