For those of you who live in confined spaces with no access to the outdoors (ie. New Yorkers and college students), you can easily build your very own indoor garden. With some basic materials and a weekend of work you can have your own herb garden growing in the comfort of your own home.
1. The first thing to do is get some seeds to grow. I bought some seeds at a seed bank that has great variety of
hard to find plants called Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Keep in mind that your grow closet will be small so don't grow an avocado tree or anything big. Good things to start with would be herbs like basil or thyme and leafy greens like lettuce.
2. Start your seeds by placing them in between 2 damp paper towels. Cover them with a plate and put them in a warm spot. I put them on top of my fridge. Make sure to write down which seed is which. Ideally you will start this 3-5 days before you begin building. If you want to make you seeds germinate faster consider using a seedling heating mat.
3. Find a suitable container in which to build your garden. It should be at least 18” square and 4 feet in height. If possible get a closet that has shelves in it You will want 2 chambers. One chamber will be for vegetative growth (sprouting your plants). This chamber can be small like ~18” high. The other will be used to grow your plants to maturity. This Chamber should be big, but size will depend on what you are planning to grow. This is the closet I found outside of my apartment. Can you believe someone was going to throw this baby away? This closet was made of metal, which is not ideal, as you will need to drill into it later.
4. Prepare your closet by cleaning it out and spray painting the inside glossy white. This will increase reflectivity, meaning your plants will get more light and grow faster. Alternatively, you can cover the inside with mylar or aluminum foil to get a similar effect.
5. Now is the time to plan out the layout of your grow box. You want to account for the following items that will be going inside your box: grow lights, air pump, timer, growth vessel, fan. The set-up pictured was done on the cheap using fluorescent lights, a deep water culture system and a small computer fan. If you have space you can timers and air pumps in the grow box, if not they can go on the outside.
UPDATE: If I were building it today, I would invest in some LED lights ( I just bought some and they are amazing). LEDs give off very little heat, are small in size, last a very very long time and take way less power to run. This panel to your left only takes 14 watts and will work perfectly for this project. They are a bit more expensive to buy than florescent tube lights, but will pay for themselves in a month in electricity savings as it puts out roughly the same amount of light as a standard 75 watt light.
6. Now is the time to prepare your growth vessels. I went to the container store and bought some plastic briefcases that would fit in my system. Ideally they will be 8’-12’ deep and be opaque. If they are not white you can spray paint them white. You now need to make hole in the top for your plants. Depending you your net pots the size will vary. You can drill holes with a hole driller bit, or trace them and cut them out with a saw or knife. You will also need to drill a hole for the air line. If you are lazy, you can buy a pre-made 4 gallon system on Amazon like the one to the left that should work nicely for this project.
7. Put your finished growth chambers in your system and mark with a sharpie where you need to drill holes. you need to drill some holes for the wiring for the lights, air pumps and a larger section for the fan. The smaller vegetative growth chamber at the bottom needs a growth vessel and low powered light. The larger flowering chamber needs a growth vessel, high power light and fan. The fan should be built into the side or back of the chamber to provide circulation and movement so you get strong plants. A standard computer fan works well for this. If you are putting other electronics like a timer and air pump inside the container drill holes for these too.
8. Time to install the lights and make sure all of the wiring is in place and works. The vegetative light on the bottom doesn’t need a timer. You will want to leave it on 24/7 when in use. The light in the big flowering chamber on the top will want to be on 12-24 hours a day, depending on what you are growing. If your plants don't need to flower (herbs and lettuce) leave it on 24 hours a day for maximum growth. If you plants need to flower (cherry tomatoes, peppers, etc), then you will want to have the light on 12-18 hours a day to induce flowering.
9. If you decided to make your own growth vessel, now is the time to make holes for the cups and a hole for the airline to the aquarium pump. Connect your aquarium air pump to an air stone that you have placed inside your growth vessel. Fill up the vessel with water, turn on the air pump and make sure that you are getting good aeration.
9. Make the net pots for your growth vessel out of 9 ounce plastic party cups or purchase plastic net pots along with some expanded clay and vermiculite. If I had to do it again I would make my own (see how here). I would also use rockwool cubes to start my seedlings, instead of vermiculite, as it is way easier and less messy to deal with. Now put the net pots into the growth vessel. Once you have a seedling, you can put it in the net pot and put in the growth vessel.
10. Now turn the lights and fan on and make sure everything works as it should. Once you have sprouts move them into the vegetative chamber and turn the light on 24/7. Now add minimal amount of fertilizer to the vegetative growth vessel. They won’t be small for long!
11. Once your plants are a few inches tall, move them to the flowering chamber and turn on your big light 12-18 hours a day. You should increase the dose of the fertilizer here and use one with a higher amount of potassium and Phosphorus to support blooming. If you are using an LED grow light you can put the light an inch away from the plants to get maximum light intensity (don’t do this with any other lights though or the heat will fry your new babies).