How to garden in basement over winter?
September 20, 2009 5:14 PM   Subscribe

How do I build a basement vegetable garden in winter? I have gardened over spring/summer/fall outdoors. I need advice on what lights to buy, what vegetables can grow over winter, how to pollinate, etc. Also, can I use heat lamps to help with the warmth loving vegetables, or is that too energy inefficient?
posted by idyllhands to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
search for hydroponics. the lights will give you more heat than you can deal with.
posted by patnok at 5:37 PM on September 20, 2009

search for "grow lights." I imagine the light needs of plants that grow vegetables are reasonably similar to those of plants that grow drugs.
posted by Spock Puppet at 5:43 PM on September 20, 2009

Best answer: I remember seeing an exhibit at the Ontario Science Centre about sustaining life on Mars... they had a garden display that used only red and blue LEDs as a light source.

A quick google search turned up a few links that seem to support that idea.
posted by kaudio at 5:54 PM on September 20, 2009

Best answer: Ehm, as far as lights go... Don't get suckered into really expensive "grow lights" just get some full-spectrum compact fluorescent lights from home depot or equivalent. They do the trick for a fraction of the price.

For hydroponics there's a really fun project here.
posted by RollingGreens at 6:18 PM on September 20, 2009

Best answer: Your basement is not a great place to do indoor vegetable gardening if you can manage the space where there is any access to natural light. It doesn't make sense to pay to produce more light than you need to. It will take a lot of light to grow vegetables properly indoors without any natural light.

Light choice is a simple matter, it depends on the qualities you are looking for. While fluorescent lights can provide the requisite light spectrum they do not produce anywhere near the light output per area they occupy compared to high intensity growing lamps. It depends on your budget and what you want to achieve in how much space.

There are lots of detailed books available about indoor gardening. George Van Patten's books are well regarded. Search Indoor Gardening on Amazon and you will find plenty of highly rated books. Buy a book that covers the types of plants you are actually interested in growing.

It is not really such a simple topic and you will not get a really valid assessment of it here. Check your local library or invest in some literature. Hydroponics are even more difficult and touchy than indoor container gardening, I'd recommend at least starting with container gardening in soil.
posted by nanojath at 6:42 PM on September 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sorry, meant to say light choice is not a simple matter.
posted by nanojath at 6:43 PM on September 20, 2009

Response by poster: Could someone explain the benefits of hydroponics vs. growing in dirt?
posted by idyllhands at 6:46 PM on September 20, 2009

Response by poster: The problem is that the house I am renting does have adequate windows to even bring my house plants in for the winter. So I want to set up a light for them in the basement and figured I would grow some veggies while I was at it =) Eventually, I hope to set up some solar panels to power the lights, but that is a whole new project.
posted by idyllhands at 6:48 PM on September 20, 2009

Hydroponics replaces some of the guess work when it comes to the growing medium. Instead of a plant expending energy to grow roots to find a spot with suitable aeration/nutrients/etc you end up supplying all of its needs in one place with a naturally porous medium and precisely measured/applied nutrient solution. It's obviously a little more work observing plant growth stages and understanding what micro/macro-nutrients are required, but that information is (as mentioned) available - and if applied correctly the rewards are a better product (and a super fun project)...

Growing stuff is as complicated as you make it, so do read up if you want it done right - but don't over think your plate of beans, experiment a bit...
posted by RollingGreens at 7:20 PM on September 20, 2009

They're not supposed to do this, but the feds do drive around with IR heat sensing equipment looking for a heat signature that suggests "indoor growing" -- because a lot of the time, what's being grown is marijuana. And then they'll get someone to lie about seeing marijuana inside, and use that as evidence to get a bust-the-door-down warrant from a judge.

Are you really sure this is worth the chance of being on the receiving end of that?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:45 PM on September 20, 2009

@Chocolate Pickle

Surely then they would have to be really apologetic, because there isn't any weed?
posted by titanium_geek at 8:55 PM on September 20, 2009

"Grow lights" are largely a rip-off.

Plants do not have complex, fine-spectrum needs. They need UV light - broad-spectrum or narrow-band is irrelevant; as long as the chlorophyll is getting hit with UV-level photons, the process works.

nanojath pointed out:
While fluorescent lights can provide the requisite light spectrum they do not produce anywhere near the light output per area they occupy compared to high intensity growing lamps.

Technically true, but there's no reason you can't achieve high enough levels of ambient UV light with ordinary 4' fluorescent tubes. You simply have to install more of them. Thousands of home gardeners do fine by them, "hothousing" their seedlings in late winter/early spring. And I've grown basil and pineapple to maturity under them. (I know, an odd pairing; they just happen to be the only edibles I grew under the lights.)
posted by IAmBroom at 8:58 PM on September 20, 2009

Plants do not have complex, fine-spectrum needs. They need UV light - broad-spectrum or narrow-band is irrelevant; as long as the chlorophyll is getting hit with UV-level photons, the process works.

UV doesn't impact photosynthesis. All photosynthetic action occurs in the visible spectrum. Because chlorophyll has absorption peaks in the red and blue areas of the visible spectrum plants will grow best under lights that cover both these wavelength areas. I've read suggestions of using a mix of cool and warm fluorescent lights to improve coverage and that makes sense to me, though I don't have any scientific support of it.

I'm really not trying to sell anything and I'm not saying plants can't be effectively grown under fluorescent lights; I've started many kitchen herb and vegetable seedlings under ordinary fluorescent tubes. Nevertheless professional type high-energy grow lights are not intrinsically a rip off (though you can certainly get ripped off buying them). They provide a light density that standard fluorescent lights just can't attain, which means you can generate more light in a given area: you can't just add more tubes when you run out of room to put them in.

The convenience of adjusting less fixtures and dealing with less electrical sources are also factors. While fluorescent lights are certainly much cheaper to buy I'm not convinced they are cheaper to operate, in terms of electricity use per output and frequency of bulb and ballast replacement, but I've never really done that math. If high energy plant lights were just a gimmick they would not have a place in professional horticulture, but they do. It's true they are not cheap. Make the decision based on your budget, what you want to achieve, and by looking at unbiased comparison of the qualities of various light sources, which you will find in a good book on the topic.
posted by nanojath at 9:53 PM on September 20, 2009

t5 fluorescent lighting has a decent coverage area and a good spectrum HID lighting is hot, it can burn your plants if it is too close and requires some way to get rid of the heat.-venting or air conditioning. Also the amount of usable light diminishes as a square of the distance from the plant. You can put fluorescents really close.

The difference between hydroponics and soil in my opinion is that plants grow in soil naturally. Put your potted plant under a light and keep it wet. Hydroponics requires you to supply all the nutrients and a whole bunch of specialized equipment to keep it working. You have to manage temp, PH, nutrients, aeration.

If I were to grow veggies in my basement, I would use an earth tub. That way you don't have to worry as much about humidity or puddles on the floor.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 12:24 AM on September 21, 2009

I'm so glad the UV thing was corrected. mY 5TH grade science fair project was growing plants under lights, the plants in tubes covered by different colored clear plastic. The red+blue-plastic covered tubes grew the plants the best -- voila, the color of grow-lights! But UV was not a factor, that was one of the points of the experiment -- that UV does not equal "purple"

That said, I've been trying to grow plants under two fluorescents (a "cold" and a "warm", whatever that means -- got my info from some website) with moderate success. Only pretty low-light houseplants really work.

I would love to grow vegetables, but when I did a little research, it seemed that people who are really serious about this have separate portable generators for their plant lights, becauseu their regular house current was not enough to run the powerful and plentiful lights they're using to grow their vegetables. That turned me off. (the generators)
posted by DMelanogaster at 5:12 AM on September 21, 2009

To grow vegetables, you need to have a lot more light than you do for houseplants. Houseplants are essentially "shade" plants as far as outdoor light requirements, while vegetables need full sun. Whatever lights you choose, you're going to need a lot of them, and they are going to have to be on for 8 hours a day. Your electricity bill will be huge. It is a lot more energy efficient to buy vegetables from the store, rather than growing them using coal supplied electricity. Besides the energy issue, plants grown indoors are far more susceptible to disease and pests- high production greenhouses and indoor pot growing operations are meticulously clean because once something gets in, it is really hard to combat it.

If you don't care about any of those things, go for it.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:48 AM on September 21, 2009

nanojath, thanks for correcting my ignorance. Sadly, at the back of my mind, I even knew that much.

I'll go sulk now... Hate being wrong, esp. when I'm loud about it.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:36 AM on September 22, 2009

« Older Beyond Poe: canonical short stories   |   Where's Mark now? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.